Heart Health

Your heart is a muscle that gets energy from blood carrying oxygen and nutrients. Having a constant supply of blood keeps your heart working properly. Most people think of heart disease as one condition. But in fact, heart disease is a group of conditions affecting the structure and functions of the heart and has many root causes. Coronary artery disease, for example, develops when a combination of fatty materials, calcium and scar tissue (called plaque) builds up in the arteries that supply blood to your heart (coronary arteries). The plaque buildup narrows the arteries and prevents the heart from getting enough blood. Click on the links below to learn more about heart health.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is one of the fats in your blood. Your body uses it to make cell membranes, vitamin D and hormones. There are two main types of cholesterol:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol often called bad cholesterol because high levels of LDL-cholesterol in the blood promotes the build-up of plaque in the artery walls
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol called the good cholesterol because it helps carry LDL-cholesterol away from the artery walls Triglycerides are not a type of cholesterol, however, they are a type of fat that is found in the blood. High triglycerides are linked with excess weight, excess alcohol consumption and diabetes. Your triglyceride level is usually measured at the same time as your blood cholesterol.Cholesterol, heart disease and stroke High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. By lowering your cholesterol, you can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. High cholesterol can lead to a build up of plaque in the artery walls and narrow your arteries called atherosclerosis which can make it harder for blood to flow through your heart and body, putting you at increased risk of circulatory problems, heart disease and stroke.

10 ways to get your cholesterol in check:

  • Test your cholesterol. Ask your doctor to check it if:
    • You are male and over 40
    • You are female and over 50 or post-menopausal
    • You have heart disease, stroke, diabetes or high blood pressure
    • Your waist measures more than 102 centimetres (40 inches) for men or 88 centimetres (35 inches) for women
  • You have a family history of heart disease or stroke
  • Reduce your fat intake to 20-35% of your daily calories.
  • Choose healthy fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, found mainly in vegetable oils, nuts and fish
  • Limit your intake of saturated fat found mainly in red meat and high-fat dairy products.
  • Avoid trans fats often found in foods made with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, hard margarines, fast foods and many pre-made foods. Trans fats raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol.
  • Use Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating to plan a healthier diet. Eat more whole grains, cereals, vegetables and fruit.
  • Snack wisely. Choose low-salt pretzels, plain popcorn or fruit, rather than higher-fat or junk food types of snacks.
  • Use lower-fat cooking methods such as baking, broiling or steaming and try to avoid fried food.
  • Be smoke-free. Smoking increases LDL bad blood cholesterol.
    Get physically active. Being physically active most days of the week can improve good cholesterol levels.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure affects one in five Canadians. It is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease, so it is very important that it is properly controlled. Yet 43% of Canadians with high blood pressure don’t even know they have it because there are no symptoms. You can’t see it. You can’t feel it. But the good news is that you can control it.

Blood pressure (hypertension) is a measure of the pressure or force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels called arteries. The top number represents the pressure when your heart contracts and pushes blood out (systolic) and the bottom number is the lowest pressure when the heart relaxes between beats (diastolic). Blood pressure that is consistently more than 140 / 90 mm Hg is considered high, but if you have diabetes, 130 / 80 mm Hg is high. Normal blood pressure is below 120 / 80 mm Hg.

Over time high blood pressure can damage blood vessel walls causing scarring that promotes the build-up of fatty plaque, which can narrow and eventually block arteries. It also strains the heart and eventually weakens it. Very high blood pressure can cause blood vessels in the brain to burst resulting in a stroke. With proper diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure, you can cut your risk of stroke by up to 40% and heart attack by up to 25%.

Here are some tips to get your blood pressure in check:

  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly. High blood pressure often has no symptoms, so have yours checked at least once every two years by a healthcare professional.
  • If you have been told you have high-normal blood pressure, Canadian guidelines recommend that you have your blood pressure checked at least once a year. High normal ranges between 130/85 and 139/89.
  • If your doctor has prescribed medication, take it as directed.
  • Eat a balanced diet, be physically active and smoke-free, and reduce your salt and alcohol intake to help lower your blood pressure.

Stroke

A stroke is a sudden loss of brain function. It is caused by the interruption of flow of blood to the brain (ischemic stroke) or the rupture of blood vessels in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). The interruption of blood flow or the rupture of blood vessels causes brain cells (neurons) in the affected area to die. The effects of a stroke depend on where the brain was injured, as well as how much damage occurred. A stroke can impact any number of areas including your ability to move, see, remember, speak, reason and read and write.

In a small number of cases, stroke-like damage to the brain can occur when the heart stops (cardiac arrest). The longer the brain goes without the oxygen and nutrients supplied by the blood flow, the greater the risk of permanent brain damage. Brain injuries can also result in uncontrolled bleeding and permanent brain damage. This is usually referred to as an Acquired Brain Injury.

Exercise

Physical activity can be a lifesaver literally. When you’re active 30 to 60 minutes a day, most days of the week, you can dramatically lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Regular activity also helps prevent and control risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity.

Adding more activity to your daily life may also reduce stress levels, increase energy and improve sleep and digestion. Because physical activity makes you feel better about yourself, you’re more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices and to avoid bad ones such as smoking, overeating or drinking too much alcohol.

Benefits may begin within the first week of regular activity. For example, your blood pressure may start to come down, and you could feel more energetic and relaxed. After three months you may experience better health, improved posture and balance, stronger muscles and bones, more confidence and a more positive outlook on life.

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