Physical Activity: Do it for your heart

By Stephanie Schlaak
Exercise Specialist

With February being National Heart Month, there is no better time to talk about how to keep your heart healthy and strong. This is important because taking care of your heart can help prevent heart disease, a condition where the heart is not working well. Heart disease affects 2.4 million Canadian adults and is the second leading cause of death in Canada.1 Heart Disease can develop at any stage in life, however there are ways we can help keep your heart working effectively.2

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Heart disease can be caused as result of risks that we have through our lifestyle or risks that may not be in our control. The more risk factors that we have, the greater chance we have at developing heart disease.3

These risks include:

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Increased cholesterol
  • A lack of physical activity
  • High blood pressure
  • Poor diet
  • Sleep apnea
  • A family history of heart disease and conditions
  • Obesity

To help reduce the impact that these risk factors have, consider the following tips:

  • Live a physically active lifestyle
  • Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight
  • Limit your alcohol intake and drug use
  • Reduce your stress
  • Quit smoking

Physical Activity Recommendations

The Canadian Guidelines for Physical Activity by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, suggest that we should be accumulating 150 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes.4 This can be achieved through activities like brisk walking, biking, and swimming. Continuous aerobic activities can decrease your chances of developing heart disease by about 20-30 per cent.5

There are additional benefits in reducing risk factors that can be attained through adding muscle and bone strengthening activities at least two days per week. Review these activities and possible benefits with an Exercise Specialist prior to adding them into your routine.

Canadian Guidelines for Physical Activity: 18 – 64 years

Canadian Guidelines for Physical Activity: 65+ years

Setting Physical Activity Goals

Making changes to your physical activity doesn’t have to be difficult. Using a SMART goal to create your action plan can help you achieve the changes you would like to make.

A SMART goal is:

  • Specific – Clearly describe your goal. Include the what, when, where, and why questions around changing your physical activity.
  • Measurable – How can this physical activity be tracked? Can you write it down or keep a schedule?
  • Achievable – How successful can you be with making this goal. Set yourself up for success, creating goals that you feel are 80 per cent achievable.
  • Rewarding – Is this goal rewarding for you?
  • Timeline – Set a realistic timeline for this goal and check in on it often, making sure you are on track with reaching it.

Goals around your physical activity are never a pass or a fail, but rather an opportunity for learning what is working well and what is not working as well. Once we know this, we can adjust our goal, continuing to make it achievable.

Where can you start?

  • Book an appointment with the Primary Care Network Exercise Specialist to review your physical activity routine. If this type of physical activity is difficult to accomplish at this time, they can help brainstorm on alternative movement options to help reduce your risk factors.
  • Speak with your health care provider to review your risk factors for heart disease.
  • Sign-up for workshops through the Primary Care Network or access additional resources offered by your Primary Care Network team to help manage these risk factors.


1 2017,
2 2018 Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada,
3 2017,
4 2017, Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology
5 2013, Curr Cardiovasc Risk Rep. 2013 December; 7(6),