Maintaining good heart health, known as cardiovascular health, is important in preventing heart disease and stroke – the leading causes of death for Canadian men and women. Some risk factors like age, gender, family history or ethnic background cannot be controlled, but focusing on factors you can influence may help to optimize your heart’s health.
Reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases can be done by controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The Heart and Stroke Foundation outlines some of the many ways you can improve your heart health:
- Be physically active for at least 2 ½ hours (150 minutes) per week
- Eat a healthy balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats by following Canada’s Food Guide
- Limit salt intake to less than 2300 mg per day (about 1 tsp)
- Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
- Do not smoke
- Limit alcohol intake (For women, two drinks per day to a max of 10 per week. For men, three drinks per day with a max of 15 per week)
- Focus on stress management and avoid unhealthy stress coping mechanisms such as overeating, smoking, drugs or alcohol
Research shows a diet rich in Omega 3 fatty acids can decrease risk of cardiovascular disease. Omega 3s (in particular DHA and EPA found in marine sources) help prevent the clotting of blood (decrease stroke risk) and help lower triglycerides cholesterol (linked to heart disease). You can get these nutrients from fish and seafood. There are plant sources of Omega 3 fatty acids (called ALA) but its role in cardiovascular health is less clear. Canada’s Food Guide recommends that Canadians consume at least two fish meals each week. While this can be a challenge for many Canadians, talk to your health care professional about an Omega 3 supplement to support your diet needs.
A heart-healthy diet also includes foods that are high in fibre. Soluble fibres help to lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar. A healthy adult needs 21-38 grams of fibre per day of which 10 grams should be soluble fibre. These are found in oatmeal, oat bran, legumes, beans, nuts, peas, lentils and fruits.