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20 ways to take care of your heart

One step every day to build healthy habits to support your heart.

heart health illustration

The experts at the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative at Women’s College Hospital compiled 20 simple daily challenges to help support your heart health. Over time, these can add up to meaningful changes for your health and well-being.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, heart disease affects more than 2.4 million adults in Canada and is the second leading cause of death in the country. For women, in particular, heart disease is the leading cause of death for those over the age of 55. Learn more about what you can do to improve your heart health and prevent heart disease by participating in this challenge.

Join us on social media @WHealthMatters where we’ll be sharing a task each weekday using the #MyHeartMatters hashtag.

1. Kick the smoking habit! Quitting smoking, e-cigarettes and vaping is one of the most important changes you can make to prevent heart disease and stroke. Call Smokers Helpline at 1-866-366-3667 for free advice and support. If you don’t smoke, don’t start!

2. Give the elevator a day off and take the stairs. Notice how small amounts of physical activity add up toward achieving the recommended guidelines for health benefits.

3. Pack a heart-healthy snack. Aim for a balanced snack that includes fresh fruit or veggies and protein. You can find satisfying easy-to-make ideas from cardiovascular dietitians at Women's College Hospital.

4. Do a 10-minute mindful meditation. Learn to practice meditation each day as there are links to reduced blood pressure and stress. Use an app to get you started and, while meditating, be mindful of your breathing and posture. 

5. Schedule your annual physical exam. A routine physical exam ensures that you stay in good health; it also allows healthcare providers to update your health history and check vitals, including weight, heart rate and blood pressure, listen to your heart and lungs, discuss concerns about your heart health and schedule appropriate cardiac tests.

6. Go for a brisk 10-15-minute walk with a friend, family member or co-worker.

7. Plan your menu for the week, including your breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners. Try to incorporate heart-healthy recipes and ingredients. Use these tips for a heart-healthy diet to get you started. 

8. Write down five things you are grateful for. Research shows that gratitude doesn’t just make you feel good but it also makes your heart healthier. 

9. Learn about your family health history, which is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. A family history increases your risk of heart disease, especially if a parent developed it at an early age (before 55 for a male relative, such as your brother or father, and 65 for a female relative, such as your mother or sister).

10. Sit less. Set an alarm every hour to break up sitting for too long. Stretch, do five to 10 squats or go for a short walk. 

11. Make your meals meatless. Aim to go meatless twice a week and to eat fish twice a week. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu and nuts and seeds add lots of fibre to your diet, and fatty fish like salmon and trout, give you an omega-3 power boost. Both omega-3 and fibre can help decrease your cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease.  

12. Try a simple deep-breathing relaxation exercise to increase feelings of calmness and reduce stress.

13. Know your numbers. Make sure you know your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which are key indicators of heart health. Talk to your healthcare provider about how you can manage these numbers for better health.

14. Dance it out to your favourite song. Dancing is a fun aerobic exercise - it can challenge your heart and lungs, boost your mood and reduce feelings of stress.

15. Journal your food intake. This is a great way to learn more about your current food habits. Once you’ve identified areas in your diet you’d like to work on, you can develop a plan to achieve that goal using the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) goal-setting strategy. 

16. Reduce your stress using our stress-relief playbook. Stress can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

17. Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and stroke. Educate yourself on the symptoms of a heart attack so you can report these to your healthcare provider.

18. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity today. Daily aerobic exercise is one of the most important healthy lifestyle habits to help reduce your risk for heart disease, so start moving by walking, cycling or swimming.

19. Make vegetables the star of each of your meals by filling half your plate with veggies. Canada’s Food Guide is a helpful reference.

20. Head to bed with time to get enough sleep. The recommended average amount of sleep for adults can be anywhere between six to eight hours, depending on your personal needs. People who don't get enough sleep are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease - regardless of age, weight, smoking and exercise habits. Talk to your family doctor to see if a sleep study would be appropriate for you.

 

This information is provided by Women's College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on January 29, 2020.

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