Managing heart disease

When it comes to heart disease, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Cut your risk by making lifestyle changes according to the modifiable risk factors you may have: become more physically active, eat more sensibly, take off excess weight, quit smoking, reduce stress... Changes like these will go a long way in preventing many types of heart disease and can help prevent or delay the worsening of existing heart disease.

It is important to make lifestyle choices that are easy to continue over time.

Here are some things to do to help prevent heart disease:

Manage your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes are risk factors for heart disease, and managing them is an important step in reducing your risk of heart disease. Exercising, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking (see below) are also part of the plan to reduce these levels. If you have these risk factors, talk to your doctor about what you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease. Use the Doctor Discussion Guide to help get the conversation started.

Build more physical activity into your schedule. Physical activity doesn't need to be hard work. In fact, by building just 30 to 60 minutes of enjoyable physical activity into your life, you can prevent and control your risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and excess weight.

Your goal should be to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic physical activity each week. You don't have to go to the gym and buy expensive athletic wear to get exercise! Walking is an easy and relaxing way to become more physically active. Go for a brisk walk after a meal, or head to the mall for a walk if the weather isn't good.

The more physically active you are, the more health benefits you'll see. You should exercise in intervals of 10 minutes or more to get optimal heart benefits. If you have heart disease, you should talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Eat more sensibly. Nutritious and balanced meals can help you reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. They can:

  • reduce your cholesterol intake
  • increase your consumption of heart-healthy nutrients
  • managing your weight
  • control your blood sugar
  • keep your blood pressure down

Read nutrition labels on foods to inform your decisions on what to eat. Avoid foods high in trans fat, saturated fat, and salt, and limit your alcohol intake. Follow the recommendations set out by Canada's Food Guide.

Take off the pounds and keep them off. If we want to lose weight, we need to do it sensibly. Many of today's weight-loss programs help us lose weight quickly but are not designed to help us keep it off for long periods of time. As a result, we tend to put the weight back on quickly too.

The body mass index, or BMI, is a measure that lets you know what a healthy body weight should be for your height. You can check to see how you are doing by determining your BMI with the Body Mass Index Calculator. Waist-to-hip ratio is another important indicator - check yours with the Waist-to-Hip Ratio Tool.

Canada's Obesity Management Guidelines recommend that we use methods that we can stick to over time in order to take off pounds and keep them off. If you burn 500 to 1,000 more calories a day than you take in through food, you can lose about 1 to 2 pounds (0.5 kg to 1 kg) per week. If you keep this up over a 6-month period, you will have lost up to 25 pounds or more! Evidence has shown that even a 5% weight loss is associated with benefits of reduced blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, and overall reduced risk for heart disease.

Make a plan to quit smoking. No one has ever said that quitting smoking for good is easy. There are many techniques that have been used to help people kick the habit. The best strategy is to speak with a health professional about your desire to quit, your confidence in quitting, and the quit-smoking approach that would be best for you.

Many people think they can quit on their own, but the "cold turkey" approach has been shown to be much less effective than quitting attempts that include aids such as nicotine replacement therapies or tablets that curb the urge to smoke.

Reducing your stress levels can also help reduce your risk of heart disease. To reduce your stress, first you need to figure out the cause of your stress. Physical activity and eating healthy can help to reduce stress and are also good for your heart.

Make sure you have time for yourself, and consider taking up yoga or meditation to help reduce stress levels. Talk about your stress with your friends and family - they may have strategies that will help.

To find out what you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease, try our Lifestyle Assessment Tool - For Your Heart.