Discussing Matters of the Heart – How to Keep Your Heart Happy and Healthy

image source: Toronto Public Health

With the arrival of winter comes an entire month devoted to the hardest working muscle in our bodies – the heart. February was heart health month, but it’s important to continue to talk about what we can do to make sure we keep our heart in tiptop shape. The heart works hard to pump blood to all parts of the body 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!

But what happens when we don’t have good heart health? And why is it important for ESL educators to know about this?

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (2019) describes heart disease as a condition when “the heart is not working properly” (What is Heart Disease section). One type of heart disease is coronary artery disease- this happens when the arteries supplying the heart with blood becomes blocked. Heart disease comes in many shapes and forms and affects 2.4 million adult Canadians (Public Health Agency of Canada [PHAC], 2018). It’s so common in fact that it has been named the second leading cause of death in Canada (PHAC, 2018).

Though all Canadians are at risk of developing heart disease, risk is higher in immigrants and newcomers to Canada. Coming to a new country can be stressful, and individuals may face barriers in accessing health services, employment, and housing.  We know that prolonged stress can have negative physical effects on the body. For example, prolonged stress increases your risk of high blood pressure which can lead to the development of heart disease. In addition to this, many newcomers may adopt unhealthy habits that are prevalent in our society. These unhealthy habits include consuming a lot of processed or “fast” foods and a lack of physical activity in our everyday lives, both of which can lead to the development of heart disease. For those who are smoking, the research tells us that smoking causes for plaque to build in the arteries and decreases the amount of oxygen in the blood which can make your heart work harder than it needs to (Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 2019). Though this reality sounds daunting, the upside is that heart disease is highly preventable!

Taking small steps to enjoy a healthy diet, be active, live smoke-free and learn positive ways to manage your stress are all ways that you can prevent many diseases, including heart disease. Reducing these risk factors can help you maintain good overall health.

Healthy eating and being active can serve as protective factors against heart disease. How much activity should we aim for to keep our hearts healthy? The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults achieve 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. This can be achieved in a variety of ways: for example, 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week which can be broken up into 10 minute sessions throughout the day. A healthy diet includes having a variety of foods and making sure you get your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant based proteins.

Understanding how you can take action to reduce your risk for heart disease can decrease the likelihood for developing the condition in the future. Encouraging small changes can make a big difference.

There are many ways in which you can work with your students to raise awareness about heart disease as well as work towards decreasing the risk of developing heart disease. For additional information on heart health, visit the Government of Canada’s webpage on heart health. For classroom strategies on being more active, eating healthier, building resilience, and living smoke free; all of which have a vital role in having a healthy heart, check out Toronto Public Health’s “Promoting Health Information with Adult Language Learners“. You can also reach out to a Toronto Public Health Nurse to help set up a healthier environment for students. Let’s work together to keep your heart healthy and happy.

Remember – an active heart is a healthy heart!


Heart and Stroke Foundation. (2018). Heart Disease. Retrieved from https://www.heartandstroke.ca/heart

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2018). Minister’s Message – Heart Month – February 2018. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/news/2018/02/minister_s_message-heartmonth-february2018.html

Post written by Toronto Public Health


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