Your Sizzling Summer Guide To Grilling

vincent-keiman-ul_m5dHThaM-unsplashWritten by Cara Rosenbloom

3 min read

Summertime means the official start of barbeque season. What’s better than a grilled dinner on a warm summer evening — we’re talking grilled vegetables, corn on the cob and farm-fresh strawberries. Yum!

Grilling is a convenient, quick, and relatively simple cooking method. It brings out a delicious smoky quality to foods, and makes fruit taste sublime. It also reduces fat – for two reasons. Fat is not added to a pan as it would be in a stovetop method, and fat drips off when you grill meat. (You still need fat! But instead of saturated fat from meat, it’s better to get fat from other places – like olive oil in salad dressing, guacamole as a dip, or a handful of almonds as an appetizer).

 When cooking meat 

If your summer is not complete without juicy burgers and chicken wings, you can grill these up in a healthier way. You see, grilling meat and poultry at high temperatures produces undesirable by-products called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These carcinogens can cause changes in cells, which can lead to cancer. Here are a few steps you can take to reduce HCA and PAH build-up on meat:

  1. Add herbs: A sprinkle of herbs, spices, garlic or onion powder can drastically slash HCAs from forming on your meats. Try a rub of mixed herbs, especially rosemary, basil and oregano, which have high HCA-busting potential. Turmeric is a good choice too.
  2. Use a marinade: Sure, it will make your meat taste great, but your blend of oil, vinegar and citrus juice can reduce HCA and PAH formation. Teriyaki or barbeque sauce works too – try making your own or look for store-bought options with the lowest amount of added sugars and resist the temptation to overpour.
  3. Turn down the temperature: The hotter the temperature and the longer the cooking time, the more HCAs and PAHs get produced. So sear it, then reduce the heat. Or, cut your meat into smaller pieces to reduce cooking time.
  4. Don’t grill until charred and burnt: If you can see lots of black char, you’re seeing HCAs and PAHs. Grill until meat reaches a safe internal temperature, but not for longer.

Grill everything! 

When you’re ready to spark up the ‘que, meat is only one option. Think beyond steaks and burgers, and discover the joys of grilling fish, vegetables, tofu, fruit, and even pizza (try a flatbread with tomato bruschetta on top of your other favourite toppings)! Bonus — HCAs and PAHs don’t form on vegetables, fruit or tofu.

Vegetables work best when they are brushed with oil first, which prevents them from sticking to the grill. You can also use a grilling basket so small veggies don’t fall through the grates of the barbeque. The best vegetables to grill are:

  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Onion
  • Corn on the cob
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Mushrooms

You can make amazing grilled salads too – try grilled Caesar. Grill halved or quartered romaine lettuce over medium heat for about five minutes, then top with your favourite healthy Caesar dressing and some Parmesan.

Something magical happens when juicy fruit meets heat and the sugar caramelizes! Try peaches, pineapple, banana, watermelon, pears or cantaloupe on the grill. The perfect sweet ending to any meal!

What’s your favourite food to grill?

Looking for more barbeque inspiration? Check out these creative ideas.

A Guide to Budgeting

Man using calculator and calculate bills in home office.Written by Optimity Team

2 min read

For over 4 years, Optimity has been learning from our community. From physical activity, to mental wellness and financial literacy, we’ve learned about the challenges you’ve overcome, the milestones you’ve achieved, and the questions you still have. 

One challenge that almost half of our community is facing is that they don’t keep a monthly budget, and the number one reason was not knowing where to start. The benefits of budgeting can include increased financial stability and awareness along with less stress and better mental health (just to name a few!). With that in mind, we’ve created a simple three-step guide to creating a budget so you have the information you need to start your own.

1 – Set your goals

Whether your goal is paying down debt, creating an emergency fund, or having enough money to go out to eat once a week, it’s important to have goals in mind before you create your budget. Your goal can be a stand-alone or one of many, short-term or long-term. It does not have to be something as daunting as saving for a house or a car. It can be as simple as saving for a date night out every month or for a special trip. The important thing is that your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Yup, you know where we’re going: SMART goals. Keep your goals in mind, and adapt them as needed, as you continue to create your budget. 

2 – Track and categorize your expenses

A key to making an accurate budget is understanding how much money you’re earning, and how you are currently spending that money. There are several apps that can help you with this process. But, if you prefer a more hands-on approach, track your monthly spending – yes, everything – and use that as your sample. 

Once you’ve chosen how you’re going to track your spending, you can start to categorize your expenditures. Break them down into Fixed (rent, food) and Variable, or get even more specific with categories like Utilities, Grocery, Travel, etc.  Next, subtract all your monthly expenses from your income. This way, you will see how much is left over for your future goals, and the areas you may need to cut back on.

3 – Match your goals, income, and expenditure

Once you’ve got all the information you need, the final step of creating a budget is to actually create one. This is when being realistic is key. If you go out to 15 restaurants a month, but want to bring that number down, budgeting enough for only two dinners out every month is unrealistic. Dropping that number down to 10 might be a better starting point. Creating a budget doesn’t mean that you can’t spend money or that you must feel bad about spending money on non-essential purchases. There is nothing wrong with treating yourself. The goal of creating a budget is taking your goals, income, and spending, and finding a point where they can all connect. Tracking your spending will enable you to achieve your goals and feel more confident in your financial situation.

The Lockdown Therapy

Resting at homeWritten by Dwiti Kacharia

5 min read

In a Nutshell:

  • Create a bucket list. Pursue interests and hobbies that have always interested you.
  • It’s the 2020 and technology opens up a lot of options. Use the medium to connect and explore.
  • We’re all in this together. Believe in the power of community and togetherness.
  • Change your perspective. Treat this time as a luxury and a blessing.
  • Self-care is of primary importance. Fill your glass first before serving others.
  • Isolate but do not hibernate. 

Covid-19 lockdown has brought along with it a range of side effects. They can pose a lot of challenges to our mental wellness. In the face of this new reality, it’s important to focus on taking care of ourselves and doing what we need to to stay healthy.

While you’re physically distancing yourself from the rest of the world, you’ll likely be in constant close quarters with your family. As the frustrations of a limited social life peak,  issues that may have seemed insignificant in the past may become more serious. It’s easy to take out frustrations on the people you’re confined with day after day. How can we protect our relationships and our sanity until the lockdown is over?

Whatever your lockdown-related woes might be, one thing is true: anything unfamiliar and outside your comfort zone is likely to bring initial anxiety or frustrations. That’s totally normal, so be patient with yourself. Fortunately, as humans, it’s in our nature not only to adapt but also to reason. What if this lockdown might be therapeutic in some way? What if this self-isolation is actually something you can benefit from? 

Lockdown Bucket List

Make a list of things you always wanted to learn to do, but haven’t. Treat this lockdown as a gift of extra time and opportunity rather than a waste of time.

One of the major advantages of the digital age is that everything you need to develop a new skill or hobby is available online, often at no cost.

A virtual course to upgrade your professional skills, a writing workshop, or maybe learning an instrument—the options are endless and time is on your side right now.

Technology to the Rescue

Connections and communication have never been more available—imagine being in lockdown back in the 1800s! Be thankful for the internet, for endless data plans, and for Netflix.

Tried the Netflix party with your extended family yet? Scored your first million points on Ludo King? Planned a Zoom Bingo night with your friends? Or even better, a Zoom Happy Hour Bingo night? The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

We’re All in This Together – the Power of Community and Togetherness

Yes, it’s tough. You may have financial problems, an uncertain career outlook, or both. But know that we’re all in this together. The layoff at your workplace, or the anxiety about paying next month’s rent, or frustrations with your partner or kids—it’s normal, temporary, and everyone is going through it. Believe in the power of togetherness. Reach out to the community, read about other people’s experiences and learn from them. 

Change Your Perspective

It’s not really the situation that matters, but how you react to it. A positive outlook, looking at the brighter side of things, will go a long way. 

Will the end of this pandemic boost your professional industry? Will working from home open up global remote work prospects? Will staying in with family help you deal with some long-ignored problems? Will you be able to spend more time with your teen like you always wanted? Will you have a chance to learn more about what your child enjoys, and connectng with him through common interests? Does no commute mean more energy for fun date nights with your partner? Look for the opportunities.

Self-Care First

It’s important to treat yourself and pamper yourself in order to support others around you. When was the last time you could self-isolate without the social obligations? Think of this as a chance to lay low until you are ready for the big reveal. 

When was the last time you had this much time to work on your health (and on those abs)? Imagine, the big Insta-reveal when you emerge from lockdown as a better, fitter version of yourself. There has never been a better time to work on self-care and self-improvement. Do it! Set a schedule and stick to it. Set aside time for workouts, skin care, hair care, reading time, yoga, or beauty rituals that help you feel your best. 

Isolate Not Hibernate 

As the world adjusts to a new way of life, keep up to date with news and market trends. Be informed about your industry and learn ways in which you can upgrade your skills. When all of this ends, the world won’t slow down for you to catch up. It’s okay to enjoy some downtime, but be sure to keep up with what’s going on—when things start to open up again, you want to be ready!

Eventually, things will go back to some version of normalcy. The question is, will you buckle under to temporary discomfort, or will you take this opportunity to focus on and build your strengths to emerge from this better and stronger?

How Can I Stay Productive While Working From Home?

Woman working from home with her daughter singing by her sideWritten by Komalpreet Kaur

As the pandemic forces many of us to work at home, it can be hard to stay productive without our usual routines and the structure of an office environment. But we’re still accountable for the same work, and we have to meet the same expectations as we did back when we went to the office every day. Here are a few tips to stay focused and productive while working from home.

 Create an Optimal Work Environment

Creating a home office that’s quiet and ergonomically correct is ideal, but it’s not always easy. Using your kitchen island, dining table, or your living room sofa as a workspace can work, but having a desk set up away from distractions and temptations works well for a lot of people, if they have such a space.

The type of work you do, and the way you work best is also an important factor. For example, if you’re someone who feels most creative in the morning, it might be best to work from a desk rather than your bed; working from bed can make it hard to wake up and focus, and carries a high risk of, well, falling back to sleep!

For simpler tasks, like checking emails, maybe the comfort of your sofa is a good fit. Look at it as your chance to create your ideal work ambience—to have a space you enjoy but don’t have at the office. You can set up a desk near the window if you prefer to work under natural light. Create an environment that inspires you and keeps you calm at the same time.

Declutter 

When working from home, choose a ‘clutter-free’ zone. It will help you stay focused on your work. If you’re working in an area with a lot of stuff scattered around you might be distracted by  thoughts of cleaning it up. It’s best to separate yourself from reminders of household chores.

Building a Routine

Build a routine even though you’re working from home. Just because you don’t have to go anywhere doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to stay in your pajamas. Get up, shower, get dressed and get your coffee just like you would if you were going to the office.

Keep a morning ritual of getting ready. Working from home obviously saves you travel time. You can spend that time working out, or maybe cooking a healthy breakfast. Do whatever you need to do to get into the right mindset. You can also make a to-do list for the workday—this will keep you on track and can improve your productivity.

Take a Break

You don’t have to be working every minute of your day to be effective. Taking short breaks can actually make you more productive overall. Try taking 5-10 minute breaks throughout your day. If you live with a partner or kids, spend some quality time with them. You can also catch up with your friends through texts or emails, or even video calls. Have lunch with your colleagues on video calls—it can make it feel more like a normal in-office workday.

Set Boundaries for Other People in your House

It can be hard to stay focused on work when you live with housemates, friends, or family, so it’s important to set boundaries with them. Let them know about your work hours and ask them not to disturb you when you’re working unless it’s an emergency.

Working with Children in the House

Build a schedule 

  • Be clear with your kids when you’ll need to be working, and set boundaries for them.
  • Have a daily task list for them to follow. 
  • Have a routine that includes them—spend time with them on your mini-breaks, or during lunch or breakfast. 
  • Reward them with treats for good behaviour. 
  • Don’t forget to have some non-work time for yourself, too.

Don’t Be a Workaholic

Just because you’re working from home and you can work around the clock doesn’t mean you should. Log off at the same time as you would in the office. Create a work-life balance—make time for yourself and your family. If you live alone, setting aside time to read or doing other things you enjoy can be a great way to relax. 

With everything going on in the world right now, anxiety and stress can be high for some people. Remind yourself that it’s normal to have these feelings and that you’re not alone. Here are a few more tips:

  • Limit your use of social media: Checking social media or news too often can enhance your anxiety, and it can even be depressing. Check news only a couple of times a day. 
  • Master your thoughts: Control any anxious or negative feelings you may have, and try to focus on positive thoughts. Self-affirmation can be helpful.
  • Breathe: Meditation can help you stay calm and relaxed.
  • Get active: Try some home workouts or yoga, if not being able to go to the gym is contributing to your anxiety.
  • Cooking with the family: Make time to cook healthy meals with your family—this is a great way to stay accountable with your health while spending some quality time with your loved ones.

Don’t forget to share in our comment section how you stay productive while working from home!

 

Healthy Eating – More than Food

Spring abundance

Written by Komalpreet Kaur

Food and nutrition are a way to fuel the body. When choosing foods to eat it’s important to consider all the vital nutrients, vitamins, and minerals as these are required for good health. Good nutrition means choosing healthy food items over unhealthy food items. According to Canada’s Food Guide, a healthy diet must constitute a lot of natural foods such as fruits and vegetables (especially red, orange and dark green), whole grains such as whole wheat and brown rice, a portion of protein such as lean meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans, legumes, and soy products such as tofu. A person must consume a diet containing adequate amounts of all the nutrients to prevent nutritional deficiencies. Foods that should be avoided are fried foods, solid fats, trans fats, processed foods rich in sodium, refined grains, and refined sugars considering these items have degrading effects on your health.

How You Eat Is Important

Dieticians of Canada suggest that eating habits play just as an important role as food choices. You can change your eating habits a little bit at a time. A small change is easier and with consistency, it leads to better health. Some measures to make healthy changes:

  • Adding more healthy food items in your diet rather than just avoiding unhealthy food items. Try replacing unhealthy foods with healthy food items, for example, replacing trans fats with healthy fats. Adding fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein in your diet as per Canada’s Food Guide. 
  • Packing healthy food items such as fruits, whole-grain granola bars, etc. for lunch at work — or healthy sandwiches, salads, and fruits for kids at schools. This gives you more control over what you eat! 
  • Cooking meals at home: When you cook at home you can take charge of what you eat and make changes in your food as per your choice. You can follow healthy recipe books and plan meals ahead. You can visit Cookspiration or download the Dietitians of Canada Recipe E-book to see Nutrition Month 2020 recipes.
  • Don’t skip or delay meals: Nutrition and healthy eating is not just about healthy food items but also about how you eat and when you eat! When you delay your meal or skip meals your body enters a survival mode. It makes your body crave food more and that’s when you end up eating a lot. Skipping meals also results in a drop in blood sugar level which impacts your brain’s ability to think straight. It also causes your metabolism to slow down resulting in weight gain.
  • Relax and enjoy your meals with family and friends: It improves social relationships and prevents mindless overeating.
  • Drink water instead of high-sugar drinks: Water flushes out all the toxins from the body. It helps keep you hydrated so you can function actively throughout the day.
  • Control emotional eating: Some people resort to eating food in order to get away from stress. Try these healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress or help get rid of unpleasant emotions to help make sure you steer away from indulging in eating unhealthy foods.
  • When you eat matters as well: Starting your day with a healthy breakfast improves metabolism and keeps you active. Eat small portions throughout the day to avoid overeating. Eat your dinner early and fast until breakfast; this will help you sleep better, improve digestion, and also help prevent weight gain.
  • Learn to read nutritional labels: It is important to decode nutrition labels. Food Labels can be confusing here are a few things to look out in nutrition labels.
  • Stick to products that carry the “organic” or “USDA organic” label rather than ‘All-Natural’, as FDA considers it to mean that the food contains no artificial synthetic substances such as colouring agents. However, these products still contain pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones.
  • Free-Range: If you want to buy free-range, look for products that have the American Humane Certified seal. This means that the hens were given access to the outdoors for at least 8 hours a day, weather permitting.
  • Grass-Fed: Look for products that have the American Grassfed or PCO Certified 100% GrassFed label. This guarantees that the animals were grass-fed throughout their lives and after being weaned and that they weren’t raised in confinement.
  • NON-GMO: GMO stands for genetically modified organisms and refers to plants or animals whose genetic material has been altered. To buy NON-GMO products look for these seals: Non-GMO Project Verified and USDA Organic. These seals mean the product has been tested by a third party and is found to have met a non-GMO standard of less than 0.9%.

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

Sleepy young man with pillow on light background

Written by Komalpreet Kaur

We often relate health with a healthy diet, physical activity, mental and emotional health but sleep is in some ways neglected in health conversations today. Sleep is the foundation of good health and it is important for every facet of life. Sleep deprivation affects every aspect of life whether it is physical wellness, mental wellness, job performance or social relationships. 

Why do you need to sleep?

  1. To improve your energy levels
  2. Boosts your immune system
  3. Improves heart health 
  4. Improves brain function 
  5. Good for memory 
  6. Better cognitive functions
  7. For the emotional well being
  8. For better weight management
  9. For better mental health 

Canada and the USA are the third and fourth most sleep-deprived countries respectively. One in three Canadians isn’t getting enough sleep and almost half of Canadians do not find their sleep refreshing.  

Recommended healthy sleep hours by the sleep foundation are as followed:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
  • School-age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours 
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours 

Both too little and too much sleep can have poor health impacts.

Effects of too little sleep:

  • Poor concentration, memory and vigilance
  • Sleepiness, tiredness, fatigue, irritability and weariness
  • Increased risk-taking, suggestibility
  • Weight-gain
  • Depression
  • Poor immune system
  • Increased risk of diabetes and morbidity 
  • Increased mortality
  • Early ageing

Effects of too much sleep:

  • Obesity
  • Back pain
  • Headaches
  • Depression 

Sleep is a basic physiological need. The less good-quality sleep you have, the greater your sleepiness will be, not only when you’re about to go to bed, but at other times as well. According to Dr. Chris Idzikowski (an expert on sleep and its disorders), the three main factors that affect daytime sleepiness are:

  1. The duration of your nighttime sleep (how long you’ve slept during the night)
  2. The quality of your nighttime sleep (how well you’ve slept)
  3. The circadian time (the time of the day)

Your sleeping space

Your bedroom must only be used for sleep and intimacy. Make some ‘keep out’ rules.

Keep out TV – Television is one of the greatest reasons for ignoring the urge to fall asleep. Television acts as a stimulant and keeps the brain active. Moreover keeping the TV on while getting ready for bed and then keeping it on when you are in the bed may make you overlook your body’s sleep signals. So place your TV out of the bedroom. 

Keep out work – Your bedroom is not an office where you need to check your emails, texts or read papers. Keep your notifications on silent for the night and your phone’s screen light to a minimum. Do not bring your laptop by your bedside. Your brain links work to being alert and focused, work is not conducive to sleep.

Bedroom Ambience

Create your sleep paradise!

The temperature, light and noise levels, and your bed are crucial factors that make the bedroom a perfect place to sleep. The first step in getting a better night’s sleep is to create a perfect bedroom environment. 

  • Turn off the lights, turn your alarm clock to face away from you, your phone must be away and on silent
  • Close the drapes or curtains or use a sleep mask
  • You can use earplugs to keep noise out or keep windows closed to block heavy traffic noise out
  • Consider double or triple glazing your bedroom to block the noise out
  • The mattress soft or hard must be according to your comfort
  • The National Sleep Foundation suggests that the bedroom temperature should be between 60 and 67degree Fahrenheit for optimal sleep.

You can also consider the colours in your bedroom. Studies show that peaceful whites, pale blues, and calming greens make it easier for us to fall asleep. Another way to make your bedroom feel calm is to cut down on the clutter. If you do not have much time to clean up and declutter simply spend 15 minutes cleaning up what bothers you the most. Feng Shi consultants and Zen practitioners insist that free flow of energy in your physical environment brings peace, prosperity and love.

Undo your stress

Limit your exposure to stressful situations and take frequent breaks during the day and learn to say no to any additional projects. Jot down your thoughts in a diary before going to bed. It will help empty your mind and help you relax and sleep better.  Use music as therapy for relaxing. The calm music such as zen music or wave sounds can calm your mind and help you sleep. For some people, aromatherapy with essential oils such as lavender or jasmine is also beneficial. A gratitude journal before sleep can also help you feel better and promote sleep and meditation before bedtime also has a calming effect. Healthy eating, physical exercise and connecting with friends and family can help reduce stress and help you get better sleep.

Eat well for better sleep 

Caffeine and alcohol are sleep thieves!

Limit your caffeine intake, reduce the amount of caffeine consumed in the afternoon and evenings. Caffeine stimulates the brain by blocking the action of hormones that makes you feel sleepy. The effects of caffeine might persist for up to 4-6 hours after consumption – always avoid caffeine consumption right before bedtime.

Energy Drinks are more of a hype than help as they contain lots of sugar. Caffeine hampers the normal mechanisms in the body (i.e. the sleep/wake cycle). The only way to rest the body is by getting a good night’s sleep.

Alcohol sedates you but does not put you to sleep – instead, it fragments your sleep all night. Beer, wine, etc. are poor sleep aids, as they stop your brain from entering the deeper stages of sleep, making you feel less rested and tired the next day. This is another reason why hangovers occur. Alcohol is one of the most powerful suppressors of REM or dream sleep.

Avoid eating dinner right before bed as it is hard to fall asleep with a fuller stomach, considering it keeps your body active and delays sleep. You must try to finish dinner 3-4 hours before bedtime for easy sleep.

Think your way to a good night’s rest

Develop a sleep ritual like brushing your teeth or a warm shower right before bed every day, as these can signal your brain for sleep. Reading a few pages of a book while in bed can also help put you to sleep. This practice is conducive to sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day sets your body clock and is helpful in getting good quality sleep. If you need to reset your sleep cycle in one day, stop eating for the 16 hours before the time you want to wake up.

Sleep is crucial for living a healthy life. Sleep deprivation triggers both physical and mental illness and may also bring social isolation and despair. If you struggle with sleep, have sleep anxiety or sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea, please speak with your physician and take measures to get a better sleep today.

Improve your sleep to enhance the quality of your life.

Employees who sleep better work better 

Sleep Deprivation negatively impacts the energy levels and productivity of the employees and the company. Sleep insufficiency and sleep deprivation are linked to various physical and mental health issues and increased risk of workplace injury leading to more disability claims in the company thereby increasing the health cost for the employer. Here’s how employers can improve the sleep of their employees:

  • Promote the importance of sleep in their company culture

When employers talk to their employees about the importance of sleep they are more likely to influence their employees into sleeping better. Employers can circulate monthly newsletters stressing on a healthy lifestyle and some tips to improve sleep to help employees improve the quality of their life.

  • On-site napping

Employers can have on-site nap stations to facilitate 10-30 minutes of power naps for their employees. It improves the energy and productivity levels of the employees and reduces work-related stress.

  • Workplace wellness programs

Smoking cessation programs, onsite fitness facilities, meditation, mindfulness and yoga as wellness programs in an organization can help improve the general health of employees. The programs on healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle can help reduce stress and improve sleep quality and quantity in employees.

Optimity can help you improve your sleep and health through various activities and challenges. Reach out to us at engage@myoptimity.com for more information on how Optimity can help you.

Adapted from Sound Asleep – The expert guide to sleeping well by Dr. Idzikowski C; Ten natural ways to a good night’s sleep by Dr. Linardakis N.

Show Your Heart, You Care!

Heart health, health care concept. Stethoscope near rubber heart on blue background top view space for text

Written by Komalpreet Kaur

We spend a lot of time taking care and worrying about our loved ones, but are we paying attention to our own health and well being? Are we taking care of ourselves enough? 

Millions of people in North America either suffer from heart disease or are at borderline risk for getting a heart disease diagnosis. Eighty percent of heart diseases are preventable—understanding the risk factors that predispose you for heart disease and taking adequate measures to live a healthy life are important first steps in prevention. Heart diseases contribute to many deaths, to read about risk factors and warning signs you can check out our blog post here.

When it comes to prevention there is no quick fix, the magic is achieved by incorporating healthy approaches in your lifestyle for the long term, not for a few days or weeks. All it takes to make a positive change for yourself and your family is your determination and willingness to make heart-healthy choices.

Here are a few changes that you can make for a healthy heart:

  • Eat well and right 
  • Stay active 
  • Don’t stress too much 
  • Sleep well
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol
  • Stay connected with the people you love

Believe in the power of healthy eating

Rates of obesity are soaring and with obesity comes high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high risk of coronary heart disease. Maintain a healthy weight through a healthy well-balanced diet and exercise. Changing or restricting your food habits is always challenging. A balanced diet that’s low in saturated fats and high in fresh fruits and vegetables will set you in the right direction toward protecting your heart from heart disease. Be proactive about your health. Instead of fad diets, you should refer to Canada’s food guide to know about recommended healthy food sources and food portions.

Five keys to a healthy diet according to Mayo clinic are:

  • Boost your fruit and vegetable intake

People who regularly consume five or more servings of vegetables and fruits every day cut down their chances of heart attack and stroke. Vegetables and fruits are low in cholesterol.  An Australian study reported a reduction in blood cholesterol in people eating an avocado a day for a month. Avocados are also a good source of potassium which can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. You must include more fresh fruits and vegetables in your daily meals. At the workplace or at home keep a bowl of fruits handy for a snack. Reduce or limit your salt intake, most of the dietary sodium comes from processed foods that people consume. Replacing processed meals with fresh foods whenever possible can have a great impact. When shopping you can choose to buy low-sodium or reduced-sodium options. You can also add extra vegetables and fruits to the food you commonly eat – for example, extra veggies in your soup. Eat at least two meatless dinners each week. For more information on heart-healthy food click here.

  •  Eat breakfast and eat it right 

Never miss your breakfast, your body needs energy. Eating a healthy breakfast is one of the ways to ensure you eat a balanced and moderate diet. Some healthy breakfast options can be fruits and nuts, low-fat dairy products and whole-grain products. Avoid sugary cereals and baked goods. If you don’t have enough time to fix a healthy sandwich for breakfast in the morning instead of pastries, muffins and doughnuts (food items high in saturated fat and sugars) you can always grab on the go-food such as apple, bananas, whole-grain bagels or low-fat yogurt. You can also prepare breakfast the night before and simply grab it in the morning rush hour.

  • Go for the grains

All types of grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, also low in fat. Always look for the word “whole” on the packaging. A simple switch to whole-grain bread, rolls or whole-grain cereals for morning breakfast is a healthier option. Replace white rice with brown rice, kasha or bulgar. Instead of breadcrumbs use rolled oats or crushed bran cereals in recipes.

  • Focus on the fats 

It is important to understand that not all types of fats are unhealthy or harmful. Limit saturated and trans fats (solid fats such as butter and margarine) and replace them with monounsaturated fats (olive, peanut and canola oil) and polyunsaturated fats (found in nuts and seeds). Check the labels of packaged food as some snacks might be labelled as ‘reduced fats’ and may have trans fat in them. Choose the low-fat version of milk and dairy products. Food from animal sources such as meat, poultry, eggs (egg yolk not whites), butter, cheese are some major sources of cholesterol. Watch what you eat.

  • Be lean with proteins

Consume good sources of protein including lean meat, poultry and low-fat dairy products or simply substitute meat with legumes (beans, peas and lentils). American Heart Association recommends eating fish (salmon, trout, herring, etc) twice a week as it is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids that reduce the risk of dying from heart disease.

Always check the label for health check symbol 

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This health check symbol is created by the heart and stroke foundation of Canada and manufacturers are only allowed to use the health checkmark when the food product is approved. It can be found on many foods including grain products, vegetables and fruits, milk products and alternatives, and meat and alternatives. For more nutritional tips and recipes you can visit the health check site.

Stay active

The best approach for overall good health is good nutrition plus exercise.

The heart and stroke foundation recommends that a normal adult must be moderately or vigorously active for 30 to 60 minutes a day, every day of the week. In busy and sedentary lives where it is hard to find the time, you must embrace a regular, scheduled pattern of activity regardless of age or stage of life. Exercise ranging from a brisk walk, climbing stairs or working out on cardio equipment in a gym helps burn calories and is beneficial to heart and blood vessels. You can simply start with brisk walks in nature with your kids or family members. Minimize using a car and prefer walking to a nearby shopping center. Scheduling time for exercise in your calendar is way better than scheduling visits to the doctor for health concerns.

Five keys to physical activity and heart health by Mayo Clinic are: 

  • Stand up for heart health

Researchers state that a sedentary lifestyle increases your risk of death from heart disease. This risk can be reduced if you find ways to get on your feet:

At Home– simply stand to read your morning newspaper, get off your couch and walk around your house while talking on the phone or during tv commercials. Stationary bike rides or walking on a treadmill while watching tv can help.

At work– Stand and take a break from your computer every 30 minutes. Take a break from sitting during long meetings, walk and talk on the phone or use the stairs instead of the elevator. You can use a height-adjustable desk so you can work while standing. Walk away from your desk for lunch.

  • Start with 10

Start by turning 10 minutes or more each day of a normal sedentary time into active time. For example, walk and talk, take short breaks to climb stairs or ride a stationary bike while watching TV. Even low levels of activity are beneficial but as your stamina for exercise increases, you can engage in more vigorous activity.  

  • Add intervals

Interval training allows you to exercise for longer periods and help burn more calories. It also helps to lower bad cholesterol levels. Once you are able to exercise at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes, you can add interval training. You can alternate one to two minutes of moderate activity such as brisk walking followed by 30 seconds of hard activity such as running. You can gradually increase the length of the higher intensity intervals to 1 to 2 minutes each. For Example:

Warm-up: 5minutes 

Moderate activity: 2 minutes 

Hard activity: 30 seconds 

Moderate activity: 2 minutes 

Hard activity: 30 seconds 

Moderate activity: 15 minutes 

Cool-down: 5 minutes

  • Boost your muscle strength 

It’s important to add muscle and bone-strengthening activities that utilize major muscle groups, at least 2 days per week. Examples of these activities are resistance training with weights or resistance bands. These types of activities have been shown to improve multiple markers related to heart health.

  • Pick things you enjoy 

Most of the time people do not engage in exercise every day as it is hard to find the time throughout their hectic schedules or they don’t like to exercise. What’s important is to move – it could be any activity like dance class, hiking with friends, any sports like soccer or softball, biking or walking in a park.

Click here for information on physical activity recommendations by the American Heart Association.

Quit smoking 

Every single puff you take from that cigarette, you lose some real chances of having a good quality of life.

I have often heard people saying ‘what harm can a small cigarette cause’ and ignore the ongoing detrimental effects it has on their body that keep increasing with each puff.

Dr. Beth Abramson states in her book that if you quit smoking when you are younger than 40 years of age, you are gaining 9 years of life expectancy and you gain 6 years if you quit when you are under 50 years. If you manage to quit when you are under 60 you can gain 3 years of life. The most important thing is when you quit smoking the quality of your life evidently improves. Within a year of giving up cigarettes, you are 50% less likely to develop coronary heart disease when compared to smokers

Dr. Abramson also suggests that personal rewards are more motivational than health benefits for people who want to quit. Smokers probably spend thousands of dollars a year on cigarettes, so think of all the money you will save if you quit smoking. 

Set goals for smoking cessation that involves milestones that are important to you and your family. Always ask your doctor about smoking cessation drugs. When quitting smoking your mood will change. If you feel irritated, agitated, depressed or suicidal talk to your doctor.

Also, understand that quitting is a process that will test your patience, you will need support from your peers and family. The process can be uncomfortable and uneasy but it will be worth it.

For help contact:

Smoker’s Helpline: 1 877 513-5333 

Smoke-free 

Sleep for the sake of your heart 

Not getting enough sleep at night for days or sleep deprivation can increase your risk of heart attack and heart disease regardless of age, weight, smoking or exercise habits. It’s easy to lose sleep when life gets busy, but you must remember to make rest a priority for your health.

  • Aim for a consistent quality sleep every night
  • Follow a sleep schedule – try to go to bed at about the same time every night 
  • Know your slumber number: The number of hours you sleep at night allows you to wake up in the morning without an alarm clock and feel refreshed. Determine the time when you need to get up in the morning and go to bed 7 or 8 hours earlier. Keep going to bed 10 or 15 minutes earlier until you can wake up without the alarm clock.
  • Make sure you don’t have a sleep disorder such as any form of sleep apnea and if you do consult your doctor

For better quality sleep at night:

  • Calm your mind
  • Create a quiet and dark sleep environment
  • Turn off electronics
  • Avoid eating big meals before bed
  • Resist the urge to nap late in the day
  • Do not consume caffeine or alcohol before bed 

Some measures could help keep your heart healthy:

  • Maintain a healthy weight – determine your body mass index, measure your waist circumference
  • Set realistic, useful, measurable and clear goals
  • Set short term goals and analyze your results every two weeks
  • Use a journal to track your progress
  • You can keep a food diary, sleep journal
  • Self-monitoring helps a great deal
  • Reward your success, celebrate achieving small milestones but not with unhealthy food!
  • Also having a strong social network and close emotional ties with others reduce your risk for heart disease. Having a strong support system and positive emotions improve your chances of living longer even with heart disease.

Start managing your health and take measures to keep your heart healthy. Don’t wait till a heart disease damages your heart and diminishes your quality of life. Keep your heart healthy, have a healthy relationship with your mind and body to develop and maintain good relationships with people you love.