6 tips to keep your heart healthy amid the pandemic

Excerpt: Preventive lifestyle measures always help to keep your heart healthy. But prevention, management and monitoring of heart conditions are especially important in reducing the additional pandemic-related risks. Get vaccinated, continue to follow COVID-19 safety precautions, and seek immediate medical care for heart symptoms. Reducing stress, staying physically active, and eating a wide variety of nutritious foods can also help you to maintain good heart health.

February is Heart Month.* Preventive lifestyle measures can help to keep your heart healthy, lower the risk of heart disease, and manage heart-related conditions. But prevention, management and monitoring of heart conditions are especially important in addressing and substantially reducing the additional risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

People with an underlying heart condition or vascular disease are at greater risk of complications if they are infected with COVID-19,* says the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Another risk is some older adults who experience heart symptoms may be reluctant to go to a clinic or emergency room and delay seeking treatment,* reports Cleveland Clinic.

A JAMA Network Open study also found pandemic-related stress negatively affected heart health, leading to a fourfold increase in stress cardiomyopathy,* a reversible condition with symptoms like a heart attack.

Fortunately, you can take preventive steps to reduce these and other heart-related risks, and keep your heart healthy during and after the pandemic:

  1. Get vaccinated and keep following precautions
    Older adults with underlying conditions are advised to get vaccinated, provided they have not had a severe allergic reaction to ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines,* says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To protect yourself and others, follow guidelines for wearing masks, physical distancing and frequent handwashing before and after being vaccinated when it becomes available to you.*

  2. Seek care for symptoms
    Don’t ignore possible heart symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing or discomfort in the chest, arms, back, neck, shoulder or jaw,* advises Ottawa Heart Institute. Call 911 immediately and seek medical care at the emergency room or a clinic when you need it.* Also, keep taking all heart medications as prescribed.*

  3. Ease stress
    Too much stress can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.* Reduce stress with relaxation techniques like meditation, focused breathing and yoga, and limit caffeine and alcohol,* advises Mayo Clinic.

  4. Get your heart pumping
    Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily.* Choose low-impact activities such as brisk walking, balancing and stretching exercises, strength training with resistance bands, or dancing. Take advantage of the many exercise programs offered online to help stay active indoors in winter.

  5. Eat nutritious, heart-healthy foods
    A heart-healthy, balanced diet lowers heart disease and stroke risk by improving cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure, helping manage body weight and controlling blood sugar.* Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and protein-rich foods like legumes, nuts, fish, poultry and lean red meat. Limit foods and beverages high in calories, sugar, salt and other additives.*

  6. Stay socially connected, virtually
    Social interaction and stimulation are good for the heart, while social isolation is linked to a higher risk of heart attacks, heart failure and high blood pressure,* advises Harvard Medical School. Talk regularly to family and friends through video and phone calls, and interact with others at a safe physical distance.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of preference:

1. Global News. “Heart Month: healthy lifestyle can help prevent heart disease, but biology is still a factor.” (2019), online: https://globalnews.ca/news/4914415/heart-disease-biology-lifestyle-canada/
2. Heart and Stroke Foundation. “Coronavirus, heart disease and stroke.” (2020), online: https://www.heartandstroke.ca/articles/coronavirus-heart-disease-and-stroke
3. Cleveland Clinic. “What heart patients need to know about COVID-19.” (2020), online: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-heart-patients-need-to-know-about-covid-19/
4. Harvard Health. “Stress and the heart: Lessons from the pandemic.” (2020), online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/stress-and-the-heart-lessons-from-the-pandemic-2020101421094
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vaccination considerations for persons with underlying medical conditions.” (2020), online: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/underlying-conditions.html
6. Ottawa Heart Institute. “Coronavirus and your heart.” (2020), online: https://www.ottawaheart.ca/document/coronavirus-and-your-heart-dont-ignore-heart-symptoms
7. Heart and Stroke Foundation. “Reduce stress.” (2020), online: https://www.heartandstroke.ca/healthy-living/reduce-stress
8. Mayo Clinic. “Tips for managing stress.” (2020), online: https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/tips-for-managing-stress/
9. Mayo Clinic. “Strategies to prevent heart disease.” (2019), online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease-prevention/art-20046502
10. Heart and Stroke Foundation. “Healthy eating basics.” (2020), online: https://www.heartandstroke.ca/healthy-living/healthy-eating/healthy-eating-basics
11. Harvard Medical School. “Making connections good for the heart and soul.” (2007), online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/making-connections-good-for-the-heart-and-soul