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Take steps to keep your ticker ticking longer

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The good news is, heart-disease rates and deaths are declining.

As noted in a recent study by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, the rate of ischemic heart disease (including heart attacks) has dropped from 8.80 per cent of the population in 2007 to 7.92 per cent in 2011. Manitoba is not alone. Studies done elsewhere suggest heart disease has generally been on the decline in recent years.

About the Wellness Institute

THE Wellness Institute offers cardiac rehabilitation to help patients recover from a cardiac event or surgery. In addition, the Wellness Institute has programs to help prevent heart disease through regular physical activity, healthy-eating classes, as well as smoking cessation. Visit for more information.

The bad news is heart disease remains one of leading causes of death among Canadians, particularly those over the age of 50. In fact, about 30.2 per cent of all premature deaths in Manitoba can be attributed to circulatory issues (heart disease and stroke). Across, Canada, according to one federal report, heart disease accounts for more than 60,000 deaths a year.

Given February is Health Month, now is as good a time as any to reflect on these numbers and to think about what we can do to improve our heart health.

To start, it is important to recognize heart disease is a term that covers a number of specific afflictions, including heart attack, congestive heart failure and angina, all of which involve blockage or inflammation of the heart and its blood vessels.

Historically, heart disease has tended to strike people over the age of 50. But in recent years that has started to change. We are starting to see heart disease at much younger ages, partly because of lifestyle changes. As a result, we are now starting see heart disease in people entering their 40s. We're also starting see more women and fewer men with heart disease.

Genetics and lifestyle are significant contributors to heart disease. Coronary problems run in families, especially if a close male member of the family develops heart disease before the age of 55 or a female member develops heart disease before her menopause. Smoking is a strong risk factor for heart disease, as are being physically inactive, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

It is important to note, however, people can reduce their risk of developing heart disease.

Start with your diet.

Healthy diets contain a lower fat content and are high in fruit, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Saturated fats are a type of fat that can increase cholesterol and cause an increased risk for heart disease. They are found in many whole fat dairy products (including milk, butter and cheeses) and beef. Diets higher in fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are protective against heart disease. Non-saturated fats are healthier types of fat and are found in certain types of fatty fish (for example, salmon). These are rich in omega 3 and are felt to be protective against heart disease. The Mediterranean diet is noteworthy for a reduction in heart-disease risk. It contains a combination of fruit, vegetables and non-saturated fats in the form of fish and healthy oils (such as olive oil) with a significant reduction in non-healthy saturated fats from beef sources.

It is also important to be active.

Exercise helps protect against many risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. A better term than exercise is "physical activity." Not only is exercise protective, but so is shovelling snow, cutting grass, gardening and most other daily physical activities. The important thing is to do these activities on a regular (daily) basis. The recommendation is 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week (at least five).

Lifestyle changes such as these aren't a guarantee against heart disease, but they will reduce your risk and increase the odds your heart-health story will be more good news than bad.

Dr. Kevin Saunders is the medical director of the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks General Hospital.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 21, 2014 A17

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