February is Heart Health Month. Heart disease is an umbrella term describing a number of different problems with your heart’s ability to pump blood and oxygen to your tissues. We tend to think of heart disease only affecting old people; however Health Canada reports that 90 per cent of Canadians over the age of 20 already have at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke.
Those risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, high levels of stress, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, misuse of alcohol and being overweight or obese. Current thinking is that these risk factors cause low-grade inflammation in the lining of your arteries, promoting plaque formation and clots. Over time, these grow and have the potential to fully block blood flow to either your heart (heart attack) or brain (stroke), killing tissue and potentially causing death. On a positive note, heart disease and stroke are considered health opportunities, because up to 80 per cent of premature heart diseases are thought to be preventable.
Unfortunately the reality in our society is that we need to be very proactive about our health because our “status quo” promotes chronic disease: jobs where we sit all day, electronic entertainment or eating convenience foods. These are all bad for our health. Here are some ideas to protect your heart.
• Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily (one serving is = 1/2 cup).
• Limit screen time (TV/computer) for your kids (and yourself, if possible) to less than two hours daily.
• Exercise 30-60 minutes every day – walk to work, play outside with your kids…
• Get your blood pressure checked. This can be done at your doctor’s office or a pharmacy. Current targets are 140/90 (or 130/80 if you have diabetes or kidney disease).
• Limit salt (less than 1,500mg/day). Keep in mind that 75 per cent of the salt we eat is already in our food, not added while cooking or eating. Read food labels and choose brands that contain less salt.
• Quit smoking (easier said than done).
• Don’t have more than one or two drinks per day (Note: “a drink” equals 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. of distilled liquor. And, no, these cannot be banked during the week for a weekend binge).
-Serena Caner is a registered dietician who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.