February is the month of love, romance and hearts.
But did you know that every seven minutes someone in Canada dies from heart disease or stroke? And if that isn’t enough to make your heart hurt, nine in 10 Canadians already have at least one risk factor for heart disease and 25 per cent have three or more risk factors.
The good news is that we can reduce our risk of heart disease by up to 80 per cent with some simple (and maybe surprising) lifestyle changes. You may already be familiar with the tried-and-true ways of lowering your risk: quit smoking, eat a healthy diet, and exercise.
Be a quitter
Smoking increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease and stroke by contributing to the build up of plaque in arteries, and an increase in blood pressure and reduced oxygen in the blood. Quitting smoking can be one of the most challenging habits to break. It is important to seek out help. Talk with your doctor or visit quitnow.ca or call 1-877-455-2233.
Eat heart smart
A heart healthy diet includes eating an abundance of fruit and vegetables, using plant and seed oils, including more whole (unprocessed) grains, and focusing on lean meats, poultry, and oily fish. It is important to avoid foods high in saturated or trans fats. For more information call 1-888-HSF-INFO for a free copy of Heart-Healthy Eating Guide for your Family from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Aim for at least 30 minutes a day of moderate activity such as brisk walking, bowling, dancing, vacuuming, swimming and gardening. Breaking it up into chunks of 10 or 15 minutes counts too.
But don’t stop there. Research shows there are other, unexpected things you can do to improve your heart health.
Whether you like watching Family Guy or Seinfeld reruns, if it gets you chuckling, it’s good for your heart. Laughing dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow and reducing blood pressure. Research from the University of Maryland Medical Center shows that laughter helps relieve the stress that damages the lining of blood vessels and helps your blood flow.
The benefits from chocolate may come from flavonoids, compounds in chocolate, especially dark chocolate, thought to help protect cells against damage.
A number of studies suggest that eating dark chocolate may decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. So how much chocolate are we talking about? About two small squares or six to seven grams per day.
Pet your pet
People with pets tend to have lower blood pressure and decreased risk from heart disease than those who don’t. Pet owners tend to get more physical activity, and as well companionship with pets can boost levels of anti-stress hormones.
Sleeping for six hours or less per night, may increase your heart disease risk by almost 50 per cent. Too little shut eye can increase blood pressure and cholesterol, and has been implicated in developing Type 2 diabetes. But oversleeping (greater than nine hours) boosts your chances as well.
Taking a few minutes to relax each day, using deep breathing, quiet contemplation or sustained focus can be a great way to affect heart health for the better; anxiety and stress cause blood pressure to shoot up and leave us on edge, triggering spikes in heart-harming stress hormones.
Let’s use the Heart month to focus on taking care of our hearts by giving some of these heart-healthy habits a try. Your heart and your loved ones will love you for it.
If you would like to find out more about living a heart healthy lifestyle, you are welcome to attend the next session of Your Happy Healthy Heart at the Summerland Health Centre Feb. 10 from 9 to 11 a.m. Registration is free by calling 250-770-3550.
Sandra Turnbull, RD, CEC is a registered dietitian, certified executive coach with the Interior Health Authority.