It’s Heart Awareness Month – Not Just Valentine’s

February is Heart Month, a time to bring attention to the importance of cardiovascular health, and what we can to reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease affects approximately 2.4 million Canadian adults, and is the second leading cause of death in Canada. According to a 2016 study by Dr. Ahmed Kaysii et al., amputations were most frequently indicated after admission for diabetic complications (81%) and cardiovascular disease (6%). Lower-extremity amputation occurs predominantly in people with diabetes and represents a major cause of morbidity, mortality and health care costs. According to a 2019 study by Dr. Mohammad A. Hussain et al., new data show a clear resurgence in the last decade in Ontario  who underwent lower-extremity amputations related to diabetes or peripheral artery disease.

We can all reduce our risk of heart disease by making healthy lifestyle choices, including quitting smoking, eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation has provided a wealth of knowledge on preventing heart disease on their web site. Below are some key highlights:

Healthy Eating

Improve your heart and brain health by eating a healthy balanced diet. Eating lots of veggies, cooking at home, limiting processed foods are all good ways to keep heart disease at bay. It has become especially hard during the pandemic since we are all stress eating consuming only sweets and salty snacks during lockdown. So we have to make an even stronger effort to make sure that we eat healthier during this time.

Reach for that fruit to satisfy a sweet craving instead of candy, for example. It will not only keep you heart healthy but also help  you avoid that sugar crash or that mid-afternoon tired feeling. Choose whole grain foods as they have a lot of fibre, protein and vitamin B to help you to stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight.

Eating meats and other forms of protein is also vital to our brain and heart. Not only does it help build muscle, but it also helps with muscle recovery.

Two kids eating strawberries. There are bowls of strawberries on the table and glasses of milk.

Staying Active

Staying active can sometimes be the most difficult thing to think about especially when most places where we can work out (like a gym) or even go for a walk (like a mall), or play outdoor sports (since it is Winter) due to the lockdowns. But there are things you can do at home as well.

Yoga is one of the best ways to stretch and strengthen muscles while helping you reduce stress. There are many videos on the internet that shows poses and yoga flows from beginner to advance, including chair yoga. Check out this Self-Care yoga flow from Yoga for Amputees.

If the weather is not too bad outside and the grounds are safe to walk on, mask up and go for an easy 20 minute walk. As you get comfortable walking with your daily walk, speed up and go for a brisk 20 minute walk. Not only will the walk give your heart a cardiovascular workout, being outside is a great way to clear your mind.

Check out some of the At Home rehab exercises we shared here.

Reducing Stress

There has been studies that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on added stress to many of us. Working from home while home-schooling our children, losing a job due to the lockdowns, and being isolated and away from friends, family and the community has resulted in added pressures and stressful situations that has triggered or elevated mental health issues. The Central For Disease Control and Prevention has put together a guide for coping with stress associated with COVID-19 for children and adults that is worth checking out. You can find it here.

The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation also recommends the following to ensure you are keeping your stress levels at bay:

  • Identify your stressors – Pay attention to your body in relation to what you are doing when it happens or immediately after it happens. Do you feel sick to your stomach, experience an onset of headache or migraine, and so on. Those could be signs that you may ignore because it seems common but are signs of stress. It is often easier to identify reactions to stress in others than we do for ourselves. So be mindful of what you are experiencing so that you can address it. You can take this Stress Self Assessment Skills quiz from the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation to help you identify your stressors.
  • Take action – It is easier said than done, but it is important to take action when you are experiencing a lot of stress. We already talked about eating well and staying active. But you should also practice meditation and practice breathing exercises. You can do this by simply lying on your back with both arms on your sides. Slowly take a deep breath in through your nose, letting your abdomen fill up with air and then your lungs, and then slowly release the breath through your mouth. Do this a few times. If you are new to breathing exercises, put your palms just above our stomach and just below your chest. That’s where your diaphragm is located. As you inhale, feel your stomach rise as it fills up with air. As it fills, you will feel your lungs fill with air as well. When you’ve reached your comfortable capacity, exhale the breath slowly and feel your stomach and lungs deflate.  
  • Get a good night’s sleep – Develop a good sleep hygiene. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it means having a routine to promote a comfortable, stable, relaxing and uninterrupted sleep. Sleep is important since sleep allows our mind and body to rest. It is also the time when our bodies repair itself. The Sleep Foundation has created a great tip page for following a great sleep hygiene. You can check it out here.

A man sleeping in bed.

For those of us who have already experienced limb loss, maintaining a healthy heart is very important. Our heart muscles works at much higher levels than those who have not experienced limb loss. Depending on the level of the loss of limb, we can use between 9% to 300% more oxygen consumption while walking. This means that we can experience running out of breath more quickly.

Keeping a healthy weight is not beneficial for wearing prosthesis but it also reduces need to replace them. In Ontario, even though provincial funding can be made available for new prosthesis for gaining or losing weight, there are still additional out of pocket costs to have new sockets made. Just imagine having to replace your socket every time you loose or gain weight. Can you imagine how wasteful both financially and environmentally that is?

Maintaining heart health is a lifestyle change. February is a great month to bring awareness to heart health as it is also the month of love. So this month, take some time to reflect on your heart health choices and see where you can improve on them. After all, self-care and self-love is part of Valentine’s Day.

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