What You Can Learn from Michael Clarke Duncan

Michael Clarke Duncan, who died after a recent heart attack.Earlier this year, Michael Clarke Duncan was keeping fit through a healthy competition with his The Finder costar Geoff Stults. “If you really flub a line, you have to drop and give 20 pushups,” Duncan told Men’s Health. “You’ve got to help a friend along.”

The Green Mile star, who received an Academy Award nomination for his performance in the 1999 film, suffered a heart attack on July 13 of this year and “never fully recovered,” according to a written statement released by his publicist. He died Monday at Cedars-Siniai Medical Center in Los Angeles; he was 54 years old.

At 6-foot-4 and a muscular 300-some pounds, Duncan embraced living in the moment. “I don’t regret what’s happened and I don’t worry about what I don’t have. I just do what’s in front of me,” Duncan told us in his interview with Men’s Health earlier this year.

We don’t yet know what specifically led to Duncan’s death. But you can use his unfortunate fate as a chance to take control of your own life and safeguard your heart. As Duncan said, “My mother used to tell me, as long as I can remember, something that’s on my license plate now: YCDA—You Can Do Anything. And it’s true.”

Heart disease is the #1 killer of men—and you can prevent it. One of the easiest ways is with regular exercise. That's one of the reasons we're so excited about Speed Shred, the new follow-along DVD series from Men’s Health. It eliminates all the guesswork, allowing you to stay in shape and strengthen your heart in only 30 minutes three days a week—in your living room!

What coud be simpler? Actually, any of these 17 easy ways to protect against heart attack and heart disease every day:

1. Drink two cups of coffee a day. People who did this had an 11 percent lower risk of heart failure than subjects who shunned java, according to a study of 140,000 people published this year from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Researchers credit the brew’s healthful antioxidants, which may reduce your risk of health conditions that lead to heart failure. Go for black brew or a splash of milk. (See which coffee made our list of The 20 Worst Drinks in America.)

2. Ask your dad how your grandparents died—and when. Having a relative die of heart complications before age 60 doubles your own risk of premature heart disease, according to an August 2012 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. If that’s you, control what you can: Don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise regularly.

3. Eat vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits. In a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who took a 500-milligram vitamin C supplement daily saw their blood pressure significantly drop after 2 weeks. How? Vitamin C may regulate blood levels of nitric oxide, which helps vessels maintain normal pressure, researchers believe.

4. Snack on cherries. People who ate two daily servings of the savory fruit had fewer markers of inflammation in their body, a small study in the Journal of Nutrition found.

5. Soak up the sun. A study published this year found that mice exposed to a light box were more protected from heart attack–induced tissue damage than mice that didn’t receive light therapy. The sun increases the number of heart-protective proteins in your body, explains lead researcher Tobias Eckle, Ph.D., professor at the University of Colorado Denver.

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6. Spice up your food. When researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong studied the effects of capsaicinoids—compounds that lend flavor to chili peppers and jalapenos—in hamsters, rodents fed the spicy foods showed lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol than the animals that ate capsaicinoid-free meals. Capsaicionoids appear to block the gene that causes your arteries to contract, leading to relaxed muscles and better blood flow to the heart, researchers believe.

7. Shed your spare tire. Cutting your sodium intake alone won’t always do the trick: In a recent review of seven studies, people who lowered their salt intake were just as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as those who didn’t limit sodium, according to research in the American Journal of Hypertension. Shedding pounds is a better solution: Getting in shape can yield as much as a 10- to 29-point drop in blood pressure. And regular aerobic exercise can make it fall another 10 points. (If you’re trying to lose fat, don’t fall for these 5 Fat-Loss Myths.)

8. Have a beer. According to a recent review of more than 18 studies on booze, beer is just as good for your heart as vino. Drinking a little more than a pint of beer a day could make you 30 percent less likely than non-drinkers to suffer from stroke, heart attacks, and heart disease, researchers found. (Just don’t overdo it. Moderate drinking—the healthy kind—is defined as no more than two alcoholic beverages a day for men or one for women.)

9. Keep a water bottle by your desk. Loma Linda University researchers found that drinking five or more 8-ounce glasses of water a day could help lower the risk of heart disease by up to 60 percent—exactly the same drop you get from stopping smoking, lowering your LDL cholesterol number, exercising, or losing a little weight.

10. Take a glass-half-full attitude. Optimists were 50 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke compared to pessimists, according to a study in Psychological Bulletin.

11. Start your morning with grapefruit. Eating just one grapefruit each day can lower your total cholesterol and LDL levels by 8 and 11 percent, respectively, lowering your risk of heart disease. It will also provide you with more than 150 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C.

12. Swig cranberry juice. Men who drank 3 cups of the juice daily raised their levels of “good” HDL cholesterol by 10 percent. Researchers credit plant compounds called polyphenols for the results. Tip: Make sure the label says you’re drinking at least 27 percent cranberry juice, since the drink is often diluted. (Click here for the 125 Best Packaged Foods for Men.)

13. Pick whole grains. In a study at Tulane University, researchers found that people who ate four or more servings of foods like whole grains, nuts, and beans a week had a 22 percent lower risk of developing heart disease (and 75 percent fewer camping companions) than those who ate the foods once a week or less.

14. Eat a burger—just make sure it’s grass-fed. Grass-fed beef has a profile of healthy fats similar to fatty fish like salmon. It’s also loaded with heart-protective vitamin E.

EAT TO LIVE, LIVE TO EAT! For cooking tips, mouth-watering recipes, and time-saving tricks from the country’s top chefs, sign up for the all-new (free!) Men’s Health Guy Gourmet newsletter.

15. Clean house. Just 2.5 per week of chores like mowing the lawn or carrying groceries can reduce unhealthy inflammation in your body, according to a study published this year in Circulation.

16. Schedule a checkup. Even if you’re in your 20s, you could benefit from a cardiovascular risk assessment. Your doctor takes a detailed inventory of all of your risk factors—your blood pressure, family history, cholesterol levels, and more—and uses a formula to give you an idea of your heart disease risk. If you’re at high risk, you and your doctor can work together to make life-saving changes.

17. Fill up on fiber. Men with a high-fiber diet had a 15 percent lower risk of heart disease, a Swedish study found. Choose nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables rather than supplements or high-fiber bread. Decode the myths from the facts about supplements with the all-new Men’s Health Guide to the Best Supplements for Men.

Research by Mike Darling, Markham Heid, Bari Lieberman, J. Rentilly, Amy Rushlow, Cassie Shortsleeve, and Jill Yaworski

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