February is Heart Health Month and the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation states that 9 in 10 Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease is a group of conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart. There are four main types of heart disease and each with a variety of root causes.
Coronary artery and vascular disease are due to the hardening of arteries.
Heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias) cause the heart to beat too slowly, and too quickly.
Structural heart disease refers to abnormalities of the heart’s structure – including its valves, walls, muscles or blood vessels near the heart.
Heart failure is a serious condition that develops after the heart becomes damaged or weakened. This could be caused by a heart attack or high blood pressure.
What are the risk factors?
Processed foods and sugary drinks can greatly increase your risk of heart disease. Oftentimes, poor eating habits lead to weight increases and even obesity, which can be directly related to heart disease.
Smoking increases the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke. It also directly affects the vessels that supply blood to the heart and other parts of the body.
More research is in place to find the direct link between stress and heart disease, however, stress may impact behaviours and factors that increase heart disease risks, such as high blood pressure, excessive alcohol use, smoking and overeating.
Heart Disease & Women
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, heart attacks and strokes in women account for 31, 000 deaths each year. In fact, most Canadian women have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Women who have diabetes, come from certain ethnic backgrounds or are menopausal are even more at risk.
Depending on your current eating behaviour and medical history, it is best to consult your doctor or medical practitioner before starting any new diet. However, opting to eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat and fish are great ways to begin the journey to healthy eating.
As with starting a new diet, always consult with your doctor before beginning any physical activity routine. he or she may offer suggestions tailored to your needs and medical history. They may suggest cardio activities, such as walking, swimming, or even cycling. Other heart-healthy activities can include yoga of Tai Chi for low impact options.
The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology Activity Guideline recommends that adults aged 65 years and older should perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more to see health-related improvements.
Everyone experiences some level of stress and that stress may manifest itself in a variety of ways. Finding activities and hobbies you enjoy, such as reading, yoga, meditation, or golf is a great place to begin when thinking about how to reduce your stress. Talking to close friends or relatives, or even a registered therapist can assist you with tackling some of the deeper stresses you may be experiencing.
Quitting smoking can be a challenge, but research shows that heart disease risks are almost immediately decreased after quitting. Speak to a healthcare professional about some options you can try to quit the habit.
By making small incremental changes to your diet, physical activity and lifestyle, you can significantly reduce the risks of heart disease.
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