Title - Rhiannon Kay
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Rhiannon Kay is the Health & Wellness correspondent for Rhiannon is a journalism student at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. If you have questions or wish to contact Rhiannon, you can email her at
29 Days to a Healthier Heart
Rhiannon Kay

29 Days to a Healthier Heart
February is heart month. It is not just the month that holds that day when heart shaped boxes of chocolates are given, but it is also the month of awareness for that one vital organ that keeps us alive every day. In Canada alone, there are 1.6 million people living with the effects of heart disease and stroke.

Mississauga - February 7, 2012 - February is heart month. It is not just the month that holds that day when heart shaped boxes of chocolates are given, but it is also the month of awareness for that one vital organ that keeps us alive every day.

Unfortunately, many people around the world are suffering from heart related issues. In Canada alone, there are 1.6 million people living with the effects of heart disease and stroke. Resulting in over 15,000 deaths from heart attacks and strokes every year.

Joanne Cullen is the senior manager of parent brand marketing at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.

“Every year, one out of every three deaths in Canada is due to heart disease and stroke,” said Cullen. “And the tragedy is that 80 per cent of these diseases are preventable by being aware of and taking control of your own personal risk factors such as smoking, being overweight or high blood pressure.”

The Heart and Stroke Foundation have used this month to raise millions of dollars in support of medical research that it hopes can help lead to advances in treatments, prevention and recovery of heart disease and stroke.

“It is also a time when the foundation releases a Report on Canadians’ Health that articulates emerging evidence of heart health issues that require attention by various sectors of society,” said Cullen. “Including health care, governments, municipalities and Canadians who have a role in influencing healthy communities and the heart health of their residents.”

Heart Month was created in 1958 by a team of cardiologists who were the founders of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.

“It was originally just about asking corporations to support funding for more research,” said Cullen. “But then evolved into a more public campaign or ‘appeal’ as they called it that started the whole February door-to-door community canvass.”

Since then, February was officially designated by Health Canada as “Heart Month” due to the maintained awareness and fundraising efforts of the Foundation.

“This year, we have 29 Days of February to help people become aware of the problem of heart disease and stroke,” said Cullen, “and how it can be prevented through more research, health education and health policy advocacy conducted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.”

What can people do to help raise awareness with Heart Month? One easy thing is talk to one another, says Cullen.

“Look at yourself and your loved ones and try to encourage healthy living including physical activity and healthy eating,” she said. “Support children into getting as much physical activity as possible and eating healthy foods.”

There are many ways that people can help reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke and one way is how we eat. Foods that are high in fibre should be eaten to help promote a healthy heart, as well as whole grains and of course lots of fruits and vegetables.

“Trans fats and saturated fats heighten blood cholesterol levels which can cause a condition known as atherosclerosis, a clogging and narrowing of the arteries,” said Cullen. “They can also cause high blood pressure, which is the number one risk factor for stroke, and major risk factor for heart attack and heart disease.”

Nicole Nichols is a certified personal trainer and managing editor of She knows how important is it to maintain good heart health and how easy it can be to do.

“Trouble is, many people, especially young people, don’t think about their heart health until they’re much older"or they already have high risk factors or actual heart problems,” said Nichols. “But heart disease and its related health issues are all preventable with healthy lifestyle habits like smart dietary choices and regular exercise.

Nichols created a calendar for the month of February called 29 Days to a Healthier Heart. It’s full of daily tips that help lead to a healthy heart.

“It’s a simple tool that anyone can print to learn more about how simple, healthy habits have a big impact on your health,” said Nichols. “Being healthy and taking care of your heart is not about perfection. You don’t have to avoid all sweets or never eat a burger again"but you do have to make mostly healthy choices most of the time.”

Staying active is crucial to a strong and healthy heart. Keep the body moving, any movement whatsoever is better for your heart than being sedentary, said Nichols.

“Cardiovascular exercise is extremely beneficial to strengthening the heart and protecting it against disease. This includes activities like brisk walking, running, biking, swimming, dancing, and more,” said Nichols. “Aim for at least three to five sessions a week lasting 20-30 minutes. It’s one of the most important things you can do to improve your health.”

The worst thing anyone can do for his or her health is to not exercise at all. “Just pick anything you like to do, no matter how long or intense, you’ll be doing your body good,” said Nichols.

There are also ways to better heart health that go beyond diet and exercise, said Nichols. Stress relief, yoga, meditation and having a wide circle of friends have been shown to decrease one’s risk of heart issues.

Since heart disease and strokes are so preventable it doesn’t help when everywhere we turn restaurants are releasing unhealthy food options. If eaten in excess these foods lead to obesity, which then leads to high cholestorol and blood pressure, which ultimately can lead to heart attacks and disease.

The battle to save lives from heart disease is increasingly an uphill fight that’s made even more difficult by a new extreme eating phenomenon popularized by such greasy eats as deep fried butter, thousand plus calorie meals and shows like Man vs. Food.

A restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada has Heart Attack in its name. The Heart Attack Grill is known for its Quadruple Bypass Burger, the Butterfat Shake and Flat Liner fries that are deep-fried in lard. Customers weighing 350 pounds get a free burger and if the quadruple bypass burger is finished they get pushed to their car in a wheelchair.

Quadruple ByPass Burger

Jon Basso is the founder of Heart Attack Grill. He opened the restaurant in 2005, because he wanted to give people what they really wanted, extreme portions of food that are sure to be filling. Not everyone likes what he’s doing; he receives hate mail every day and there are usually protestors at the door.

But for Basso, it’s all about personal responsibility. It is not as though people aren’t warned when they are thinking of eating at the grill, he says.

“There are warnings on our menu and our front door,” said Basso. But people still enter and eat at their own risk.

Ironically, Basso says he doesn’t even want people to eat there.

“We do not recommend that anyone eat here at all,” said Basso. “We warn them on the door to go away.”

These unhealthy foods are eaten for many reasons. Perhaps it’s just a quick and easy way to grab a meal during a busy day.

“I think restaurants make what people will buy. Really, we control the market. As long as people keep using their wallets to ‘vote’ for food that tastes good to them and is unhealthy, it will continue to be available,” said Nichols. “Unhealthy, nutritionally poor and fatty foods are everywhere"and they’re cheap. However, just because it’s there doesn’t mean people have to eat it.”

People need to be aware of how harmful these foods are to the body if eaten in excess. If it is difficult to cut these foods out completely, try going less and less. Like Nichols said, it’s not that you can’t have a burger again, but the more healthy choices the better.

Having these fast food restaurants at our fingertips makes it difficult to avoid them, but there are just as many healthy restaurants available.

“It’s no news that we live in what many health experts consider to be a ‘toxic’ food environment. Does this environment make it harder for people to make healthy decisions? Sure,” said Nichols. “Are unhealthy foods cheap, tempting and often tasty? You bet. But restaurants aren’t forcing anyone to eat their foods either. We have to take responsibility for our own actions.”

Nichols is right: it is our responsibility to take care of our bodies and we have to choose to live a healthy lifestyle to ensure a long life. Take care of your heart, it’s keeping you alive right now.

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