Dietitian Ashley South shares tips on how to become heart healthy and reduce risk of heart disease

Ashley South, Community Health Team wellness facilitator and dietitian
Valentine’s Day is a day that celebrates the heart. However, we should be celebrating and taking care of our heart year round. 
 
In fact, diseases of the heart are the second leading cause of death in Canada and affect approximately 2.4 million Canadian Adults
 
Heart disease, also known as ischemic heart disease or coronary heart disease, refers to the buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries that could lead to a heart attack, heart failure, or death (Heart Disease in Canada - Canada.ca).
 
Risk factors are conditions or behaviors that increase your chances of developing a disease. 
 
For heart disease, there are two types of risk factors—those you can’t change and those you can. 
 
The first step in preventing heart disease is understanding your risk.
  • Heart disease risk factors you cannot change:
    • Genetics
    • Family history
    • Age
    • Sex
    • Race or ethnicity
  • Heart disease risk factors you can change or manage:
    • High blood pressure
    • High cholesterol
    • Tobacco use
    • Managing diabetes
    • Overweight and obesity
    • Unhealthy diet
    • Physical inactivity
    • Excessive alcohol use
The good news is that about 80 per cent of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through healthy behaviours. 
 
If you are interested in improving your heart health pick a risk factor that you can change and set a goal for yourself that is achievable and realistic. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
  • Reduce sources of sodium in your diet - Cooking meals from home can greatly reduce the amount of sodium in your foods. Get inspired to try a new recipe from the Heart and Stroke Foundations recipe page. Also, look for lower sodium options when buying condiments, crackers, canned soups and meats.
  • Follow a healthy eating pattern –Two ways of eating that have been shown to improve heart health are the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) and the Mediterranean Diet
  • Cut back on alcohol – Whether you’re working on weight management goals or want to improve your blood pressure, reducing your alcohol intake can have significant health benefits. If you are looking to cut back try these ideas: have designated non-drinking days, space your drinks at least on hour apart, or try some ‘mocktails” (non-alcoholic drinks) 
  • Set realistic weight management expectations – Losing weight is not easy! Being realistic about your weight management goals and adjusting expectations can be an important first step. Resist the urge to fall into the all-or-nothing approach to dieting and instead make changes to your diet and lifestyle that make you feel satisfied and empowered instead of deprived.  
  • Sit less, move more – The Canadian 24 hour Movement Guidelines recommend adults participate in a variety of types and intensities of physical activity. This includes at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity, muscle strengthening activity using major muscle groups at least twice a week and several hours of light physical activity. Break up long periods of sitting as much as possible.  
  • Find healthy ways to manage your stress. Too much stress may increase your blood pressure. Research suggests that the way in which you manage your stress is very important. Avoid unhealthy behaviors for dealing stress and find relief instead with physical activity, socializing, laughter and healthy eating. Remember to take time out for yourself. For support with managing your stress consider taking the Community Health Teams’(CHT) Intro to take charge of your stress program to learn skills you can use to reduce stress symptoms.
Need a little help getting started? The Community Health Teams are offering FREE online wellness sessions delivered via Zoom for Healthcare. These sessions are available for anyone living in Nova Scotia who has a valid health card number. Visit www.healthyns.ca for more information or to register for a wellness session.