You’ve got to love your heart. It beats over 100,000 times a day, pumping around 2,000 gallons of blood. It supplies oxygen and nutrition to the body’s tissues and gets rid of carbon dioxide and other waste. Without the heart, our other organs and tissues would die.
For some of us, unfortunately, our heart is in danger: heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada. The good news is that there are many ways you can improve your heart health and avoid heart disease, stroke and heart attack.
To mark February being Heart and Stroke Month, we take a look at 10 easy ways to reduce your risk of getting heart disease.
1 Stress less
Work, family issues and finances can all bring on stress, a major cause of high blood pressure. This can lead to heart disease and heart attack. Exercise reduces stress hormones while releasing chemicals that improve your mood and bring you better sleep. Other stress reducers include aromatherapy, cutting down on caffeine, breathing exercises and increasing your leisure time.
2 Quit smoking
If you’re a smoker, it can be really difficult to give up cigarettes – they are very addictive. But cigarettes are the leading cause of heart disease, so if you want good heart health, you need to quit. This is especially important as you age.
Thankfully there is plenty of help available to you: nicotine-replacement products, like patches and gum can help with cravings and medication such as Champix and Zyban can reduce withdrawal symptoms. Your doctor can help with these and also refer you to counselling and support groups that can make quitting more manageable.
3 Reduce your alcohol intake
Drinking regularly can increase your blood pressure, while heavy drinking can lead to cardiomyopathy, a type of heart disease. Ideally, you should only have a maximum of 10 drinks a week for women and 15 for men, and no more than three to four drinks a day.
4 Get lighter
Being overweight has a direct link to heart disease. Overweight people with risk factors such as high blood pressure or high blood sugar levels are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease as healthy average-sized people.
Rather than following fad diets, ask your doctor to refer you to a dietician. They can recommend a diet that is easier to follow, and which will allow for gradual (and therefore more sustainable) weight loss. Following Canada’s Food Guide can also help, as can our next point…
5 Exercise regularly
Exercise is really effective for losing weight. It also lowers blood pressure and promotes healthier cholesterol levels and blood sugar regulation. You don’t need to run a marathon, but getting your heart beating faster, three or four times a week, has huge heart-health benefits.
Swimming, aqua aerobics, fast walking and cycling are all effective, low-impact forms of exercise. If you haven’t exercised for a while, talk to your doctor first. Consider joining a gym and hiring a trainer with experience working with retirees.
6 Cut back on sugar and salt
Even if you’re not overweight, a diet high in sugar can increase your chances of dying from heart disease by 38%. A high-sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure, meaning more chance of stroke or heart attack. Aim for under 1,300mg of sodium daily.
If you ditch processed foods, make more meals at home (going easy on the salt) and cut back on sweet treats, your heart will thank you for it.
7 Take up mindfulness meditation and yoga
Yoga has lots of heart benefits: it can help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol and reduce your blood pressure. Both yoga and meditation can reduce stress, which is a key trigger for heart disease.
8 Eat your way to a healthy heart
Certain foods help your body combat heart disease. Whole grains (like whole wheat bread, pasta and oatmeal) help lower your blood pressure and can reduce bad cholesterol. Eating leafy greens, berries, avocados, tomatoes and olive oil can considerably improve your heart health.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can lower triglycerides. Triglycerides are body fats that can harden arteries, causing heart attack and heart disease. Cold-water fish, such as salmon, as well as flaxseed, walnuts and soybeans all contain omega-3s.
9 Check which fats you’re eating
Canada has phased in a ban on trans fats, but some products may still contain them until the end of September 2020. Trans fats, found in some baked and fried foods, increase bad cholesterol and reduce good cholesterol. This can cause clogged arteries, leading to heart disease or heart attack. Avoid trans fats at all costs.
Saturated fats are typically found in red meat, whole milk dairy products, coconut oil and baked goods. A diet with a lot of saturated fats can also lead to higher cholesterol. A daily maximum intake of 10% of your calories is recommended.
Try to eat more monounsaturated fats, which are good for heart health. They can be found in olive oil, avocados and most nuts.
10 See your doctor
Anyone over 50 should get their blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked fairly regularly, among other tests. Ask your doctor how often you should see them for a regular check-up. This will depend on your age and overall health.
Living with the effects of heart disease
Living with heart disease or the effects of a heart attack can be an expensive process. Some people have to make considerable changes to their lifestyle while they recover. Others have to make changes to their home to make it more accessible.
The CHIP Reverse Mortgage® can help you access the extra money you need to cover these costs. And because you don’t need to make regular mortgage payments with a reverse mortgage, it won’t have any impact on your retirement income.
Contact us at 1-866-522-2447 to find out how to get the money you need to help you recover.