Preventing Heart Disease

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in Canada. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation nine out of ten Canadians have at least one risk factor for developing heart disease and your risk increases with the more risk factors you have. The good news is, up to 80 per cent of premature heart disease can be prevented with changes to your lifestyle.

What is heart disease?

The Heart and Stroke Foundation describes heart disease as any condition that affects the structure or function of the heart. There are four main types of heart disease identified by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. The first is coronary artery and vascular disease which effects the way blood flows through blood vessels and arteries due to a narrowing, blockage or hardening. The second is heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias) which are caused when the heart beats in an irregular fashion such as too fast, too slow or at random intervals. Structural heart disease is the third type of heart disease which occurs when there is a structural flaw to a component of the heart. The final type of heart disease, heart failure, can occur when the heart has been significantly damaged or weakened.

What are the risk factors?

The risk factors for heart disease include medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and sleep apnea. Lifestyle behaviors like a lack of physical activity, unhealthy diet, unhealthy weight, stress, smoking, drugs and alcohol abuse are also considered risk factors. There are additional risk factors that can’t be controlled such as sex, age, heritage or family history.

How can it be prevented?

There are many actions you can take in order to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. These include:

  • Eating a healthy diet: Avoid processed foods and follow Canada’s Food Guide to ensure you’re keeping a balanced diet.
  • Staying active: The recommended amount of physical activity for the average adult is around 150 minutes a week. This can be broken into smaller sessions of 10-30 minutes and choosing enjoyable activities such as walking, swimming or even gardening are simple ways to incorporate physical activity into your life.
  • Reducing stress: Stress effects both the mind and body. Simple tasks such as mindfulness, deep breathing and yoga can help your mental and physical health.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Physical activity and eating healthy is a great way to manage your weight.
  • Avoiding smoking, excessive alcohol and drug abuse: Limiting or avoiding them altogether is best to reduce their impact on your health.
  • Managing medical conditions: Manage your medical conditions with medications or other treatments recommended by your health care professional.

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Submitted by Northern Hearts Program Coordinator, Lana Ryder-Methot.