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
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.
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:
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.
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
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.