Heart Health: Should It Be On Your Radar?

The facts

Fact 1: In Canada, heart disease is the 2nd leading cause of death.

Only cancer takes more Canadian lives each year. There is some good news: The death rate among those with heart disease is dropping, as is the number of Canadians being newly diagnosed with heart disease.

We’re not out of the woods, though. Researchers worry cardiovascular disease could start to rise again as risk factors like obesity and diabetes are becoming more prevalent.

Fact 2: Women, beware: Every 20 minutes, a woman in Canada dies of heart disease.

And while 90 percent of women in this country have at least one risk factor for heart disease, most don’t know the disease’s symptoms or risk factors—or their own level of risk.

Women diagnosed with heart disease face significant barriers. They’re less likely to receive care from a cardiologist or to be referred to cardiac rehabilitation programs than men are, for a start. Indigenous women who live on reserve face even more daunting barriers to care.

Prevention is the best course for everyone, but it may be especially vital for Canadian women.

The fixes

Step 1: Get tested.

Don’t fly blind. Make an appointment with your health-care provider to discuss your cardiovascular disease risk factors. Find out your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers and determine next steps.

Step 2: Eat more plants.

Eating a healthy diet based on whole plant foods helps in maintaining a healthy weight, preventing diabetes, and tamping down blood pressure and cholesterol—nearly all the major risk factors for heart disease. (Smoking and high alcohol intake are other big risk factors.)

At least 8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day is good; more is better! Leafy greens (think kale, lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard) are the veggies most strongly associated with dropping risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition to pumping you full of heart-healthy nutrients, filling up on plants doesn’t leave much room for processed foods high in heart-harming sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.

Step 3: Move, move, move!

When you hop on your bike or huff your way through a HIIT workout, you’re probably thinking about how exercise builds muscle, whisks away stress, and manages weight. You probably aren’t thinking about it bettering your blood—but it does. Exercise lowers blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar.

Aim to get at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity exercise a week. And remember: The higher your cardiorespiratory fitness, the better for your heart—so jog that extra lap around the block!

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