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Top 10 Health Mistakes Canadians Are Making

Think you’re in good health? You might be making common mistakes that can lower your life expectancy and cause major long-term health issues. Read on for more behind your biggest health mistakes.

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Ignoring Heart Disease Warning Signs

Canadians overall are at a high risk of cardiovascular diseases, but the risk can be even higher if you’re a woman. Heart disease is definitely one of the most common health problems in Canada. In fact, heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death for Canadian women, according to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada. “Women go to the hospital later than men do with symptoms of heart attack,” says Dr. Vivien Brown, a family physician and vice president of medical affairs for Medisys Health Group. “They don’t do as well after a heart attack, there’s all this cardiac data on women being misdiagnosed, and just thinking they are tired or anxious, and they don’t get diagnosed as early on in the process the way men do,” she says. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the signs and symptoms of a heart attack are different in women than in men and are often ignored. Women can experience nausea, fatigue, difficulty breathing and anxiety in addition to chest pain as warning signs of a heart attack.

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Not Minding Your Mental Health

A 2017 study based on results of the a nation-wide mental health survey shows that 11 percent of 15 to 24-year-olds met the criteria for depression in their lifetime, seven percent experienced depression in the previous year and half of the youth who met the criteria for lifetime depression reported that they had suicidal thoughts at some point. And alarmingly, most of the Canadians in the study with suicidal thoughts did not seek help in the past year. “In the emergency room, we see extreme cases and it’s unfortunate that they’ve gotten to that point,” says Dr. Zachary Levine, an emergency medicine doctor at McGill University Health Centre and assistant professor at McGill University Faculty of Medicine. Seeking help early is key. If depression is recognized and properly treated it can make a difference for 80 percent of people who are affected so make sure to talk to a family doctor and get a recommendation to a mental health professional if you’re feeling blue.

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Spending Too Much Time On Your Smartphone

According to Catalyst Canada’s national annual survey on smartphone adoption and behaviour, 76 percent of Canadians now own a smart phone. Excessive usage of these devices can have many health implications and some health professionals consider it an addiction. “Constantly using your phone can lead to posture issues, sleep disruption, higher levels of stress and also negatively affect your relationships,” says Dr. Levine. “Not to mention the life or death of texting while driving,” he says. Distracted driving is one of the main causes of fatal road crashes in Ontario, according to 2015 statistics from the Ontario Provincial Police, even more than impaired driving. Set aside phone-free times during the day, especially before bed to decompress, and keep your device in the glove compartment while you drive to avoid temptation.

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Not Getting Regular Medical Tests

While regular physicals aren’t necessary for everyone, knowing your risk is, says Dr. Levine. What he means is that if you are at a higher risk for an illness or disease you may need to be monitored more frequently or more aggressively than someone whose life risk is lower. For example, if you have diabetes or previously had abnormal test results.

Undergoing regular tests for colon cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer, some of the top cancers in Canada, is highly recommended after a certain age or depending on your risk factors, such as a parent with the disease or a known genetic risk.

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Improper Medication Management

“One of the errors people make is that they don’t take medications properly,” says Dr. Brown. It’s really important to follow a prescription and finish it, especially when it comes to antibiotics, as the infection might not be eradicated even though you feel better, says Dr. Brown. Also, many people are often reluctant to take medications so they are only partially treated for their health issue. For example, if your target blood pressure is 110/70 and with one medication you get to 135/85, that’s really not good enough, says Dr. Brown. A third issue is that patients stop medication without telling their doctor. “The discontinuation rates of medication are really high,” says Dr. Brown. It’s essential to discuss any changes with your doctor before going off a medicine, such as birth control. If you’re on multiple medications or seeing multiple doctors, it’s also very important to discuss all of your medications with a pharmacist or family doctor to manage the potential risks of interactions between your other drugs and diet, says Dr. Levine.

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Using Sunscreen Improperly

Most people don’t apply the right amount of sunscreen or reapply often enough to truly protect their skin from sun damage, says Dr. Brown. And they’re doing their skin a dangerous disservice. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and it’s on the rise. From 1998 to 2007, skin cancer rates rose by 1.4 percent per year in both men and women. There are more new cases of skin cancer each year than the number of lung, breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined. According to the Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation, more than 80,000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in Canada every year. But it’s also very preventable. Avoiding tanning beds, limiting your sun exposure during peak hours, covering up your skin with a wide brimmed hat and UV protectant clothing, and slathering on a broad spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen regularly will all help reduce your risk. It’s also essential to get to know your skin. Most people don’t do a regular skin review to monitor their moles or look for any abnormal growths, says Dr. Brown. Regular scanning and seeing a dermatologist can help spot a problem area before it develops into something more serious.

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Not Watching Your Weight

“Healthy eating and maintaining an ideal weight is important for every single aspect of health,” says Dr. Brown. In a 2014 survey by Statistics Canada, 20.2 percent of Canadians aged 18 and older self-reported heights and weights that classified them as obese. The rate of obesity among both men and women increased and it was the highest obesity rate for men reported since 2003. Obesity is linked with hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer. As weight goes up into the more worrisome ranges, your risk of dementia also goes up. It’s the “perfect storm” for health problems, says Dr. Brown.

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Skimping on Sleep

People may brag about subsisting on very little sleep, but a lack of shuteye can actually take a huge toll on your health, says Dr. Brown. A 2016 new study conducted by the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation found that 33 percent of 500 Canadian men surveyed between the ages of 30 and 49, were only getting four to six hours of sleep each night. Another health survey, by Aviva found that 31 percent of Canadians don’t think they are getting enough sleep.

Missing out on sleep is associated with obesity, heart problems, cardiac disease, depression and may even cause cognitive decline such as an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Professionals recommend between seven to eight hours of shuteye a night so skip that last episode on Netflix in favour of a good night’s slumber.

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Not Updating Immunizations

With the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and mumps, public health agencies are calling for Canadians to ensure their immunizations are up to date. “Immunizations are an important way to protect you and your family from disease,” says Dr. Brown. Depending on your age and your risk factors, you may want to discuss certain vaccines with your doctor such as the HPV vaccine, the flu vaccine or the shingles vaccine.

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Drinking (and Smoking) More Than You Think

“Many people underestimate how much they drink,” says Dr. Brown. In addition to the increased risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, drinking is also associated with high-risk behaviours such as unprotected sex, illicit drug use and impaired driving. According to Statistics Canada, in 2008 an estimated 24.1 percent of males and 9.6 percent of females reported heavy drinking, meaning five or more drinks on one occasion. So remember when you’re downing that bottle of vino with dinner that drinking more than 5oz a day can have negative consequences on your body and life.

Smoking, whether regular or occasional is also a major health risk. Smoking even one cigarette a day can double your heart disease risk. “There’s no safe amount of smoking,” says Dr. Brown.