1. Your blood pressure should be 120/80
Because it can be symptom-less, high blood pressure is often referred to as a “silent killer.” Unchecked, high blood pressure can damage the cells that line your arteries or cause little tears where plaque can build up, leading to blockages and other cardiovascular issues, says Dr. Batya Grundland, a family doctor at Women’s College Hospital’s Family Practice Health Centre. It also puts extra strain on your heart muscle. But it’s not only your heart that could be affected. “High blood pressure can increase your risk of stroke, kidney failure and eye problems,” says Dr. Grundland. Ideally, you want your blood pressure to be around 120/80 mmHg, but there’s a range of what’s considered normal, explains Dr. Grundland. She says the upper limit to keep your health risks to a minimum is 140/90 mmHg. Getting enough exercise, decreasing your dietary sodium, reducing stress and limiting caffeine can help you get your numbers down.
It’s recommended that women consume no more than 10 alcoholic drinks a week and no more than two drinks a day because excess alcohol intake is associated with everything from breast cancer and heart disease to depression and accidents. Cheryl Strachan, a registered dietitian at Sweet Spot Nutrition in Calgary, says that many of us drink more than this regularly, or don’t realize how much we drink. “The standard for wine is a five-ounce glass, but they rarely pour that amount at a bar or restaurant,” she says. Keep an eye on how much you’re really imbibing, and when you want to relax with a glass of wine, remember that less-is-more.
2. Blood sugar levels should be less than 6 percent
“When it comes to blood sugar levels, depending on who you ask in the medical community, they will get excited by slightly different thresholds,” says Dr. Grundland. But typically, when your doctor orders an A1C blood test to check your blood sugar average over the past three months (which they generally start doing once you reach the age of 40), you want the result to be less than six percent. That’s because, over time, high blood sugar can cause damage to your nerves, organs and blood vessels and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. If you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes, your goal should be to keep your blood sugar levels below seven percent. Eating high-fibre foods, which digest slowly, can help keep your blood sugar in check.
3. Get 7-9 hours of sleep
It’s recommended that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep every night, but one-third of Canadians aren’t getting enough. The trouble is, a lack of shut-eye has been linked to a greater risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, injuries, depression and even death. Getting insufficient slumber has many negative effects on the brain. Studies show that those who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to make poor food choices and experience intrusive thoughts, which are associated with anxiety and depression. One study even found that missing one or two hours of sleep can double your risk of getting into a car accident.
4. Consume 3 daily servings of whole grains
Strachan recommends that people aim to make sure that half of their daily quantity of grains (Health Canada recommends six to seven grain servings for women) are whole grains. Whole grains include oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley, breads and cereals that include the words “whole grain” in the first ingredient (even many whole wheat breads aren’t actually whole grain). These foods offer fibre, which can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, control your blood sugar and improve your gut health.
5. Go 3 years between pap smears
About 1,550 Canadian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. “A Pap smear is one of the most successful interventions that any woman can do to prevent cervical cancer,” says Dr. Grundland. You should start getting screened at age 21 if you’ve ever been sexually active. If you’ve had a normal Pap smear, you can go three years between appointments. Can’t remember the last time you saw your gyno? Book today.
6. Consume 7-8 daily servings of fruits and veggies
The new Canada’s Food Guide recommends filling half your plate with fruits and veggies – and with good reason. Eating enough fruits and vegetables is one of the biggest dietary factors for preventing cardiovascular disease, says Strachan. Researchers propose this may due to the fact that fruits and veggies are packed with antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, vitamins and minerals. “They’re good sources of nutrition without a lot of calories, sodium or other things we need to reduce in our diet,” says Strachan.
7. Get 150 minutes of exercise per week
Being physically active is one of the best ways to avoid a host of chronic diseases, and researchers have found that 150 minutes a week is the minimum you should aim for to get significant benefits, such as preventing heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis. Plus, being physically active has been shown to offer mental health benefits and reduce anxiety and depression. Try incorporating half-hour workouts five times a week.
8. Eat fish 3 times a week
Omega-3 fats, like the ones found in fatty fish (salmon, trout, mackerel), are important for preventing cardiovascular disease, says Strachan. These fats can lower triglycerides, reduce blood pressure and act as anti-inflammatories. Don’t eat meat? Aim to incorporate plant-based sources of omega-3s, such as chia seeds, hemp hearts, flax and canola oil.
9. Make sure cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL
If you already have coronary artery disease or diabetes, experts recommend being tested annually. To keep your cholesterol in check, nosh on nuts, oat-meal and fatty fish, all of which can help lower your levels.