Alberta Cancer Foundation

Ask and Answer

Q: What are the top five ways that I can keep my heart healthy?

There are multiple factors at play that lead to coronary artery disease and sometimes heart attack. “Some are fixable and some aren’t,” says Dr. Todd Anderson, director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta and head of the department of cardiac sciences at the University of Calgary.

His list of the major risk factors includes high blood pressure, high levels of blood sugar or cholesterol, smoking, physical inactivity, family history (a first-degree relative who had heart troubles before age 60) and obesity (particularly fat that accumulates around the middle).

To reduce the risks of heart disease, Dr. Anderson gives five tips for keeping your heart healthy because “cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disability, particularly for women. About 30 per cent of Canadians will die from heart disease and stroke.”

  1. Know your numbers. Be aware of your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and waist circumference. Also know what the ideal values are and work toward them.
  2. Talk to your doc. If your numbers are out of line, seek consultation with a medical provider to help you plan how to improve those numbers.
  3. Another number: 150. Engage in a healthy lifestyle with an ideal body weight and regular physical activity. Get a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week. We used to think that you had to do 30 minutes at a time full-out, but we now know those chunks can be 10 minutes long. A 10-minute walk in the morning and another in the afternoon would both count.
  4. Don’t smoke. Seek help quitting if you can’t do it on your own.
  5. Know the signs. Look for symptoms that might be indicative of a developing heart problem: unexplained chest or upper body discomfort when exercising, shortness of breath or a decrease in
    exercise tolerance.

Q: I heard that there is a relationship between endometrial cancer and waist circumference. Can you explain it?

“Waist circumference is a marker for obesity,”

says Dr. Gregg Nelson, an assistant professor, tumour group leader and oncologist in Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre, department of gynecologic oncology. Obesity matters because as a woman’s body mass index (BMI) increases, so does her risk of endo-metrial cancer.

As waist circumference increases, so does a woman’s BMI and level of estrogen within her body. Dr. Nelson explains that risk factors are increased with higher amounts of estrogen in the body. The hormone stimulates growth of the uterine lining, which can then lead to cancer developing in that area. He says women can decrease their risk factors by decreasing their BMIs. They won’t forever be considered at higher risk for endometrial cancer if, at one time in their lives, they were overweight.

He notes that obesity is linked to other medical conditions, such as diabetes, which increases endometrial cancer risk.

“A lot of it is tied together,” Dr. Nelson says. “The one silver lining in all of this is: in obese women who develop endometrial cancer, their cancers are often found to be earlier-stage and also lower grade – likely treatable with a higher cure rate.”

Q: Should my senior mother take up yoga, or are there better low-impact activities for her to consider?

As we age we can lose flexibility and balance, says Nicole McLeod, a personal trainer and PhD student in exercise psychology at the University of Alberta. That makes yoga, which teaches poses that help improve balance and flexibility, “a great option for seniors,” McLeod says.

The flexibility that seems to be lost by aging is actually caused by inactivity or lack of movement, so exercise is important for seniors. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that adults age 65 and older who do not have a suspected or diagnosed medical condition take part in at least 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity each week.

McLeod has worked in the fitness industry for more than 10 years and recommends that seniors entering a yoga class check an instructor’s qualifications and also make the instructor aware of any limitations they may have, just like they should in any fitness class.

Another popular activity for seniors is water fitness classes. “They are no-impact or very minimal impact,” McLeod says. “The other nice thing about water-fit is it’s quite social as well. A lot of seniors like it because they’re being active but they can chat with their friends.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends seniors spread out their fitness activities into sessions of 10 minutes or more and add muscle and bone strengthening activities – like lifting weights or yoga – that use major muscle groups twice a week to help improve posture and balance. If you are unsure about the types and amounts of physical activity most appropriate for you, consult a health professional.

Ask our experts questions about general health, cancer prevention and treatment. Please submit them via email to Remember, this advice is never a substitute for talking directly to your family doctor.