Soon after Boxing Day, retailers start bringing out decorations and merchandise for Valentine’s Day. Heart shaped boxes of chocolates and ornaments crowd the shelves. As you decide on which box of candy or other commercial merchandise to buy, it’s a great time to think about your own heart — that all important organ which we could not live without.
February is national heart health month. Despite advances in medicine and education around lifestyle choices, heart disease remains the number one killer of men and women in Canada. Heart disease and stroke take one life every seven minutes. In fact, nine out of every 10 Canadians has at least one risk factor!
It’s estimated that 80% of heart disease and stroke can be prevented by healthy behaviours. Healthy eating, being active and living smoke free are three factors that can have a huge impact on our heart. Reducing stress, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding excess use of alcohol are also critical. These are called modifiable risk factors because they are things we can directly control. We can choose to eat well, exercise and not smoke.
Other factors are outside our control and are called non-modifiable risk factors because we can’t change them even if we wanted to. Our ethnicity or race affects our risks. For example Indigenous, South Asian and African origins are at higher risk. Men are at higher risk than women until women reach menopause where the risk evens out. Our risk increases as we age and it also increases in those with a family history of heart disease. It’s important to realize that if you have one or more non-modifiable risk factor you can and should work on the modifiable risks.
Some medical conditions contribute to our risk such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat). However, we can make lifestyle choices, which may help those medical condition. For example, diet and exercise may help control blood pressure and cholesterol. In many cases, medication is added which helps to manage these conditions. For example, in diabetes, maintaining blood sugar within certain targets (not too high or too low) can help to reduce the risk. This is why it is important to take medications regularly and be sure we are hitting the targets determined by the prescriber.
So this February, let’s all worry less about the paper and chocolate hearts and think about our own hearts. Take care of yourselves and each other.