February is Heart Month, and the ideal time to think about what we can do to pump up our heart health. Heart disease affects approximately 2.4 million Canadian adults and is the second leading cause of death in Canada. While there are some risk factors that we have no control over (family history and our age, for example), there are plenty of healthy lifestyle choices we can make to give ourselves the best chance of staying healthy.
Here are six ideas for improving heart health:
1. Talk to your family doctor about your risk factors. Early detection and treatment of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes can greatly reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
2. Be a non-smoker. Quitting is difficult but you don’t need to rely on willpower alone. There are many free-of-charge resources available to help — and remember to let your family and friends know what you need so that they can support you, too.
3. Build physical activity into your daily routine. Every little bit helps! Try a walk during your lunch break or after dinner, get to the station on foot rather than taking a bus, climb a couple of flights instead of grabbing the elevator, stand up and stretch at your desk every hour or so.
4. Develop healthy eating habits. Avoid trans fats and sugar, and select fresh, unprocessed foods, a wide range of proteins, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Variety is the spice of life so get creative: find some new recipes, add interesting herbs and spices to your food, or try a new fruit or vegetable each week.
5. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight by taking small, manageable steps and building from there. For example: drink plenty of water and avoid sugary pop; keep to moderate portion sizes; make mealtimes a social activity with family and friends; and avoid “unconscious” snacking at your desk, in your car or in front of the TV.
6. Learn how to cope with stress in a healthy way. Start with trying to minimize stressors in your life. Physical activity, getting enough sleep, and eating well will all strengthen coping skills, and sharing your feelings with friends and family can help. Try some relaxation, deep breathing or meditation techniques, and remember to make time for yourself and to do things you find enjoyable.