5 ways to make your heart live longer

Heart disease is a major killer of Canadians—but it doesn't have to be that way. Find out about the 5 key ways to increase your heart's life span

By Lisa Bendall

5 ways to make your heart live longer

You’ve only got one heart, so it pays to make it last. Fortunately, there are lifestyle changes you can make right now that will add years of life to your heart. “Integrating heart-healthy habits early is critical,” says Dr. Rick Ward, a family physician in Calgary. “It’s easier to get into a pattern of healthy self-nurturing when you’re younger, and a healthy lifestyle is of paramount importance in preventing heart disease as we slide down that slippery slope of life.” Here are five shifts that can boost the health of your heart in the long-term.

1. Lose 10 pounds

Feeling overwhelmed by a need to shed 30 or 40 pounds? Even losing just five to 10 percent of your body weight will lower your risk of coronary artery disease. Don’t starve yourself, but do start screening the calorie counts in your food choices. You may be surprised to discover, for instance, that the pure fruit juices you’ve been loading up on are actually loading you with calories. Here’s another pointer: “Most of us eat until we’re a bit more than full,” says Dr. Ward. “The tip I give is, as you’re just starting to get full, stop right there.”

2. Stop smoking

Quit this habit and your heart will thank you. Smoking dramatically raises your risk of death from cardiovascular disease. But just a year after you stop, your chances of a smoking-related heart attack will be reduced by half. After 15 years, your likelihood of dying from a heart attack will be the same as someone who never smoked. Breaking an addiction is never a cinch. But a combination of counselling and medication to deal with withdrawal symptoms can help you succeed.

3. Exercise—for just half an hour a day

Regular exercise cuts your risk of heart disease and stroke, big-time. How much is enough? Adults should aim for 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity per day. But your body benefits just as much by doing it in 10-minute installments, so small changes like parking two blocks from the office will make a huge difference. Dr. Ward suggests keeping this in mind if a regular exercise program seems too daunting—for instance, 10 minutes of taking the stairs instead of the elevator, a brisk 10-minute walk in the morning and another in the evening adds up to your daily minimum.

4. Take time to relax

Giving yourself a daily break may sound frivolous. But stress can cause high blood pressure, hike your cholesterol levels and narrow your arteries—all bad news for your heart. Ironically, when we’re stressed, we’re often quick to sacrifice our down time in an effort to get back on track. It’s important to take a time-out for meditation, yoga, pleasure reading or a walk—or whatever helps you relax. And make sure to get in some social time, too, says Dr. Ward. “Get together with good friends and do a little bit of laughing.”

5. Forgo the trans fats

Many popular snack foods like crackers, muffins and cookies contain trans fats. They extend the shelf life of these products, and enhance their textures and flavours. But trans fatty acids also raise bad cholesterol levels and reduce good cholesterol, amping up your risk of heart disease. Lucky for you, by law, most labels must now indicate how much trans fat is in the food. Learn to avoid trans-fatty temptations. When you’re food shopping, read the Nutrition Facts table on the package—and reach for products that are trans-fat free (or bake your own).

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Web exclusive: March 2009

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