Healthy Heart Habits

Heart health month is officially here, and I’m presenting you with many considerations to support your cardiovascular system (and there are many you can pick and choose from or build upon!).

It’s never too late when it comes to supporting your heart health.

For females, there is a natural change that can happen in cardiovascular risk after/during the menopause transition due to the very natural change in hormone profile. Blood pressure changes, cholesterol increases, and blood sugar dysregulation can really come to the forefront at this time.

Obviously, there are myriad factors that impact heart health and many of those may be beyond our control (like genetics, upbringing, the past, etc.); however, there are a lot of things we can do to promote a healthy heart.

brown-skinned woman, Dr. Anne, reflected in a mirror wearing a white shirt with a rainbow heart on it, sitting in a gym room with exercise equipment in the background.

This, by no means, is an exhaustive list. It’s some of the things that come up often in practice. You probably know where you need to focus. The main thing is to have net forward movement, so take a look and see what you can implement now. Then, you can tack on something else afterwards!

  • Move your body:
    • There’s no replacement for movement. Ideally, we want to increase non-exercise activity like walking and stretching + include weekly resistance training + some cardiovascular get-your-heart-rate-up type of exercise.
    • A minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-high intensity exercise spread over at least 3 days are the current guidelines in Canada for health promotion and disease prevention.
  • Fuel your body
    • Nutrition can be a touchy subject. It can be a difficult topic to study well in scientific research as well. That all said, we do have themes that are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and recovering better after an event.
    • Consume plentiful fibre, which comes only from plants. Adults need 25-30g of fibre per day. Check out this blog post for info and inspo.
    • Cut down or eliminate red meat. More than 2-3 servings per week of red meat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Replacing these with leaner cuts of protein, especially plant-based proteins, have been shown to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
    • Have plentiful fruits and veggies. This can be fresh or frozen or even powdered. You need multiple servings per day!
    • Watch the salt. Most North Americans consume wayyyy too much salt. Try to stay under 2000-2300mg per day.
    • Eat balanced meals that have carbs + protein + fats
    • Try to cook more meals at home so you know what’s going into your body and so that you are not overdoing it on the cooking oil, salt, and unnecessary ingredients.
    • Minimize hyperpalatable foods that aren’t necessarily nutritious (like chips, candies, cakes, ice creams, etc.). These foods occasionally shouldn’t post an issue for your health, but the frequency and quantity does matter over time!

platter on a wood table with an assortment of colourful summer fruits: watermelon, blueberries, mango, kiwis, and grapes

  • Drink mostly water
    • The Canada Food Guide says that “water should be the drink of choice“, and I couldn’t agree more!
    • More than 2 alcoholic drinks per week is associated not only with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease but also breast cancer, so minimize or avoid alcohol.
    • A cup of coffee, especially if you love coffee, should be fine! If you struggle with blood pressure, you might need to watch your caffeine intake. Filtered coffee might be a better option for those with elevated cholesterol as the paper binds to compounds that affect blood lipids.
    • Herbal teas like green or white tea can be great options for low-dose antioxidants and for hydration.
    • Avoid or minimize sugary beverages like sweetened fruit juices, pop, and or mocktails.
  • Go for your screening tests and dental care!
    • Get your blood pressure checked regularly
    • Get your blood tests regularly: blood sugar, HbA1c, cholesterol, kidney function, etc. are all important to monitor changes over time and screen for issues.
    • There is a link between poor dental health and cardiovascular disease, so make sure to visit the dentist regularly and keep up with the flossing and brushing!
  • Get some shut-eye and play time
    • Sleep is an extremely important factor for your heart and overall health. A lack of (good quality or quantity) sleep is associated with increased risk of heart disease and all-cause mortality!
    • Connecting with others, managing stress, resting, self-care, spending time in nature, and engaging in hobbies are all supportive of heart and overall health.

These are some considerations for you. There are many other things that you can do, and there are specific strategies including medications, supplements, acupuncture, and other medical interventions that might be appropriate in your case.

Pick something that’s easy or pick something that’s hard (and, of course, you can do both!). Start somewhere and move forward one step at a time <3




Canada Food Guide, 2022: