Vancouver physician, Dr. Ali Ghahary, says maintaining and taking care of your heart health is paramount.

The heart is one of the most important organs found in the human body. It is composed of a muscle that is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body and the brain, and provides us with all the materials needed in order to function – as well as removes waste products. Unfortunately, there are many bad habits people have that can cause long-lasting damage to their hearts.

Smoking, for example. The carbon monoxide that is found in tobacco can reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood. Over time, tobacco use can also lead to a heavy build-up of fatty acid in the lining of the arteries, causing them to narrow. As a result, you put yourself at a very high risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Quitting smoking can be difficult, but it is something that is necessary if you want to improve your overall health.

Alcohol is also something you should eliminate if you want to keep your heart healthy. Regular and excessive alcohol use can lead to a disease of the heart muscle known as cardiomyopathy – a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and rigid, and in some cases the heart may also turn into scar tissue. Signs and symptoms of cardiomyopathy include irregular heartbeat (such as a rapid heartbeat), chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness or lightheadedness, as well as swelling of the legs, ankles and feet.

Unhealthy eating is another common culprit of heart disease. Diets that are low in fat, low in sodium, and low in carbohydrates are key to good heart health. By eating fatty, fried foods, you put yourself at risk of gaining weight and potential obesity, which can cause stress on the heart in and of itself as when you are heavier, the heart has to pump much harder. Instead, try baking your foods, as this is a much healthier alternative, and make sure you avoid fast food restaurants as they tend to good with unhealthy oils and fats. Heart healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, lean meat, poultry, fibre and dairy products. Dr. Ali Ghahary shares a plethora of healthy diet tips which you can find by @DrAliGhahary, or on Instagram, Facebook, and even Pinterest.

You might also not be aware that stress and anxiety can have a huge impact on the heart. This can mean stress at work – such as having a lot of tasks on the go or dealing with co-workers you might not necessarily get along with; stress at school – such as studying for exams or having to do homework; personal relationships – divorce or broken friendships; as well as trauma – such as witnessing a death, a car accident, or sexual assault. To help patients cope with that kind of stress, Dr. Ali Ghahary may refer them to a registered psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor/therapist. However, there are also some methods you can try at home to help yourself de-stress, such as trying meditation or yoga. By taking care of your mental health, you’re also taking care of your heart health in the process.