Heart Health Awareness Month – From an Oakville Physio

Helping hands from Oakville Physio, massage, yoga, yoga therapy, foot clinic

While we all know Valentine’s Day is around the corner, did you know… that February is Heart Health Awareness Month

Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada. Whether you are at risk or have had a personal experience with cardiac disease, have had a family member or friend affected, or have not given it much thought until now, taking care of yourself should always be a priority.

Today we will discuss some helpful tips for improving your heart health and reducing your risk for cardiac disease…

Firstly, are you at risk? How many of the following categories do you fall into?

  • Family and personal history
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Unhealthy weight
  • Physical inactivity
  • Stress 
  • Smoking
  • Older age

Risk factors unique to women:

  • Pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes
  • Menopause 

Why is Snow Shoveling also considered a risk factor?

Snow shoveling (or even pushing a heavy snow blower) can suddenly increase your blood pressure and heart rate as you are going from minimal physical activity to something quite strenuous, especially as it’s mostly strenuous for your upper body. Additionally, the cold winter air causes your blood vessels to constrict which means less oxygen is going to your heart. By suddenly straining your upper body and increasing oxygen demand at the same time when blood vessels tend to be more constricted, you are increasing the load on your heart. This, coupled with other risk factors, can trigger a heart attack!

Here are some general safety tips for when you are out there having to shovel snow! https://palermophysio.ca/8-simple-snow-shoveling-tips/ 

Snow shovel showing Oakville Physio and massage clinic

What else can you do?

There are certain risk factors you cannot control, but for the ones you can… here are some strategies you can start adopting right away!

Physical activity: 

  • Get your steps in! Start parking farther away when going to work or the grocery store. Grab your significant other for a 10 to 20 minute walk after dinner. Or go window shopping during the cold season – walk around the mall. 
  • When taking the elevator get off one or two floors early and go up the stairs the rest of the way!
  • Try a Zumba or yoga class.

What else counts as a cardio workout? A quick-paced walk (outdoor or treadmill), Nordic walking, stationary (or outdoor) bike, elliptical machine, swimming laps, marching or running in the water… 


  • Aim for 50% of your plate to be vegetables. 
    • Vegetables great for cardiac health include: Carrots, bell peppers, squash, yucca, zucchini, eggplant, purple cabbage, dark leafy greens…
    • Fruits: tomatoes, watermelon, grapes, cherries, cranberries, blueberries, pomegranates… 
  • When cooking, use healthier oils: extra virgin or virgin olive oil for low to medium low heat, coconut oil for medium heat, avocado oil for high heat. Look for cooking oils that come in glass and tinted containers, that are cold-pressed and unrefined.
  • Minimize packaged snack foods… Instead, try:
    • raw or dry-roasted nuts (avoid all that are salted!), 
    • nut and fruit snack bars with little added sugars (sugar should not be the first or second ingredient listed!), 
    • fruit (better than juice or flavored yogurts), 
    • roasted broccoli seasoned to your liking 
    • raw carrots dipped in hummus (or any other veggie snacks), 
    • chia pudding or plain greek yogurt with added fruits/berries instead of flavoured yogurts (which are mostly artificial flavouring and added sugar)
    • date rolls or dark chocolate (72% or more cocoa) instead of other sweets
  • Lastly, low fat or low sugar? Studies show that high intake of sugar is much more damaging than foods high in fat. If trying to reduce anything in your diet, aim for less sugar first!


  • Begin by reducing number of cigarettes per day! Try the nicotine patch, gum, or other nicotine substitutes. 

When quitting, it helps to replace your urge for a cigarette with another habit. Some habits keep your mind, hands, or body busy. For example:

  • Whistle or hum
  • Do 3 sets of 10 jumping jacks
  • Run in place
  • Crank up the radio and sing or dance
  • Call a friend or family member to chat
  • If at home, do a household chore (laundry, cleaning, organizing, cooking, washing the car, taking the dog out for a walk)
  • Read a book or watch a TV show

Others are meant to substitute the nicotine smell and taste with other prominent scents and tastes:

  • Drink a glass of water
  • Eat a dill pickle
  • Suck on a piece of tart candy
  • Eat a popsicle or other frozen snacks
  • Wash and freeze grapes on a cookie sheet for a healthy frozen snack
  • Floss and brush your teeth
  • Chew gum
  • Put hand lotion on and take in the scent


  • Try meditation! Here is one to get you started… https://palermophysio.ca/meditation-from-an-oakville-physio/ 
  • Try deep diaphragmatic breathing any time you begin to feel stress building 
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation when going to sleep
  • Try a morning gratitude practice to recalibrate your mindset to more positive frequencies
  • Try visualization as a technique to prepare for any anxiety-inducing events
Woman doing Yoga - yoga Therapy or private yoga at Palermo Physio clinic

Lastly, some important information in the case you or someone you are with is experiencing urgent symptoms… 

Symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Pressure, tightness, pain, a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness

Symptoms unique to women: 

Women do not always experience the classic pain down the arm or elephant sitting on the chest type of pressure… More commonly it will be:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Jaw pain
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
  • Upper back pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen
  • extreme fatigue

Symptoms of stroke:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Then it’s time to think F.A.S.T.:

F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?

T—Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away.

Is physiotherapy appropriate for cardiac conditions?

Once you have experienced a cardiac event, or if you do have a cardiac condition, when cleared by your Doctor for physical activity, your physiotherapist can help improve your conditioning and address any secondary physical concerns. 

Fore more specialized cardiac rehabilitation, ask your doctor or cardiologist for a referral…

What is Cardiac Rehab?

Cardiac Rehab is a branch of physiotherapy or other rehabilitative services that involve medically supervised exercise therapy. These kinds of programs are designed to improve your cardiovascular capacity and lower your future risk in a safe environment so that you can reclaim your health and quality of life! 

Although designed for people who have experienced a heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty or other forms of heart surgery, some programs also accept people who fit a risk profile and are recommended for preventative measures. 

Cardiac Rehab takes a more holistic approach with services that often include counselling, education on nutrition and lifestyle changes, etc. There are usually multiple health care professionals on the team that work together to help you.

Selfie feet wearing white socks with red heart shape - showing oakville foot clinic, halton footcare