The Entrepreneur’s Common Sense Guide to Heart Health

It’s been said that a man with health has a thousand dreams, while a man with no health has but one.

Here’s something else that’s been said: Deceased business owners don’t make any money!

That last statement comes courtesy of Joel Kahn, clinical professor of cardiology at Wayne State University School of Medicine—and the author of Dead Execs Don’t Get Bonuses: The Ultimate

Guide to Surviving Your Career with a Healthy Heart. One of the nation’s top experts in the growing field of holistic cardiology, Kahn helps patients became and stay healthier by empowering them to eat clean, sweat clean and apply cutting-edge science to their lifestyle.

Kahn rightly argues that to accelerate our success as entrepreneurs, we need to be healthy enough to be fully engaged with our companies and our teams. And yet, how many of us regularly forsake lifestyle choices that could help us achieve great things? We are proactive in our business dealings, but we wait until there is a problem to pay attention to our own personal health.

Six steps to a healthier heart

According to the Centers for Disease Control, coronary heart disease, or hardening of the arteries, kills nearly 400,000 people annually. One heart attack occurs roughly every 40 seconds. And every year, about 785,000 Americans suffer their first heart attack.

The good news is that it’s easy to take the right steps to achieve a level of health that will help you be effective in business and in life. Kahn highlights six things you can do right away to help stave off heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and other major health issues that can knock you down—or out.

Step #1: Don’t smoke

An obvious one, of course, but crucial. If you currently smoke, tackle it just as you’d tackle a business goal—with a thoughtful plan that includes specific steps, deadlines and the desire to succeed. Do whatever works. For example, Kahn has had patients who weaned themselves by putting ten cigarettes in a lunch bag for a week, then nine, then eight, and so on. Patches, gum, acupuncture and hypnosis are all good options.

Step #2: Move around

Sitting is the new smoking, says Kahn. “Twenty-two chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, dementia, diabetes, arthritis and obesity, have been linked to how many hours a day you sit,” he notes.

This is another problem that has obvious solutions most of us simply don’t implement:

  • Stand up when taking phone calls.
  • Work at a standing desk.
  • Organize physical activities to do at lunch.
  • Set a timer at your desk to stand up every 30 minutes.
  • Get your employees and team members to stand up for ten minutes every hour.
  • Walk for 30 to 40 minutes per day.

We tend to seek out novel ideas, but the fact is, these well-known steps are all we need.

Caveat: Be careful not to overdo exercise. Many hard-charging entrepreneurs push themselves at the gym every day. But Kahn points out that exercise is like medication: There’s a recommended amount, and you can overdose. “Repeated ultra-endurance exercise—multiple marathons, multiple triathlons, three-hour daily runs—may be a highly inflammatory process that is not heart-healthy. There can be scarring, arrhythmias and maybe accelerated heart disease,” he says. “If you enjoy doing those things, I won’t talk you out of it, but don’t assume they’re protecting your heart.”

Step #3: Revamp your diet

Multiple studies show that the simple habit of eating more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day—especially so-called superfoods like broccoli, kale, bok choy and cauliflower—reduces cancer, diabetes and heart disease risk.

Not a veggie fan? Kahn has an argument that will show you the light: Vegetables taste a whole lot better than chemotherapy or surgery. “Whether it’s part of a Paleo diet, a Mediterranean diet, or a vegetarian or vegan diet, fruits and vegetables should make up 50 percent of your plate,” he says.

Of course, also nix the processed foods as much as possible (“They are toxic to our GI tract—they actually release poisons in the blood,” notes Kahn.) And cut back on sugar. “That means all the obvious places where there’s sugar but also barbecue sauces, tomato sauces and even bread,” he says.

Challenge: What if you spend hours schmoozing clients at restaurants? Kahn’s advice is to be proactive—call ahead and let the restaurant know your preferences. Chances are, they’ll be willing and able to prepare something healthy and delicious. If not, get creative. “If I’m stuck in a place and I just don’t see a healthy choice, I’ll make a plate out of all the side dishes,” says Kahn. “Usually the people at my table say, ‘Wow, where did you get that?’”

Step #4: Watch that waist

Doctors used to think fat was just a yellow, globby inert material. Now, says Kahn, they understand it makes hormones. In particular, the fat around the abdomen called visceral abdominal tissue actually makes about 35 hormones—34 of which are bad for your health and promote chronic disease.

Staying trim doesn’t mean you have to look good in skinny jeans: A waist size under 40 inches for a man and under 35 for a woman is just fine, says Kahn. “Being what’s called pear shaped, or thin in the waist and bigger on the bottom, is actually healthier for you long term than the so-called apple belly body form,” he says.

Step #5: Raise your glass—a little bit

Multiple studies show that a few alcoholic drinks per week may reduce your risk of a heart attack. This is a sensitive issue, of course, as not everyone can or should drink alcohol. If you can, however, one to two alcoholic drinks per day can promote heart health. What’s more, the benefits seem to occur whether you’re drinking hard alcohol, wine or beer.

Step #6: Get your Zs

Lack of sleep is almost a badge of honor among many entrepreneurs, who brag about their hard work and long hours. Turns out those all-nighters may be harming your ability to run a great business more than you think. Like with exercise, there’s a sweet spot for sleep. Overall, people who average four or five hours a night will not be as healthy in the long run as people who average about seven to seven and a half. That amount appears to be optimal to repair your body and prime it for the day to come. And as with exercise, too much sleep might not be a good thing. Studies suggest that nine or ten hours of sleep per night might actually create some health problems.

Five unexpected signs you may have heart disease

In his book, Dead Execs Don’t Get Bonuses, Kahn points out five “silent” signs that could potentially indicate you have heart disease. None of these signs by itself means you absolutely have artery problems—but, says Kahn, they’re predictive enough that you should get yourself checked out if you have one or more:

  • Erectile dysfunction in men
  • Cramping in the thighs or calves during or immediately after exertion
  • A diagonal deep crease in the earlobe
  • Worrisome sleep habits—excessive snoring, sleep apnea, etc.
  • Baldness, especially on the top of the head

Getting the right help

One of the best moves you can make, says Kahn, is to get the right tests and assessments so you get a full and accurate picture of the state of your arteries. “You have an arterial age that you need to know. You may be 50 years old but have the arteries of a 70-year-old—and if so, that’s a wakeup call you need to get,” says Kahn.
Here are two action steps he recommends:

1.Get advanced lab work done. Go beyond the usual lineup of tests that you’ll be offered as part of a physical. In particular, tell your physician you want the following tests, which will give you detailed information about the condition of your arteries and your genetics:

  • NMR lipoprofile—an advanced cholesterol test
    • Hemoglobin A1c—indicates your average blood sugar level over the past few months
    • Vitamin D test
    • Homocysteine test—homocysteine is an amino acid (a building block of proteins)
    • High-sensitivity CRP test to look for inflammation that could lead to a heart attack
    • Lipoprotein(a) test

2. Get a coronary artery calcium CT scan. Calcium deposits in the arteries can present a big health risk. This CT scan is the only way to look directly at your arteries and see their status. Best of all, it takes only a few seconds—and it’s a much more in-depth test of your heart health than is the more typical treadmill test.

Don’t you owe it to yourself, your team and your family to not only have a thousand dreams, but also have the energy and engagement to make them happen?