February is Heart Month, a time to bring attention to the importance of cardiovascular health, and what we can do to reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease affects approximately 2.4 million Canadian adults and is the second leading cause of death in Canada.

“There is nothing in this world as precious as a healthy heart,” said. Dr. Ingemaud Gerber. “Heart month is a great reminder for people to look after themselves by assessing their heart health, lifestyle, and genetic risk factors and then making decisions in collaboration with their doctor to lead a heart-healthy life moving forward.”

1. Quit Smoking.

If you are a smoker, the number one thing you can do to improve your heart health is quitting smoking. Quitting smoking will help your heart and blood vessels. No matter how much or how long you’ve smoked, quitting benefits you. If you already have coronary heart disease, quitting smoking greatly lowers your risk of having more heart attacks or dying from that heart disease.

Tobacco use continues to be the leading preventable cause of illness and premature death in Canada. Approximately 48,000 Canadians die each year from tobacco use. The over 7,000 toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke can damage your body’s ability to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your heart. They can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD). This generic term includes those conditions that affect your heart and blood vessels, including coronary heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, heart attack, peripheral artery disease, and aneurysm.

2. Get Active.

Even individuals with heart disease risk factors benefit from regular activity. Those who stay active lower their risk of early death compared to those who lead sedentary lifestyles. Strengthen your heart by getting at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three to five days a week. Before you start a new fitness routine or make any dramatic changes to your existing habits, talk to your doctor to ensure you choose activities appropriate for your current level of health and cardiovascular capabilities.

3. Get Enough Sleep.

The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Adults recommend 7 to 9 hours of good-quality sleep for adults younger than 65, and 7 to 8 hours for seniors. Achieving adequate sleep on a regular basis with consistent sleeping and waking times maximizes health benefits. Not getting enough sleep is associated with higher rates of mortality, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental and cognitive disorders, and accidents and injuries.

Some common reasons people struggle to get enough sleep may include stress, caffeine intake, an inconsistent sleep schedule, or too much time late at night on an electronic device like a smartphone, laptop, or television. If you need help adjusting your sleep schedule and improving your sleep quality, talk to your doctor (and know that regular exercise and quitting smoking can help too).

4. Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet.

A diet high in fat can increase your risk of developing a dangerous heart disease. When fatty deposits in the blood build up over time, they narrow the arteries in the heart, resulting in a condition called atherosclerosis, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Fuel your heart with lean proteins, healthy grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Reduce your intake of sugary processed beverages and foods, salty, fried foods, and fast-food high in saturated fats. Add to your diet such superfoods as lean meat and fish, oatmeal that is high in fiber, blueberries, leafy greens, and healthy nuts like almonds. Make an appointment to talk to our Registered Dietitian to provide you nutrition counselling through virtual and telephone sessions.

5. Reduce Stress.

Researchers believe that stress may affect lifestyle behaviors and health factors that increase your risk of heart disease risk, including smoking, inactivity, unhealthy diet choices, and high blood pressure and cholesterol. While many aspects of your life—from work to family to social pressures—may be causing you stress, every effort you can make to lead an emotionally healthy, balanced lifestyle can improve your heart health and happiness. If you worry that stress could be negatively impacting your emotional and physical health, talk to your doctor and ask for a referral to a mental health professional.

6. Have Regular Wellness Exams.

The best asset in your quest for optimal heart health is your doctor. Make sure you are following age and risk factor appropriate recommendations for regular health screenings with your doctor. Book an appointment for a Proactive Health Assessment. Our team can help guide you on how to make changes in your lifestyle in a way that is manageable and healthy for you.