heart-665177_1920.jpgYour heart is the center of your cardiovascular system, and it is responsible for everything from the transportation of oxygen to the success of your immune system. It is vitally important that we keep it healthy, so February being heart month in Canada reminds us of these facts.

Heart disease is largely preventable and manageable. The cause of most cardiovascular disease is a build-up of atheroma – a fatty deposit within the inside lining of arteries. According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation, your best defense is controlling the risk factors that could lead to coronary artery disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and being overweight.

Statistics tell us the cardiovascular death rate in Canada has declined by more than 75 per cent since 1952 – and nearly 40 per cent in the last decade – largely due to research advances in surgical procedures, drug therapies and prevention efforts (Statistics Canada, 2011c). However this is nothing to brag about and I question the wisdom of medicinal or surgical intervention over lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes are still given lip service by our government. Incentives are small or non-existent when compared to our medical system.

Let’s examine the facts:

Every 7 minutes in Canada, someone dies from heart disease or stroke (Statistics Canada, 2011c). Based on 2008 Statistics Canada data, heart disease and stroke are two of the three leading causes of death in Canada.

In 2008 cardiovascular disease accounted for:

  • 29% of all deaths in Canada (69,703 deaths – or more than 69,500)
  • 28% of all male deaths
  • 29.7% of all female deaths

Cardiovascular death statistics were equally horrifying:

  • 54% were due to ischemic heart disease
  • 20% to stroke
  • 23% to heart attack

Heart disease and stroke costs the Canadian economy more than $20.9 billion every year in physician services, hospital costs, lost wages and decreased productivity, according to the Conference Board of Canada, 2010). Should we honestly be bragging about how much success we have with intervention, when prevention is almost a forgotten issue? It’s nice to put out a website and remind us of staying healthy, but what about some real incentives?

In contrast, since 1956, the Heart & Stroke Foundation has raised and invested more than $1.3 billion in heart disease and stroke research. While that’s impressive, it’s even more astounding that as many as 80% of premature deaths from heart disease and strokes can be avoided by controlling the main risk factors. So preventing heart disease should be our primary goal and should take precedence over raising millions for research into new drugs and procedures. That means making smart choices now that will pay off the rest of your life.

Lack of exercise, a poor diet and other bad habits can take their toll over the years. No matter what your age, everyone can benefit from a healthy diet and adequate physical activity.

  • Choose a healthy eating plan. The food you eat can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke. Always choose foods that are natural, over the refined varieties. We are told to watch for saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, sugars and sweeteners. But if we eat a diet of natural foods we don’t have to worry about these issues. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, smaller portions of whole grains, fish, nuts, legumes and seeds and select lower-fat dairy products, lean meats and poultry (skinless).  Definitely avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Be physically active. Work up to at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity every week or an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous intensity weekly. Additionally, on two or more days a week you need muscle-strengthening activities to keep tone and proper movement. If you don’t use it you lose it!

Your heart health relies on your choices of prevention, not intervention. Waiting until it’s too late is costly, painful and can be deadly. Start now and stay committed towards keeping your heart healthy.