Time to focus on maintaining a healthy heart

February is Heart Month – with staff and volunteers of the Heart & Stroke Foundation aiming to bolster awareness about heart health and raise funds for research into better treatments and preventative education regarding heart health.

According to the Foundation, it was more than 60 years ago that a group of Canadians, “Including physicians and surgeons, established the National Heart Foundation of Canada with big hopes for the future.”

The goal was to give heart health a higher place on the public agenda and, “To educate Canadians about their hearts.”

In 1961, the Foundation was renamed the Canadian Heart Foundation.

The Foundation points out that many risk factors are described as silent killers, as there are no obvious symptoms. For example, a person may not even know they have either high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

There are also what are called non-modifiable risk factors, or factors that you can’t control, such as age, ethnic background, or having a family history of heart disease.

There are also modifiable risk factors, which include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, being physically inactive, being overweight, depression, social isolation and a lack of quality support.

Of course, there are all kinds of healthy benefits from heeding these factors. An active lifestyle can help cut the risk of not only heart disease but also improve mental health, for example.

Eat healthy also helps to control weight – tips run the gamut from including lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains as well as choosing healthier fats and oils and limiting sugary drinks like pop or overly salty foods.

Health officials also recommend drinking mainly water.

Women today are living longer, but that doesn’t mean that they still don’t face major health challenges. Cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) is a leading cause of death for Canadian women, and yet many are not aware of this threat.

In fact, most Canadian women have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Women who have diabetes, come from certain ethnic backgrounds or are menopausal are even more at risk.

It is important for every woman to know about their risk factors and recognize the warning signs for heart disease and stroke so that they can prevent and manage them.

A stroke can happen when an artery to the brain becomes blocked or bursts, and the blood supply to a part of the brain is cut off.

The longer the brain goes without oxygen and nutrients supplied by blood flow, the greater the risk of permanent brain damage. Brain injuries can also result in uncontrolled bleeding and permanent brain damage. This is usually referred to as an Acquired Brain Injury.

According to the Foundation, there are two main types of stroke: those caused by blood clots (ischemic stroke) and those caused by bleeding (hemorrhagic stroke). When clots stop blood from flowing to the brain for a short time, a TIA (transient ischemic attack) or ‘mini-stroke’ can happen. Stroke can happen to anyone including babies and children (pediatric stroke).

Different parts of the brain control different functions. Learning what the parts of the brain do can help you understand why stroke can affect people so differently.

At the end of the day, it also has to be pointed out that we live in an age that is stressful and hurried – and that in itself can lead to all kinds of unhealthy lifestyle habits. Too much fast, processed food. Too little activity. Too much isolation as we just sometimes don’t feel like engaging with others after a crazy day at work.

But as the experts point out, habits like these can affect us in a myriad of different ways over time – including in the way of maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system.

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