According to the Ottawa-based Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, around 1.6 million Canadians are living with the effects of heart disease and stroke. While these effects can be serious, there are lifestyle changes that can help improve heart health.
In partnership with Webber Naturals, a Canadian brand of vitamins and nutritional supplements, we asked two experts to share some small shifts in everyday habits that could help reduce the risk of serious health effects, whether you’re living with heart disease or stroke effects, or looking to help prevent them.
- Get moving for at least 150 minutes per week
Guidelines from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommend 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week for those between the ages of 18 and 64.
Heart-pumping exercise benefits our cardiovascular system in numerous ways — including one surprising way, according to Dr. Joyce Johnson, naturopathic doctor. “Use movement to help manage your stress. Stress management is a big factor in improving heart health,” she says. The Heart and Stroke Foundation reports that stress can increase your risk of both heart disease and stroke.
If fatigue or motivation is a problem for you at the end of the day, work in a walk or exercise session in the morning to help meet physical-activity goals.
- Eat a high-fibre breakfast
Research published in the Journal of Circulation found a significant link between eating breakfast and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, Johnson says.
But to have the desired effect, the breakfast can’t be thick with saturated fats or low in fibre. “They want you to incorporate things like steel-cut oats — so high-fibre foods that are rich in soluble fibre, because that’s beneficial in helping to lower your LDL cholesterol, or ‘bad’ cholesterol,” Johnson adds.
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- Take care of your teeth by flossing
While brushing your teeth is important for good oral health, flossing helps your heart. “Oral bacteria can contribute to a person’s risk of the hardening or narrowing of the arteries, which contributes to heart disease,” Johnson says.
She also points to studies in the U.S. showing that people with poor dental health have a higher risk of cardiovascular problems. The Canadian Dental Association recommends flossing at least once a day.
- Swap meat for plant-based proteins
The Heart and Stroke Foundation reports that opting for healthier proteins can help prevent heart disease. “We need to think about lean proteins that have higher fibre,” says Kristin Metvedt, a registered holistic nutritionist (RHN).
That means swapping out choices such as beef burgers and sausages, which contain preservatives and saturated fat, for more plant-based proteins, such as beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, and soy. “They’re high in protein, but they also provide fibre, which helps lower your cholesterol,” Metvedt adds.
She suggests following the Mediterranean diet, which is rich with fruits and vegetables, whole grains and heart-healthy, so-called “good” fats, as well as protein sources ranging from lean Greek yogourt to cheese and eggs.
- Look to nutritional supplements
Start with a multivitamin, Metvedt suggests. “These are good for anyone starting out and wanting to keep things simple. A nice rounded multivitamin would have your key vitamins and minerals, and it could be your foundational supplement,” she says.
You might also consider taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement if your diet isn’t rich in foods such as cold-water fish (like salmon and sardines), flaxseed and nuts. “Look for high-potency omega-3s that are 900 milligrams or over, which are formulated for cardiovascular support — so helping to reduce triglycerides,” Metvedt says.
Johnson also suggests considering a CoQ10 supplement, which she says may provide more cardiovascular benefits. When taking an additional supplement, though, she adds it’s a good idea to talk to your health provider or a pharmacist before getting started.
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