Small changes can make a big difference to your heart health

coupleMore Canadians than ever are surviving heart attacks and strokes, even though these events are serious and can be life-threatening. In fact, the death rate from cardiovascular disease has declined more than 75 per cent over the past 60 years, and last year alone this resulted in 165,000 survivors. But there is still cause for concern.

According to a new report from theHeart and Stroke Foundation, not all survivors are able to make the healthy changes needed to make the best recovery possible and help avoid another event. Based on a poll of 2,000 survivors and their loved ones, survivors report success with eating healthier, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption. However, many survivors report that they struggle to maintain a healthy weight, to be physically active and to reduce stress.

“After going through a major event like a heart attack, it may be daunting to think about making many changes all at once,” says Dr. Beth Abramson, spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and author of Heart Health for Canadians. “What people don’t realize is that small changes over time can make a big difference. This can be as simple as choosing a piece of fruit over a sugary or salty snack, or getting off the bus a few stops early to walk a bit more.”

Here are some tips that can help everyone – whether they are living with cardiovascular disease or not – get started on a healthier path:

Let the Food Guide guide you. Follow Canada’s Food Guide and ensure that half your plate is vegetables, one quarter meat or alternatives such as beans, lentils or tofu, and one quarter grains such as rice or pasta. Add in a glass of milk or some yogurt and fruit.

Planning makes perfect. Plan your meals each week and make a list before heading to the grocery store. Cook healthy meals in bigger batches and freeze them.

Accept all substitutes. Use healthier fats, for example olive oil instead of butter. Use fresh or dried herbs, spices, flavoured vinegars or lemon juice instead of salt to enhance flavour. In baking, cut down on the fat content by using fruit sauce and replace white flour with whole wheat.

Find what moves you. No need to go to a gym, just do whatever you enjoy – any activity can have a positive impact. And remember, if you are pressed for time, you can work in activity in 10-minute bouts.

Mix it up. Try new foods such as a new fruit or vegetable each time you shop, and choose a new recipe to try each week. Vary your exercise as well: yard work one day, an exercise class the next, and a ski or bike ride after that. Play in the park with the kids or take a walk with a friend or neighbour.

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