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Q. What is an easy and sustainable way of starting a new exercise routine? Where is a good place to start?

A. Starting a new fitness regime is a daunting task for many, but the good news is that even small changes can make a difference. First and foremost, it's important to talk to your doctor before making any major lifestyle changes, such as a new exercise routine. Your doctor can not only point you in the right direction, but can assess if you have any major health issues that may be affected. For example, if you are 50 years of age or older, smoke, and have a history of premature cardiovascular disease in your family, you may be at risk for heart disease.

Your doctor can also help to determine your cardiovascular disease risk level and recommend steps that can help you manage your risk, such as incorporating 30-60 minutes of exercise a day.

Once you have received the "go ahead" from your physicians to begin an exercise program, a recommendation on how to ease into it, is walking. You could try purchasing a pedometer, and set a goal to add 2,000 steps a day, or walk briskly for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week or more. Doing so increases your muscles' ability to take oxygen from the blood, and a more efficient heart can pump more blood with each heartbeat and deliver more oxygen and nutrients to other organs.

Q. What are the risk factors for heart disease? How do I know if I am at risk, and what sort of factors should I be looking for?


A. A family history of premature coronary artery disease is considered a risk factor for heart disease, as is your age. Of course, things such as cigarette smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity are also risk factors. It is best to discuss your concerns with your doctor. You can also speak with your doctor about the new cholesterol guidelines and how these apply to you.

Q. Knowing that heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in Canada, what can I do to prevent a heart attack?


A. The best way to prevent a heart attack is to know your risk. There are two sets of factors that can play a role in your level of risk; those you can modify, and those you cannot. The following are the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease:

Modifiable (things you can change):

Cardiovascular Risk Q&A
Smoking
Being overweight
Lack of exercise

Non Modifiable (things you can't change):
Age
Family history of cardiovascular disease
Diabetes
High blood pressure

Because some risk factors may not be obvious, or anything you can change, it is important to have a conversation with your doctor, and have your doctor properly assess your level of risk. Your doctor can also point you to ways you can actively reduce your cardiovascular risk he or she may suggest you quit smoking, eat healthy foods more often, and be more active on a regular basis.

Q. Why is it important to understand my risk for cardiovascular disease?


A. Heart disease and stroke are two of the three leading causes of death in Canada. In fact, someone in Canada dies every seven minutes from heart disease or stroke. Understanding your risk for cardiovascular disease will help you and your doctor to take action to ensure you're doing everything possible to live and age healthy. If you are male over the age of 40, or a woman over the age of 50, or have a family member who suffers from cardiovascular disease, you may be at risk.

Q. What can my doctor do to help me manage my risk for cardiovascular disease?


A. Your physician can help you manage the threat of cardiovascular disease by assessing your risk factors, such as your age, family history, whether you smoke or have diabetes for instance. The good news is that you can modify some of the risks such as elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol, by taking control and managing your cardiovascular health. Modifying your diet, getting more exercise, losing weight and throwing out those cigarettes are a few things you can change. And your doctor can determine your risk and help to show you how best to manage your health. They will also be able to guide you in the event you require medication in addition to lifestyle changes.

Making the decision to talk with your doctor is the first step toward becoming an active participant in your cardiovascular health. The next steps are the choices you make daily that will lead you to a healthier lifestyle.

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