Heart Disease Prevention
By Dr. Marc Pelletier
Clinical Department Head, Cardiac Surgery, New Brunswick Heart Centre
Heart disease is a leading cause of death in Canada. Across the country, people are suffering from heart disease daily, in large part because of their overall health and lifestyle. Over time, unhealthy habits such as smoking, poor diet, and inactivity take a toll on heart health. Often, the various factors result in a person's coronary arteries becoming blocked with plaque, leading to potentially fatal heart failure and a need for medical intervention.
The picture can be grim for those with advanced heart disease. However, there is some good news. By taking a few simple steps towards healthy living, one can effectively reduce the risk of developing heart disease - not to mention improving the overall health and enjoyment of everyday activities. Here are a few examples:
Smoking is one of the worst culprits for heart disease. It increases the likelihood of causing clogged arteries and blood clots, reduces oxygen in the blood, and makes your heart work harder. And, contrary to a common myth, smoking does not help you lose weight. Finally, if the ill effects on your individual health aren't convincing enough, it's important to realize smoking also harms others who spend time around you while you smoke, such as your family, friends, and even your pets. The single most important thing you can do to improve your health and your heart is to quit smoking.
Canadians in general are far too inactive. For example, close to 50% of Canadian women over age 12 are inactive. To combat the effects, aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity every day. This could include taking a brisk walk, biking or hiking, or simply gardening or raking leaves. The important thing is to get moving.
(Photo by Scott Reeder)
Control your blood pressure
High blood pressure is known as "the silent killer" and it is common across Canada. Monitoring your blood pressure is important. Aim to keep your systolic levels less than 140 and your diastolic less than 90. Once again, physical activity and diet, weight control, as well as smoking cessation, are crucial in controlling blood pressure.
Monitor your cholesterol
Certain types of cholesterol can wreak havoc on your system. Ask your doctor to perform a fasting lipid profile to find out your cholesterol levels and discuss what needs to be done to best help you keep cholesterol in check. Know what the numbers mean and what your appropriate level should be. The most important number is the LDL, otherwise referred to as the "bad cholesterol." If you have any important risk factors for cardiac disease, have cardiac problems or a strong family history, a LDL level of less than 2 mmol/L is considered ideal.
Aim for a healthy weight
Staying lean or losing weight has definite positive impacts on heart health. Just a five to 10 % weight reduction reduces risk of heart attack by lowering blood pressure; lowering cholesterol levels; and lowering heart strain. Healthy eating and exercise are key in this category. In order to maintain a healthy weight, many people will have to use some will power to avoid the high-calorie and high-fat diet that is all around us in North America, as well as to get their body moving, but the results are well worth it.
Take an interest in your own heart health
Finally, take ownership of your health by being informed and working with your doctor to achieve a healthier lifestyle. When speaking to you doctor, be sure to ask the important questions to determine your heart disease risk factors and to make a plan for better heart health. Take ownership of your health and your body. Ask these important questions:
- What is my risk for heart disease?
What is my blood pressure? What do I need to do about it?
What is my cholesterol?
What does it mean? What should I do about it?
What is my body mass index?
What is my blood sugar level?
By following this advice, you will be well on your way to reducing your risk of heart disease and improving your odds of staying off the operating table.
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High blood cholesterol
- Being overweight
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Physical inactivity