St Mary's Guardian Pharmacy

Live Smart For Your Heart

Keep your ticker healthy with these 7 lifestyle strategies

Let's deal with the grim news first. Every 7 minutes a Canadian dies from heart disease or stroke. In Canada, cardiovascular disease (heart disease, diseases of the blood vessels and stroke) takes more lives than any other illness, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Now the great news. You can protect heart and reduce your risk simply by adopting a few good habits. If you already have heart disease, these lifestyle changes can help improve your health. Continue reading for suggestions on to lead a heart-smart life.

Get a grasp on CAD
It's important to understand what you're trying to prevent or control. Heart disease includes several conditions, the most common being coronary heart disease (CAD). According to Dr. Andreas Wielgosz, a cardiologist and spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, CAD occurs when the arteries in the heart are blocked with plaque - a sticky, yellow substance made of things such as cholesterol and calcium - which can lead to angina (chest pain) and heart attack. There are several risk factors associated with CAD. The more you have, the great your chance of developing heart disease. Being a man over 55 years or a post-menopausal woman and a family history of heart disease and stroke include risk factors that can't be managed. "You can, however, control others. These include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes and being overweight," Wielgosz says.

Healthy habits to live by:
Here's how to make over your lifestyle to prevent heart disease. If you have CAD, these guidelines will slow down its progression, helping keep you fit and strong.

1. Stop smoking
Using tobacco products or being exposed to secondhand smoke increase your chance of developing heart disease. "Smoking contributes to the buildup of plaque in your arteries, increases your blood pressure and makes your heart work harder," says Wielgosz. Soon after you quit, your body rapidly starts to heal from the damage caused by cigarettes. Within a year, your risk of a smoking-related heart attack is reduced by 50 percent, Wielgosz reports. To butt out, consider tools such as nicotine replacement patches or chewing gum, support groups or hypnosis.

2. Be active

Get a move on to protect your ticker. "Regular activity helps prevent and control risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity," says Carol Dombrow, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Canada's Physical Activity Guide for Active Living recommends 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-paced exercise a day. If fitness is new to you, start slowly and work up to the suggested amount. Swimming or joining a walking group are super ways to introduce movement into your daily routine. Remember, it's important to consult your doctor before beginning a fitness program.

3. Eat rightt
To care for your heart, Dombrow advises a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low fat dairy and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines. Just two servings a week of fatty fish can help lower your blood pressure and risk of heart disease. For healthy eating support, follow Canada's Food Guide. Meanwhile, avoid sugary foodstuffs and don't drink more than one alcoholic beverage a day. Shy away from items containing saturated fat, such as beef, cheese and palm oil, and trans fat. "Trans fat is detrimental because it raises your bad cholesterol and lowers your good cholesterol," she says. To evade this unfriendly fat, don't choose anything with partially hydrogenated oil listed in the ingredients.

4. Watch your waistline
If you're overweight, slim down to manage heart disease risk factors. "Losing weight - even 10 pounds - lowers your blood pressure level, reduces blood cholesterol and helps with diabetes," says Dombrow. A nutritious diet and exercise regimen are vital to losing weight and keeping it off, as is portion control. Here's a trick to prevent eating too much or too little at one meal: Fill 1/2 your plate with veggies, 1/4 with whole grains and 1/4 with lean protein.

5. Harness your stress
Too much stress of any kind isn't good for you. Amongst many things, it can take a tool on your ticker. "Some people with high levels of or prolonged stress may have higher blood cholesterol, increased blood pressure or be may more prone to developing atherosclerosis (buildup of plaque in the arteries)," says Wielgosz. Lighten your stress load with activities such as exercise, laughing and relaxing, regular vacations and meditation.

6. Monitor your blood pressure
High blood pressure affects one in five Canadians, and it's a major risk factor for heart disease, says Wielgosz. "Yet 43 percent of people with high blood pressure don't know they have it because there are no symptoms," he says. To ensure your blood pressure is and stays at a normal 120/80, take regular readings at your local Rexall pharmacy. If it's high, your doctor will develop a treatment plan, which will undoubtedly include the aforementioned lifestyle tips.

7. Consider Atomal™ Low Dose ASA
Studies show that taking acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) every day helps lower the risk of heart attacks and stroke. The over-the-counter medication works by reducing the stickiness of platelets in the blood, so they're less likely to produce clots that block arteries and cause heart attacks, says Wielgosz. However, ASA isn't suitable for everyone, so get approval from your doctor before taking it therapeutically. If your physician gives you the go-ahead, then select Rexall Low Dose ASA. Its coated tablets are best for ongoing use, as uncoated formulations can lead to intestinal bleeding and gastrointestinal discomfort if taken daily.