5 Easy Ways To Have Your Heart-Healthiest Month Ever

A simple five-step approach to optimum heart health.

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Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in Canada, second only to cancer. For one of the largest health issues facing Canadians, it’s striking that nearly 80 percent of all premature heart diseases and strokes can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle.

“Women at every stage of life — whether they’re younger, at mid-life, more mature, or post-menopausal — can all be at risk and can all reduce their risk,” says Dr. Beth Abramson, a Toronto-based cardiologist and spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. While the leading causes of stroke, high blood pressure and hypertension are managed through medication (once diagnosed), lifestyle also plays a major role in preventing these diseases and minimizing your risk. Here are five ways you can boost your heart health, immediately.

1. Bring your own lunch

You’ve heard it all before. Eat a balanced diet with 7–10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Go for healthy grains, and lower-fat meat and dairy products (that means eliminating high-fat cheese). “There’s no magic bullet,” says Abramson.

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Nuts, although fatty, are healthy and high in protein. “It’s all about moderation. If you have a jar of nuts and eat the whole container at once, that’s too many fat and calories in one sitting,” she says. Instead, make like former U.S. president Barack Obama and count out your portions.

Abramson also recommends baking and broiling your food rather than frying. Read labels and start avoiding foods that are high in fats, especially trans fats, and prepare food at home as often as you can. Processed foods contain a lot of salt, which people with certain forms of heart disease, such as congestive heart failure, need to watch in their diet. “We live in an environment full of excess calories,” she says. “There are often hidden calories and fats in prepared food. Bring your lunch to work — it takes a little bit of time and effort, but it will have lasting impact.”

2. Don’t drink your calories

Cut back on soft drinks, alcohol, and even fruit juices — even ones that are 100 percent juice are high in sugar and lack the fibre and some nutrients you would get from eating the fruit itself. Always read the labels on anything you’re drinking, and opt for water instead of sugary drinks.

Wine, which usually isn’t labelled with nutritional information, is high in calories. “There are almost as many calories in a glass of wine as in a chocolate bar,” says Abramson.

While red wine has often been touted for its health benefits, the effects of red wine on heart health are still not completely understood. It may not even be red wine, per se, that’s beneficial for heart health, but the alcohol itself. “Small amounts of alcohol can potentially be healthy because it affects the stickiness of the blood and blood platelets,” says Abramson. “But we don’t recommend alcohol intake because there are more problems with excess alcohol. If you do not drink alcohol, it’s not in your best interest to start drinking alcohol, but small amounts of alcohol may be protective.”

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3. Take a walk. Even just a short one.

Aim for about 30 minutes of moderate-to-intense activity every day. This can be broken down into 10 minutes at a time, says Abramson.

“You don’t necessarily need to put on spandex or go to the gym to be healthy,” she adds. Abramson recommends brisk walking, taking the stairs to work, parking further in the parking lot, or doing yard work or shovelling snow.

“It’s hard in suburban environments, especially with big-box stores that we need to drive to,” she says. “If you can walk to the grocery store or walk to your errands, that will be healthier for you in the long run.”

4. Keep an eye on how your body is changing

Body shape can change as you age, and carrying excess fat across your belly is associated with increased risk of heart disease, says Abramson. Having excess belly fat is also linked to high blood cholesterol, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, gallbladder disease and sleep apnea.

5. Everything in moderation — except this one thing

The experts have spoken, and the answer is unanimous. Smoking forces the heart to work harder because it causes plaque buildup in the arteries, increases risk of blood clots, and reduces oxygen in the blood. Smokers are three times more likely to have a stroke or die of heart disease. “I would recommend most things in moderation,” says Abramson. “Except for smoking.”