Heart disease – heart health

About 2.4 million Canadian aged 20 years and older live with ischemic heart disease. Heart disease is also the second leading cause of death in Canada, claiming more than 48,000 lives in 2012. You can reduce your risk of heart disease by understanding the risk factors that cause it, and making changes to your lifestyle.

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Risk factors

There are many factors that increase the risk of heart disease. Some of these factors can be controlled, others cannot.

Risk factors that can be controlled include:

  • Smoking increases blood pressure and contributes to the development of blocked arteries, putting you at higher risk of heart disease.
  • Lack of exercise: People who do not exercise regularly are at greater risk of having heart disease.
  • Unhealthy diet: Risks are greater for people who do not eat enough fruit and vegetables. Eating foods that contain trans fat and high amounts of saturated fats and sodium can also increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing a wide range of serious diseases and conditions, including heart disease.
  • High blood pressure: Over time, high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks, strokes, or a thick heart muscle (hypertrophy), which can eventually lead to heart failure, a form of heart disease.
  • High cholesterol: Too much bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) can lead to blockage of the arteries, which raises the risk of heart disease.
  • Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease, especially if blood sugar levels are poorly controlled.
  • Stress: High levels of stress or prolonged stress may result in high cholesterol, increased blood pressure, or disturbances in heart rhythm. These conditions increase the risk of developing heart disease.

Did you know?

Nine in 10 Canadians over the age of 20 have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Four in 10 have three or more risk factors.

Risk factors that cannot be controlled include:

  • Family history: Your risk of heart disease is higher if any immediate family members (parents, brothers, sisters, etc.) have had a heart attack, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.
  • Age: Your risk of developing heart disease increases with age. This applies especially to men over the age of 45 and women who have gone through menopause or are over the age of 55.

Did you know?

Aboriginals and other ethnic groups such as South Asians are at an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases like heart disease and stroke.

Reduce your risk

You can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and other chronic diseases like cancer by adopting a healthier lifestyle. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Talk to a healthcare professional about your risk factors for heart disease. Early detection and treatment of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes can greatly reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
  • Be a non-smoker. Free help is available online and by telephone to help you quit smoking.
  • Exercise. Start by aiming for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day.
  • Develop healthy eating habits by following Canada's Food Guide. Eat the recommended daily number of vegetables and fruit servings, avoid trans fat, and limit saturated fats and sodium by choosing fresh, unprocessed foods.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight by adjusting the amount of food you eat and by building physical activity into your daily life.
  • Learn how to cope with stress in a healthy way.
  • Teach your children about heart-healthy habits, and lead by example.
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