Tips to Improve Your Health

We all want to lead a long, healthy life and to take the best possible care of ourselves and those close to us. While some risk factors can't be changed, all of us can make choices that will promote our health and greatly reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, many cancers, and type II diabetes.

Five steps to a healthier you

1.   Stay smoke-free

Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke are major causes of premature death from heart and lung diseases, stroke, and cancer - Canada's number one killers.

If you smoke, think about quitting now. It's never too late to stop - no matter how long you've smoked, or how often you've tried to quit. When you stop smoking, your risk of heart disease drops rapidly. After a few years, it's almost as low as if you had never smoked. You can join the five million Canadians who have quit. Ask your doctor about ways to quit smoking, or contact the organizations listed below.

If you don't smoke, don't start. And everyone should avoid exposure to second-hand smoke - a serious hazard with the same health risks as smoking. It's especially important for children and people with asthma and respiratory problems to be in a smoke-free environment.

2.   Eat well to stay well

Healthy eating helps you feel great, stay well and control your weight. A healthy diet also offers protection against heart disease, stroke, cancer and other serious diseases. Follow these tips adapted from Canada's Guidelines for Healthy Eating:

  • Enjoy smaller portions of lean meat, fish or poultry, trimming away any visible fat;
  • Plan your meals with the main focus on vegetables, fruit, and grain products such as rice, pasta, bread, and cereals. Choose more whole-grain foods like whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and cereals. Include some servings of dark-green and orange fruit and vegetables every day;
  • Reach for lower fat milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese in the dairy case (1 per cent or 2 per cent butter fat, or skim);
  • Cut back on fats like butter, oil and margarine. Prepare food using as little extra fat as possible;
  • Limit salt, alcohol and caffeine. Prepared foods are high in salt. More than two alcoholic drinks a day raises blood pressure - a serious risk factor for both heart disease and stroke. Alcohol should be limited to a maximum of two drinks per day and coffee to four regular-size cups.
3.   Make physical activity a part of your life

Want to protect your health, achieve or maintain a healthy body weight, have more energy and relieve stress ? Regular physical activity does all that and more. It helps your heart, lungs and blood vessels work better, and controls your cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

It's easy to get more active. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Get off the bus a few stops early and walk the rest of the way. Walk to the neighborhood store instead of driving. Use a manual mower to cut the lawn.

Do something physical that you enjoy. Brisk walking is a good start. Swimming, skating, bicycling, and dancing are great activities. Anything that gets you moving and raises your heart rate counts.

Begin slowly and work up to a more vigorous level. Try to include at least 30 minutes a day of moderate activity on most days of the week.

If you have a heart condition or other medical problems, take medications, or have been inactive for a long time, talk to your doctor before changing your level of activity. Ask about special exercise programs.

4.   Know your blood pressure

You've never felt better. How could high blood pressure be a problem ? Unfortunately, you could have high blood pressure and never know it because there are no obvious symptoms. It hits men and women of all ages and occupations. Tense people can have normal blood pressure; calm people can have high blood pressure. The only way to know for sure is to have your blood pressure checked by a health professional.

High blood pressure is a serious health problem that can lead to heart disease and stroke. But it's controllable. If your blood pressure is high, follow your doctor's advice faithfully.

Here are some tips on keeping your blood pressure healthy:

  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly;
  • Stop smoking;
  • Get regular physical activity;
  • Drink less alcohol or stop completely;
  • Maintain a healthy body weight;
  • Use less salt.
5.   Relax and enjoy life

Take time for pleasurable activities and to enjoy the company of friends and family.

Do you often feel tense, driven or irritable ? It's time to identify the sources of negative stress in your life, and to take steps to reduce or manage them. Find out about relaxation and stress management techniques from your family doctor or the organizations listed below.

Want to know more ? Contact your local public health unit for more information about the above topics or other health concerns. The following organizations are also excellent information sources.

The Consumer Health Information Service offers information on a wide range of health topics. Toronto Reference Library Telephone : 416-393-7168 or 1-800-667-1999.

The Hospital for Sick Children offers information about child safety, child growth and development, parenting, and general medical topics. Contact the Resource Centre for Health Information and Disease Prevention. Telephone : 416-813-5819. Hours : Monday to Thursday, 9:30 am to 3:30 pm. Closed Friday.

You can get information on Cancer from the Cancer Information Service, a partnership of Cancer Care Ontario and the Canadian Cancer Society. Call them at : 1-888-939-3333 or visit their website at

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