Did you know not all omega fatty acids are created equal, especially when it comes to your heart? Omega-6s (in oils, poultry, nuts) are common in our diets, but many of us don't get enough omega-3s (in fish, seafood, flax), which boost heart health. If you don't eat much fish, consider a fish-oil supplement, or simply eat more fatty fish. Kristi Prince, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto, says to eat fish from the SMASH group (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring), which offer the highest amount of omega-3s per serving.
2. Read labels
Check an item's Nutrition Facts before you buy it. Heart-smart terms include "no trans fats," "low or no saturated fat," "low or no cholesterol," "low sodium" and "high fibre." For more, check out Health Canada's label tool athc-sc.gc.ca.
3. Quit smoking now!
Amazingly, within just one year of butting out, your risk of dying from smoke-related heart disease is slashed in half. If you're trying to quit, the Canadian Lung Association suggests you pick a day within the next two weeks to start, then join a group (online or in person) and stick with it. And if you live with a smoker, listen up: Secondhand smoke can increase your chances of developing heart disease by 30 percent, so the more supportive you can be of their efforts, the better it is for your health, too!
4. Flex your muscle
Get your heart pumping to keep it fit and strong. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. Even speedy 10-minute bouts count, as long as your breathing gets a little heavier! Take a walk at lunch, get off the bus a few stops sooner, rock out to your fave playlist or ride your bike instead of driving.
5. Measure your middle
If your midsection creeps over 35 in. (32 in. if you have a small frame), you're at a greater risk for heart disease. So grab a tape measure and check it. If you're high, commit to shedding some pounds by cutting out sweets, eating more lean protein and veggies, and exercising.
6. Amp up your vitamin D
A Danish study found a link between low vitamin D and heart disease. Boost your vitamin D levels with a little time in the sun, but since that's not enough in the winter, make sure your diet includes fortified foods like milk or OJ, or consider a supplement. "Vitamin D is crucial for overall health," says naturopathic doctor Kristi Prince.
7. Follow the numbers for a healthy heart
Eat 5:Aim for at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.
Move 10:Sneak at least 10 minutes of extra exercise into your daily routine.
Sleep 8:Get eight hours every night. Sleep deprivation increases blood pressure and elevates obesity and diabetes risk—both linked to heart disease.
Source: Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart for Life! The Mayo Clinic Plan for Preventing and Conquering Heart Disease
8. Take the tests
The best news about heart disease is that 80 percent is preventable, says Dr. Beth Abramson, author ofHeart Health for Canadians: The Definitive Guide. The first step to tuning up your ticker is a visit to your doctor's office for a look at your cholesterol levels, especially if you are overweight, smoke or have a family history of heart disease. While there, find out your ideal blood pressure—for most people, it's about 120 over 80. Once you know your target, keep tabs on it yourself at your local pharmacy. Editor's Tip: Store the numbers in your phone for an easy comparison.
9. Minimize meat
A recent Harvard University study found a serving of red meat each day increases the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer by 13 percent (and 20 percent for processed meats like bacon and hot dogs). The same study showed that eating lean protein instead (fish, poultry or legumes) significantly reduces your risk.
10. Eat more fibre
High-fibre foods—oatmeal, brown and wild rice, fruit and veggies—contain heart healthy antioxidants and help keep weight in check. To boost your fibre intake, choose breads that contain at least 2 g of fibre per serving and eat more fruit with seeds (raspberries, apples).
11. Shut out salt
Too much salt can spike blood pressure, but it's not enough to simply slow the shaker: More than three-quarters of the salt you eat comes from processed food. Aim for no more than 2,300 mg (one teaspoon) a day by choosing low-sodium products and using spices and herbs to add flavour. "You can train your taste buds to prefer less-salty tastes," says Abramson.
12. Brush up on your oils
Olive oil has a well-earned rep as a good fat, since it's chock full of heart-friendly monounsaturated fatty acids, but once you throw it in the frying pan, you might get more than you bargained for. Olive oil has a low smoke point, and if it's heated too much, its composition changes, producing potentially harmful free radicals. Save it for salads and lightly sautéed dishes, and choose healthy oils with higher smoke points, such as grapeseed and canola, when you're really heating things up.