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February is Heart Month: some advice on how to give your heart some lovin’

I know I’m not alone in admitting that I’m guilty of not giving my heart enough lovin’. Sure, I exercise and eat healthy as much as I can but I think I’ve fallen under the mid-twenties invincibly spell, thinking I’ve got at least another ten years before I need to start worrying about any of those heart-related diseases. Well, turns out I’m not off the hook. Heart disease is the number one killer of women each year in Canada and the risk factors don’t spring up overnight and begin to have an affect on your heart long before you’re 35 – diabetes, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, being overweight, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, smoking and stress all increase your risk of heart disease or stroke. Since February is Heart Month and one of my new year’s resolutions was to take better care of myself, I took some questions to Krista Broughton, Marketing Manager, Community Brands at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario to learn how to give my heart some TLC.

What is Heart Month?
Each year in February, the Heart and Stroke Foundation engages Canadians from coast to coast in Heart Month events to raise awareness of risk factors for heart disease and stroke and funds for vital heart and stroke research. In Ontario, 29 Foundation offices engage more than 53,000 volunteers, reaching 800,000 households through canvassing campaigns. More than 100,000 donors and volunteers are reached through community events and initiatives. The funds raised during Heart Month allow the Foundation to continue working to achieve the targets that were set out in the Canadian Heart Health Action Plan.

What are some heart-friendly tips you can offer for those under the age of 35?
A healthy balanced diet, lower in fat, may reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by helping you increase your intake of heart-healthy nutrients, manage your weight, keep your blood pressure down, control your blood sugar levels, and lower your cholesterol. As well, physical activity can be a lifesaver – literally. When you’re active 30 to 60 minutes a day, most days of the week, you can dramatically lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Regular activity also helps prevent and control risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity.

What foods are best to maintain a healthy heart?
Nutritious, balanced meals and healthy snacks may reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by helping you manage your weight, keep your blood pressure down, control your blood sugar levels, and lower your cholesterol. Substitute lower fat products for what you’d usually use. Use plain, lower-fat yogurt instead of sour cream, lower-fat cheese instead of the full-fat type, and evaporated skim milk instead of cream. Try whole grain options, cook whole-wheat pasta instead of white. Replace some of the white flour in a recipe with 100% whole-wheat flour. Instead of salt, spice things up with fresh or dried herbs. Try dill with fish, paprika with chicken or ginger with beef. Lightly sautéed garlic, onions and sweet red peppers add flavour as well as assorted nutrients that promote good health. When you’re grocery shopping, reading the Nutrition Facts table on food products will help you make smart choices. Also look for the Health Check symbol on food packaging, the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s food information program, based on Canada’s Food Guide.

For women, what are some risk factors for heart-related diseases?
Heart disease is the number one killer of women and each year, more women than men die from stroke. Statistics show that 53% of Canadian women ages 18 and over are overweight or obese, so this is a risk factor women should really be aware of. As well, women with high blood pressure have a 3.5-times greater risk of developing heart disease than women with normal blood pressure, yet 14% of women are unaware they have high blood pressure.
What kinds of exercises are best to maintain and improve cardiovascular health?

People age 18 and over need to be physically active 30 to 60 minutes, most days of the week. Incorporating activity into your day will have significant health benefits and may reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. The actual time you may need depends on the effort you expend. Generally, the less vigorous the activity, the more you’ll need to do. For light activities, you’ll need to do about 60 minutes a day to stay healthy; moderate activities, 30 to 60 minutes; and vigorous activities, 20 to 30 minutes. Light activities may include light walking, gardening, stretching or yoga or a low-intensive game of volleyball. Moderate activities may include brisk walking, riding a bike, raking leaves, water aerobics, swimming or dancing. Vigorous activities may include aerobics, jogging, hockey or basketball.

How can people get involved with Heart Month?
Donations can be made during canvassing campaigns, at community fundraising events, through direct mail and online initiatives at www.heartandstroke.ca/donate (text ‘heart5’ to 20222 to donate $5).

For more information on Heart Month and the initiatives of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, visit www.heartandstroke.com.

~ by Caitlyn Holroyd
~ photo courtesy of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Heart Lights event earlier this month

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