Heart Month, created by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, is a campaign that raises awareness on heart disease and promotes positive lifestyle changes to lessen the risk of patients developing heart disease or suffering from a stroke. At least 9 in 10 Canadians over the age of 20 have at least one risk factor for developing heart disease, and an estimated 600,000 Canadians are currently living with heart failure. While there is no cure for heart failure, there are many steps a person can take to manage the condition, and other changes one can make to avoid the development of heart failure later in life, as 8 in 10 cases of heart disease and stroke are preventable by making simple lifestyle and behaviour changes.

If you are a smoker, consume alcohol, are physically inactive, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you are at an increased risk of developing heart disease. As many as 14 million Canadians are obese or overweight, and more than 2 million Canadians have been diagnosed with diabetes, with prevalence on the rise.

Eating well is a key factor in keeping your heart healthy. Instead of eating over-processed food such as pizza, hot dogs, and deli meats, choose foods that are natural. Fruits and vegetables, for example, carry lots of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants, and you should eat 7 to 10 servings each day.

As a family physician, I am a strong advocate for patients making healthy eating choices (such as incorporating more fruits and vegetables into their diets.) In addition to eating more fruits and vegetables, you should also try to consume whole grain foods rather than refined grains such as pasta or white bread. Whole grain foods such as brown rice, quinoa and hulled barley contain fibre, vitamin B, and protein. Other foods containing proteins include beans, lentils, fish, tofu, lean meat, and certain dairy products that are lower in fat. If you have trouble coming up with healthy meals, making a meal plan by writing down a list of foods and recipe ideas may be helpful, and you should always read the nutrients facts found on packaging to know how much salt, sugar or trans fat you may be consuming. If you like to snack, instead of eating potato chips try alternatives such as celery, cucumbers, carrots, or grape tomatoes – these go great with low-fat dips, salsa, hummus or peanut butter.

Physical activity is also important in maintaining your heart health. By exercising 150 minutes per week, you are not only preventing heart disease and stroke, but you will also be lowering your cholesterol as well as avoiding diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. You will also notice benefits quickly; blood pressure will improve, and you will feel much more energetic as a result of staying physically fit.

For more information on how to keep your health health, visit www.heartandstroke.ca.