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Keeping your heart healthy

The jury is in and the statistics are certainly a cause for concern: Heart disease kills thousands every year and is the leading cause of death for both men and women. The good news is your risk for developing heart disease can be, in many cases, greatly reduced by keeping your pulse on some simple preventative steps, and practicing heart smarts.

Get off the couch

It’s no secret that exercise prevents heart disease, but for many, it’s still not a priority. It doesn’t matter if you’re biking, walking, running or swimming; find something you enjoy and do it. Just 30 to 60 minutes a day can lower your chances of heart disease and help you feel and look your best. Even small changes, like taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator, or opting for a walk instead of grabbing that taxi can, over time, add up to make a difference.

Here are some physical activities to try throughout the year:

  • Biking
  • Gardening/ foraging/ berry picking
  • Golfing
  • Hiking
  • Inline skating
  • Baseball, basketball, Frisbee, soccer, volleyball
  • Skipping rope
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Walking

Always check with your healthcare provider before beginning any physical activity program.

Butt out!

Approximately 47,000 Canadians die prematurely each year because of smoking, and almost 8,000 non-smoker deaths annually are linked to second-hand smoke exposure. Quitting smoking is a challenge, but it can be a lot easier when you have a plan for quitting and the support to put that plan into action. The good news is that as soon as you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops.

Fill up on fibre

Consuming foods high in fibre helps with digestion, maintaining healthy body weight and lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease. Stock up on fibrous foods, such as legumes, vegetables, fruit and whole grain products.

Go local

People who eat local produce have been found to have healthier eating behaviours. Not only are you supporting the local economy, but you also get more flavourful tastes from fruits and vegetables grown nearby, and as a bonus, they often contain more nutrients than ones that have taken a long journey in the back of a truck. Rich in fibre, vitamin C and beta-carotene, as well as antioxidants, fruit and veggies can help reduce the build-up of plaque in your arteries and prevent heart disease.

Watch your waistline

You don’t need professional equipment if you want to get an idea of whether or not you’re at risk of atherosclerosis—the hardening of arteries that increases your chances of getting heart disease. Instead, it can be as simple as getting out the measuring tape and scale. Men and women who are overweight—and in particular those who tend to carry weight in their midsection, and have a waistline of more than 35 inches for women or more than 40 inches for men—are much more likely to suffer from a heart attack or heart disease than those who maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI).

Attend your annual physical examinations

It’ll help monitor your overall health so that changes can be assessed and treated proactively. You can also work with your health professional to find out what your healthy weight is, and then develop a plan to stay on a heart-healthy track. Remember to set realistic goals and to stay positive—even a modest five to 10 per cent off of your body weight can cut your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Step out of the stress lane

Stress can put the body into “emergency mode,” raising blood cholesterol and blood pressure, and ultimately taking its toll on your heart. Put daily stressors like traffic, line-ups and deadlines into perspective and take a few deep breaths. Better still, burn anxious energy, boost mood-lifting endorphins and get your heart positively pumping with a dose of daily physical activity. Seek advice from a health professional so that you can access insight and expertise to help you cope.

Almost one-quarter of Canadians say they have a high degree of stress. Recognize your stressors is an important step.  The next step is to find out how to cope with your stress.

Spot the signs of trouble

Don’t wait until it’s too late to learn the warning signs of heart disease. Most people are aware of the more “typical” symptoms. What you may not know are the subtler signs of heart problems or a heart attack. Less clear-cut symptoms—often more commonly reported among women—include indigestion, nausea, back or jaw pain, light-headedness or cold, clammy skin.

Common heart attack warning signs

  1. Pain or discomfort in chest
  2. Light headedness, nausea, or vomiting
  3. Jaw, neck or back pain
  4. Discomfort or pain in arm or shoulder
  5. Shortness of breath

If you experience these symptoms, call 9-1-1 or see a doctor immediately.

Remember: Small changes not only add up to reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease but can also bring balance to your life and improve your overall physical and emotional health.

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