When Dr. James A. Stone first began researching cardiovascular disease (CVD) while pursuing his PhD at the University of Calgary, what he learned changed his life.
“40 years ago CVD was seen as an inevitable part of aging, but I realized during my PhD research that almost 80 per cent of premature heart disease and stroke are preventableii — that was a real eye-opener.”
“A family history of CVD significantly increases your risk. If many people in your family have suffered heart attacks and strokes in their 50s and 60s, it’s up to you to change the trend by maintaining a reasonably healthy lifestyle,” Dr. Stone says. “With a better understanding of prevention strategies, we now routinely see people living way longer than their parents — even among patients who have a heart attack.”
Dr. Stone’s own father died at 58, from a heart attack. While he says the experience didn’t directly influence his career choice, there’s no doubt that four decades of research have helped him reduce his personal CVD risk, and live well past 58.
Preventing CVD does not require dramatic lifestyle changes
For many, the first symptom of CVD they notice is a heart attack. But the disease often starts decades before — especially if you have a family history of CVD. Still, Dr. Stone explains that combating CVD doesn’t have to mean turning into an Olympic athlete.
“The research shows that we don’t have to make extreme changes. By adopting small lifestyle changes, it is possible to reduce your risk of premature heart disease and stroke and continue to enjoy a high quality of life.iii”
What does that mean?
Keep active – for example, take a brisk 30-minute walk most days. Quit smoking, and make healthier food choices to lower your blood sugars and lose excess weight.
“CVD affects many Albertans considered at ‘intermediate risk,’ but making these moderate lifestyle adjustments can significantly reduce your risk.iv”
Know the risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD)
CVD is the world’s leading cause of death, and almost 80 per cent of premature heart and stroke deaths are preventable. Help save the lives of you and your loved ones by learning more about the warning signs and risk factors for CVD.
- Common signs and symptoms of heart disease include fainting, chest pain, shortness of breath, numbness in arms or legs, and ripping or tearing back pain.
- Pre-existing health conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, atrial fibrillation and vascular cognitive impairment increase your risk of CVD.
- Smoking, unhealthy eating, insufficient exercise, excessive alcohol and drug consumption, stress and excess weight all increase your risk of CVD.
- Both women and men are at risk of CVD. Risk increases with age, and a woman’s risk increases significantly after menopause.
- A family history and genetic heritage of CVD greatly increases your risk. As Dr. Stone says, “You can run in jeans, but you can’t out-run your genes.”
Talk to your doctor to find out if you’re at risk of cardiovascular disease, and to learn more about making small lifestyle adjustments to safely protect your heart health. Get started at notanotherminute.ca.
[i] World Health Organization. Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cardiovascular-diseases-(cvds%29) Accessed 3/8/2022.
[ii] Heart and Stroke Foundation. Heart Disease: Risk and Prevention. (https://www.heartandstroke.ca/
heart-disease/risk-and-prevention) Accessed 3/8/2022.
[iii] Cleveland Clinic. Cardiovascular Diseases: Heart Diseases Causes and Symptoms. (https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21493-cardiovascular-disease) Accessed 3/10/2022
[iv] Pearson, Glen J et al. “Supplementary Materials: 2021 Canadian Cardiovascular Society Guidelines for the Management of Dyslipidemia for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Adults.” The Canadian Journal of Cardiology vol. 37,8 (2021): 1129-1150. doi:10.1016/j.cjca.2021.03.016