February is Heart Month in Canada, a time to bring awareness to cardiovascular health, what it encompasses, and how the adoption of healthy lifestyle behaviours can reduce our risk of developing heart-related diseases. Heart disease affects over 2.5 million Canadians each year and is the second-leading cause of death in Canada. Luckily, healthy lifestyle choices – like diet modifications and exercise – are a good way to combat heart disease. Other strategies that involve medication reviews and lowering salt-intake can also help lower your risk.
Modify your diet to reduce cholesterol
The Portfolio diet is a plant-based diet that consists of four cholesterol-lowering foods: nuts, plant-based proteins, soluble fibre, and plant sterols. In combination with a National Cholesterol Education Program Step II diet, the Portfolio diet can reduce “bad cholesterol” and other types of fat found in the blood, inflammation, blood pressure, and the ten-year risk of coronary heart disease.
Make exercise part of your daily routine
Living an active lifestyle can decrease your risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease. There are many effective forms of exercise that vary in intensity: from walking, aquatic exercise and yoga to high intensity interval training and strength training. Whatever your preference may be, consider incorporating some form of fitness into your everyday routine to benefit your long-term health and well-being.
Be aware of hidden heart risks in your medicine cabinet
Millions of people have nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Advil, Aleve, Anaprox, Celebrex, Motrin and Voltaren sitting in their bathroom cabinet, and many people will pop one or two casually at the slightest pain. However, NSAIDs can increase the risk of heart attack, with the level of risk tied to the type of NSAID, how much is taken, and for how long. This doesn’t mean you should stop taking them altogether, but understanding their risk is important when assessing whether they are needed.
Lower your salt intake
Salt is a major source of dietary sodium and consuming too much sodium increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, and in particular, high blood pressure. Affecting more than 4.5 million Canadians, high blood pressure is known as ‘the silent killer’ because it often develops without symptoms. When left uncontrolled, it can lead to heart attacks, heart failure, aneurysms, and metabolic syndrome. Sodium reduction is now recognized as an important way to prevent major chronic diseases.
There are many things you can do to contribute to better overall heart health. Start small, by making subtle changes to your diet, and incorporating some form of physical activity – whether it be a walk or Yoga class at home – into your regular routine. Being mindful of the medications you take, and your salt intake can also help. To learn more about each of these elements, read through our featured resources below.