It’s February 1st and to some of you, that might mean Valentine’s Day is coming or is this the year you don’t get a birthday if you are a leap year baby. For my family, it means it’s Heart Month! Heart disease is the second leading cause of death, after cancer, so Canadians so most people has been touched in some way. As women, we have our own set of unique risk factors as well. Did you know that heart disease and stroke kills 32,000 Canadian women each year? You can read all about those on the Heart and Stroke webpage.
Five Top Tips for Heart Health
1. Quit Smoking you filthy animal
2.Cut down on the booze
3.Get some exercise
4.Get a handle on stress and anxiety
5. Lay off the burgers and improve your diet
Most years, these would be the top five tips for taking care of your heart, but, we are going into year 3 of a global pandemic. We are all way too stressed out, due to lockdowns and bad weather, many of us are not getting enough excercise, people are drinking more than usual to cope and too many people use cigarettes to calm their nerves.
Does this mean we are all doomed to come out of this anxiety ridden, overweight, out of shape with a new drinking problem? No.
Let’s focus on what we can change:
Number one is and always will be to quit smoking. You can do it. I know it’s hard. The two biggest pro smokers I have ever known did it when their lives were put in peril, so, don’t let it get to that stage. Call your doctor and see if they offer smoking cessation help. Use the patches for as long as you need them. If nicotine gum is your jam, chew it up. Quit with a buddy and lean on each other for support. Bet a large sum of money on it for added incentive, if that what takes. Just do it. Smoking is the number one enemy.
You can improve your diet. I am telling you to go full on vegan. Maybe start by having one vegetarian meal a week. Then move on to a vegetarian day. Start eating more fish and seafood and less red meat. Switch to dairy alternatives that don’t contain cholesterol. We now use oat milk for our morning coffee and actually prefer it to cow. Learn to love beans and lentils, experiment with whole grains like farro and barley or polenta instead of white rice and pasta all the time. Nobody wants you to radically change your diet overnight but start small for big results.
Try out something like my Braised Lentils with Poached Egg on Polenta
Booze, booze the magical fruit. The more you are stuck at home, in lockdown, maybe alone, the more you might find yourself turning to a big glass of wine (which turns into two, maybe three, maybe earlier in the evening than usual). I get it. This is something I have struggled with since this whole mess started. I haven’t been able to work outside the house and when my husband and son are working 16 hrs for days on end, i get pretty bored and lonely. Maybe you feel the stress of full time parenting during lockdown. I get it.
The problem is that, especially for women, it doesn’t take much to hop onto the unhealthy consumption wagon. Studies are showing a marked increase in drinking among women since the start of the pandemic. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to drink enough to start risking your health. Find healthier options.
For me, I have embraced cannabis drinks. It relaxes me, no hangovers, it isn’t going to damage my heart or other organs and I can be entertained watch Worst Cooks in America in my pjs all by myself. You can still have a nice glass of wine but try not to open a bottle at 4pm and keep it to that one glass and then crack open a nice Collective Arts cannabis drink and kick back. I have also found that taking CBD has helped control my “OMG IS IT COVID OR ALLERGIES” anxiety amazingly well.
As far as stress and anxiety goes, all of the things I have just suggested will help with that. But one of the most potent medicines (unless you suffer from clinical depression or mental health issues – I am talking about general stress and covid anxiety) is exercise. Regular exercise helps your metabolisms, strengthens your heart and lifts your spirits. There are neurochemical benefits like reducing the body’s level of stress hormones and stimulates the production of endorphins. You will also enjoy behavioural benefits as your stamina increases, you will have renewed energy and be able to do more things you have been, perhaps, putting off.
Get outdoors, go for a hike with a friend, go skating or skiing, find some exercise videos you can do at home. Frankly, I have embraced some cheesy dance based videos that I would NEVER do in a group and only do when I am home alone. The endorphins will help elevate your mood, you will probably lose some weight, especially if you improve your diet and cut down on the alcohol too.
Maybe meditation and yoga are more your jam. Or try listening to Neil Gaiman read an audio book to you as you fall asleep at night. It’s heaven. Explore different ways to relax and let your mind feel calm and clear. For me, this is walking. Walking is my meditation – my yoga.
So, lets spend February improving our heart health and, along the way, our general mental and physical well being.