February Heart Month — 10 Healthy Heart Tips
Up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke cases are preventable through healthy lifestyle behaviours and habits. Here are ten tips to help strengthen your heart health:
1. Eat your fruits & vegetables.1
There’s a reason behind the all-too-common saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away a day.” A diet rich in vegetables and fruits has many benefits. These include: it can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and positively affect blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check.2 Aim for 7-10 servings every day!
2. Get moving.1
When done regularly, moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity strengthens your heart muscle. This improves your heart’s ability to pump blood to your lungs and throughout your body. As a result, more blood flows to your muscles, and oxygen levels in your blood rise.3
3. Stop smoking.1
Tobacco use increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Smoking contributes to plaque buildup in your arteries, increases the risk of blood clots, reduces the oxygen in your blood, and makes your heart work harder. There are medically-approved smoking cessation aids to help you overcome withdrawal symptoms and increase your chances of success.1 Talk to your healthcare provider for help on quitting.
4. Manage your weight.1
Almost 60% of Canadian adults are overweight. If overweight or obese, measuring waist circumference helps screen for possible health risks. If you carry most of your weight around your waist rather than at your hips, you’re at a higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This risk goes up with a waist size that is greater than 35 inches for women or greater than 40 inches for men. To correctly measure your waist, stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hipbones. Measure your waist just after you breathe out.4
5. Manage stress.1
Stress can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, and lead to depression and anxiety. That’s why it is essential to recognize and manage stress. Consider self-care tools and methods such as yoga, meditation, breathwork, and journaling to de-stress. The following link provides excellent tips on reducing stress: “Manage your stress.”
6. Get enough sleep.5
Sleep is an essential part of keeping your heart healthy. Researchers believe sleeping too little causes disruptions in underlying health conditions and biological processes, including blood pressure and inflammation. If you don’t sleep enough, you may be at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, no matter your age or other health habits.
7. Reduce sedentary behaviour.5
With the rise of working from home, more people have increased their sedentary time. Research has suggested that staying seated for long periods is terrible for your health, no matter how much exercise you do. It’s important to move throughout the day. Some tips? Park farther away from the office and take a few shorter walks throughout the day. Working from home? Walk up and down the stairs several times and take a walk around your neighbourhood.
8. Know your numbers.6
Keeping your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides in check are vital for good heart health. Take steps to reach and maintain those levels. Learn the optimal levels for your sex and age group. And remember to schedule regular check-ups with your doctor.
9. Cut back on alcohol.7
Excessive alcohol intake can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure or stroke. Excessive drinking can also contribute to cardiomyopathy, a disorder that affects the heart muscle.7 According to Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines, men should have no more than three drinks per day, and women should have no more than two drinks per day.8
10. Get social.
According to a research study performed on 479,059 individuals from the UK Biobank, social isolation and loneliness are associated with increased risk of acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and stroke. In addition, social isolation is related to elevated mortality after the incidence of AMI or stroke.9 Make time to catch up with friends over coffee or via video call, or strike up a conversation with a stranger during your next outdoor walk!
2 The President and Fellows of Harvard College
3 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
4 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute