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There is no sugar-coating it. Literally and figuratively, heart disease is the number one killer on the planet. It's the second most common reason why Canadians die, trailing only cancer.
In fact, more Canadian women die of heart disease each year than breast cancer.
Have we got your attention?
These are the stark statistics that keep the clinics buzzing, and medical staff, researchers and scientists scurrying at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) – with no near end in sight.
FACT: 50,000 new cases of heart disease will be diagnosed in Canada in 2015
FACT: More than 100,000 Canadians are hospitalized each year due to heart failure.
FACT: Heart disease is the most common reason Canadians are hospitalized – almost 1.5 million times annually.
FACT: It costs the Canadian healthcare system more than $2 billion a year to manage patients with heart failure.
If the statistics don't phase you, consider this: a weakened heart is forever. There is no cure. There is only treatment – painstaking management of the disease by patients and healthcare staff.
Heart disease is, after all, a chronic illness.
In many cases, that includes a progressively diminished quality of life, a rainbow of medications, severe discomfort and pain to complete the most mundane of daily tasks like making breakfast, climbing stairs, carrying a baby. And, for millions the world over – a sudden heart attack or death.
During Heart Month 2015, there's a question worth considering: Are my fitness, nutrition and lifestyle choices leading me to a life sentence?
Some 55,000 patients a year flow into and out of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, the country's leading heart centre. Some are surgically fitted with pacemakers and defibrillators, others will have mechanical devices implanted into their chests and a battery pack strapped to their waists simply to keep them alive as they wait for a donor heart that may or may not arrive.
Still others undergo valve replacements, coronary bypass procedures, stent insertion and other simple and complex cardiac and vascular surgeries. There are those whose heart conditions exacerbate or trigger other ailments – diabetes, kidney failure, cancer to name a few.
Many endure months and years of medical appointments because they were born with a heart condition. The vast majority of patients, however, are sentenced to heart failure because of their own lifestyle. That means, it's preventable.
More than 100 cardiologists and heart surgeons at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre are tasked with navigating this surging tide. Pushing the limits of their knowledge and medical training to new heights, leveraging technology, and constantly innovating – to develop that next major breakthrough to give heart disease patients new hope and a longer, richer life.
So, we wondered if some of the world's leading heart doctors and medical practitioners, people who witness and care for these complex patients first-hand, actually practise what they preach.
What is their approach to, habits adopted, strategy for and behaviours around fitness, nutrition and lifestyle to maintain heart health? Here's what they said:
Dr. Patricia Murphy, Anesthesiologist, who regularly works around the clock tending to patients with a variety of cardiac and other medical conditions:
Fitness habit: An hour of physical activity every day to exercise my MOST important muscle ... my heart! A variety of activities is the key to prevent injury and promote overall fitness.
Nutrition habit: Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables every day, more fish, less red meat and incorporate vegetarian meals into my diet. Reducing simple carbohydrates (white bread, refined sugars, etc.) in my diet has eliminated the 4 pm lack of energy. My energy levels are even through my day.
Lifestyle habit: Enjoy your life and live each moment with intention. A happy, fulfilled life with less anxiety, stress and negativity.
Dr. Mark Osten, Cardiologist:
Fitness habit: Try to do circuit class as often as possible,
Nutrition habit: I make a Protein shake every morning before I go to work. The impact is I feel more alert.
Lifestyle habit: Stay active and play sports. It's a mental life-saver.
Dr. Thomas Lindsay, Vascular Surgeon, Chief, Division Vascular Surgery:
Fitness habit: Do combined cardio and weight session once or twice per week in addition to five-minute exercise set each day. Walk up stairs most all of the time.
Nutrition habit: No junk food. Eat fish weekly, minimal red meat and lots of fruit and vegetables.
Lifestyle habit: Use visual images of restful places to relax and de-stress before going to sleep, which allows me to mentally relax.
An anonymous PMCC staff member offered these tips:
Fitness habit: Try, when possible, to take the stairs and do yoga class. Building exercise into my day allows me to unwind after what can be a pretty tense and stressful day.
Nutrition habit: Drinking water and avoiding soda (ice tea) allowed me to lose weight.
Lifestyle habit: A positive attitude, being grateful helps me to think clearly and feel capable of doing anything thrown my way.
Carolyn David, Valve Surgery Follow-up and Clinical Research Coordinator:
Fitness habit: Try to take the stairs at work and park five blocks away to get a walk in twice a day. Working out and riding my horse four times a week, which is very intense. I feel rejuvenated and less fatigued during the day.
I eat a balanced nutritious breakfast every morning, healthy lunch and a smaller dinner. (Our body is our Temple). I feel sharp mentally and physically, and very productive at work.
Lifestyle habit: A balance of fitness, nutrition, family, my horse, companion, friends and work to achieve a positive look on life.
This is, straight-up, no sugar added food for thought from the frontlines of cardiac care.
So, what is your personal heart health strategy?