Have a Happy Healthy Heart

Lisa Fisher, Health Promotion Specialist

February is Heart Month, providing a great opportunity for you to become for aware of the risk factors for heart disease and what you can do in terms of prevention. Heart disease generally means that the heart is not working properly as a result of buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries, which can lead to heart attack, heart failure or death. Affecting approximately 2.4 million Canadians, heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada. The good news is that it’s estimated that close to 8 in 10 cases of premature heart disease are preventable.

Some risk factors, such as your age or family history, cannot be changed. Risk increases with age, family history of early heart disease, and after experiencing pre-eclampsia during pregnancy or menopause for women. In addition, those with Indigenous, African and South Asian heritage are at a higher risk for heart disease. There are certain things that you can control, however, and it’s important not to lose sight of them.

Lifestyle Risk Factors are those that exist within your day-to-day life. You can make small changes in your daily routine to reduce these risks and positively impact your overall health.

Following Canada’s new Food Guide recommendations is important for a balanced healthy diet, which helps to improve your cholesterol levels, reduce your blood pressure, manage your weight, and control your blood sugar. This includes consuming plenty of vegetables and fruit (half of your plate!), whole grains, and protein. Select a variety of colours when choosing vegetables and fruit to ensure you’re getting a variety of important nutrients such as antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Put down the white bread and choose nutritious whole grain foods such as brown or wild rice, quinoa or oatmeal which are a great source of fibre, protein and B vitamins. When choosing protein, try to pick plant-based proteins more often such as beans and lentils or tofu. For animal-based protein, pick lower-fat dairy products and lean meats. Avoid highly processed foods and limit your intake of sugar, salt, and fat, specifically saturated fat. Water should be your drink of choice.

Physical activity has a great impact on heart health. The minimum recommendation is for adults to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. If you’re short on time, fitting in even a 10 minute session is better than none! Remember that variety is the spice of life, and that goes for physical activity as well. Round out your fitness regime by including activities in endurance, strength, flexibility and balance.

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can be a struggle. Approximately 60% of Canadians are overweight. If you’re aiming to lose weight, a healthy loss is between 0.5lbs to 2lbs per week, and is much more realistic and easier to maintain than a drastic loss. Stay accountable with regular weigh-ins or by measuring your waist circumference. If you want to know exactly where your weight comes from, contact the Health Promotion Department to book a body composition analysis test which will show you the amount of water, fat and muscle mass in your body.

Smoking drastically increases your risk of dying from heart disease by contributing to plaque building, reducing oxygen in your blood, increasing the risk of blood clots and making your heart work harder overall. If you are a smoker, quitting is a great way to reduce your risk. The Health Promotion can help you overcome this challenge with our Butt Out Program.

Consuming too much alcohol or using recreation drugs can also increase your risk. For alcohol use, keep in mind Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines. Women should drink no more than 2 standard drinks and men no more than 3 standard drinks in one given day. For the entire week, women should have no more than 10 standard drinks and men no more than 15. And no, you can’t save them up and drink all 10 or 15 at one time.

Stress happens based on our reaction to a situation or event, and is something that many people experience. High levels or prolonged stress can have negative impacts on your health, including raising your cholesterol and blood pressure levels. It’s important to learn to recognize your stressors so you can figure out coping mechanisms that allow you to work through them without raising your stress level. The next Stress Take Charge course will be held on 5 & 6 March 2019. Contact our office to register.

Condition risk factors are medical conditions which increase the risk of heart disease but which can be managed through medication, treatment and healthy lifestyle choices. Ensure that you are having regular checkups with your healthcare provider. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, pre-eclampsia, atrial fibrillation, and sleep apnea all increase the risk of heart disease and/or stroke.

If you would like to learn more heart healthy tips or receive the tools to make healthy lifestyle choices, thereby reducing your risk, contact your Health Promotion Department at 4WGHealthPromotion@forces.gc.ca or local 6958.

• Government of Canada. (10 Feb 2017). Heart disease in Canada. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/heart-disease-canada.html
• Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada. (2019). Heart disease. Retrieved from https://www.heartandstroke.ca/heart