This post was originally published in February 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and reliability

It’s Heart Month in Canada, which means it’s a time to bring attention to the importance of heart health and what you can do to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease is more common than you may think. It is the second leading cause of death in Canada after cancer. About 1 in 12 Canadians 20 years or older live with a heart disease diagnosis—that’s around 2.6 million Canadians—and around 14 Canadians with diagnosed heart diseases are dying each hour. The prevalence of heart disease requires the proper caretaking of our heart health.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a group of several conditions that affect the heart, which is most often caused by a buildup of plaque that blocks the blood flow and oxygen delivery to the heart muscles. This blockage can lead to heart attacks, heart failure or even death. Our hearts are a vital part of our cardiovascular system, which  is responsible for delivering blood rich oxygen and nutrients throughout our entire body. Therefore, it is very important that we are aware of any health conditions that can occur in our hearts.

Do you know the risks factors of heart disease?

There are some we can control and some we can’t—it’s important to be aware of both.

Risk factors you can’t control

  • Age: specifically men aged 45 and older or women aged 55 and older are at a greater risk of developing a heart disease.
  • Family history: your risk is increased if close family members—such as parents, siblings or children—develop heart disease before age 55 if they’re male or before menopause if they’re female.
  • Ethnicity: Indigenous, African, Chinese, Hispanic and South Asian Canadians find themselves at a greater risk and are more likely to have high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • High blood pressure, stress, obesity and diabetes also present as risk factors everyone is susceptible to.

If you fall into 1 or more of these categories, it’s important to be extra diligent about your heart health. Be sure to take note of the following risk factors you can control to help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Risk factors you can do something about

  • High blood pressure and blood cholesterol
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Not enough exercise
  • Too much alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Excessive stress


1. Change your diet

The foods you eat affect your health but small changes in your daily routine can decrease your risk of heart disease.

  • Incorporate more fruits and vegetables that are low in sugar, such as blackberries, blueberries, spinach and broccoli.
  • Reduce foods that are high in saturated and trans fats such as beef, pork and processed meats.
  • Eat less red meat.
  • Add high-fiber foods to your diet such as beans, lentils and grains.
  • Cut down on high-sodium and high-sugar foods—fruit juice for example contains a lot of sugars—so opt for fresh fruit instead.

2. Get more exercise

Being physically active is one of the most important things you can do for your health as it can help your heart, brain, muscles, bones and mood. People who are not active have double the risk of heart disease and stroke as well as increased risk of diabetes, cancer and dementia.

Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.

3. Weight management

If you are struggling with your weight, you are not alone. Over 60 per cent of Canadian adults have an unhealthy Body Mass Index (BMI), causing obesity. This can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and sleep apnea—doubling your chance of heart disease.

  • Log in to the member site to access Balance® for some great weight management resources and trackers.
  • Check your benefits on the member site—you may have coverage for a dietitian who can provide support and an action plan.

4. Reduce your alcohol consumption

Heavy drinking and binge drinking are risk factors for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Alcohol may also cause problems by interacting with your medications.

Low risk drinking guidelines suggest

  • no more than 3 drinks per day or 15 per week for men no more than 2 drinks per day or 10 per week for women; and
  • to always consider your age, body weight and existing health conditions that might suggest lower limits.

5. Quit smoking

Smoking triples the risk of death from heart disease and stroke in middle-aged men and women. Quitting is one of the best things you can do to prevent heart disease and stroke.

  • Ask for help—tell your family, friends and co-workers that you plan to quit. Let them know your plan and how they can help.
  • Set a quit date, write it down and tell someone you’ve decided to become tobacco-free.
  • Make a plan— and both offer personalized quit plans that can help deal with the emotional and physical aspects of quitting.

6. Manage your stress

Stress is a part of life for just about everyone. Sometimes it’s not easy to recognize because we are so used to it. However, stress can have strong negative effects on the body.

People who have high levels or prolonged stress can have higher cholesterol or blood pressure, which is a stroke risk factor.

  • If you’re experiencing increased or regular stress, talk to your doctor about how you can learn to mitigate it.
  • Try one of our online meditation sessions or attend a yoga class.
  • Talk to a family member or a friend.
  • Talk you your manager about your work load or other contributing stressors in your life that are causing you distress, and how you can work together to manage it.

Remember, small changes make a big difference. 8 of 10 premature heart disease and stroke cases are preventable through these healthy lifestyle behaviours.

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