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Are you Heart Health Savvy?

Sandy Braz

Sandy Braz

Live better:

Fitness and lifestyle writer, blogger and editor

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It’s amazing the way I’ve come to worry about my parents. I find myself having conversations with them like, “Dad, are you taking any vitamins?” or “Mom, have you thought about trying yoga?”.

My dad turned 60 this year and I just can’t help but think about him aging—since that’s inevitable, I guess the thing is to help him age healthfully. And since a healthy heart is the foundation of the good overall health, I decided to put together a checklist of six healthy habits that can be used at any age. I hope it helps ease those “are you taking your vitamins” conversations you have with your own parents this year:

Exercise: This is probably the toughest for my dad. His schedule really limits him from joining a gym or sports team. But recently he’s started to take walks after dinner; he walks at a moderate pace, but still gets his heart rate up enough to feel a difference in his body temperature. He says the walks have helped him sleep better at night, exhausting him a bit before bed. Which brings me to the next heart habit…

Relaxation and reducing stress: It’s more about quality here than quantity, since everyone’s lives get busy from time to time. But having downtime to unwind and recharge is important. For my dad, it’s some reading at the end of the day or a little time spent in his backyard, enjoying a cup of tea with a little time to himself. Whatever it is, having quality downtime is a must.

Food choices: This is where things get tricky for most of us. We know that deep-fried things aren’t the wisest food choices for example, and yet we find ourselves ordering the fries or fried calamari within minutes of opening the menu. Moderation is the key, of course, as well as having a few heart-healthy recipes on hand for inspiration.

Friendships: Although experts say the relationship between stress and heart disease isn’t totally clear, evidence does point to a connection between higher levels of stress (or stress that carries on for a long period of time) and increased blood pressure or higher blood cholesterol. Some people with high levels of stress may be more prone to developing atherosclerosis. However, there’s a way to improve your heart health by lowering stress, with a little help from your friends. Studies show that a strong social network can be useful in reducing stress, whether it’s a tough day at work or facing illness. It’s never too soon (or too late) to improve these relationships.

Alcohol. Ok, this one can be tricky, since drinking socially is something many of us do. According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada website, “too much of any type of alcohol [even red wine] can increase your blood pressure and contribute to the development of heart disease and stroke.” Although there is evidence that moderate drinkers have a somewhat lower risk of heart disease than those who drink excessively or don’t drink at all, nothing beats being smoke-free, exercising and a vibrant social life for better heart health. For reference though, here are the Canadian guidelines for what constitutes “a drink”:

  • 341 mL / 12 oz (1 bottle) of regular strength beer (5% alcohol).
  • 142 mL / 5 oz wine (12% alcohol).
  • 43 mL / 1 1/2 oz spirits (40% alcohol).

If you drink, you must limit yourself to a maximum of 15 drinks a week if you’re a man (no more than 3 drinks a day most days) and 10 drinks a week if you’re a woman (no more than 2 drinks a day most days).

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