I recently spoke at a conference on the topic of “heartfulness”—a play on the term, mindfulness, designed to emphasize that most mindfulness strategies involve emotions that we associate with the heart. If we allow heart-associated emotions, such as kindness and connection, to lead our behaviour, we can usher in workplaces with less stress, and better engagement and performance.
But in order to lead with heart-healthy emotions, we need a healthy heart. Luckily, Medcan’s whole reason for being is detecting health problems early—and we’re particularly good at detecting heart issues. In fact, we can detect whether you’re headed for a heart attack years in advance of the actual event.
I’m a good example of that.
Years ago, when I turned 40, I went in and had my cholesterol checked. And the results weren’t great. I was astonished. I’m an active guy—at the time I was running every day. I watch what I eat. And yet, perhaps because of some unlucky genes I inherited, my ratios were off. My healthy cholesterol was really low, to the extent that I was on course to potentially die from a heart attack at a young age.
So I went on a statin medication called Crestor. And within six weeks my numbers started to normalize. I’m still on it today. Simply by virtue of being proactive, I got on a drug and made other changes to lifestyle that not only pushed back my heart attack by years—it’s set me up to never have a heart attack at all.
At Medcan, we don’t just look at blood tests. We can perform a cardiovascular risk assessment, which includes Carotid Intima Media Thickness testing, also known as a carotid ultrasound, meant to indicate plaque buildup on arterial walls. We do an exercise stress test that monitors blood flow. We can order an echocardiogram, which uses ultrasound waves to make sure the heart valves and muscles are working properly. Put all these tests together and you get a risk profile that has far more nuance and granularity than ever before.
We can also help you address any problems you might have, not only with statins or other drugs, but also with fitness, with nutrition, and with follow-up testing if you need it. That’s all key to Medcan’s unique value proposition.
So that’s what we do. But you also can do things yourself to protect your heart.
First, address workplace stress with heartfulness. Stress and heart disease are linked. The more chronic stress you feel, the more likely you are to experience heart disease. Partly that’s because stress encourages unhealthy behaviours, like smoking, overeating and drinking too much. It may also have something to do with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. So consider decreasing stress with heartfulness techniques like meditation and mindfulness. Schedule work breaks. And exercise—in the company gym, or with regular runs, walks, rides or swims. Whatever works for you.
Second, combat chronic inflammation. I’ve written about inflammation, and there’s a strong relationship between chronic inflammation and heart disease. Basically, chronic inflammation irritates the inner lining of the arteries, known as the endothelial wall, setting up a situation that makes plaque more likely to develop. This is worrisome because plaque can rupture, creating blood clots that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. One of the most effective ways to fight chronic inflammation is by improving your diet. Eliminate greasy, fried and processed fast foods and opt for a Mediterranean eating pattern.
Third, learn about your inherited risks. Lifestyle has a lot to do with whether you develop heart disease. So do your genes. Did you inherit a genetic risk for from your parents? We can assess your predisposition to heart disease with our Proactive Genetic Screening, which uses a saliva or blood sample to gain insight on your risk for everything from aortic aneurysm, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, and numerous other conditions. Then, once you learn about your unique risk profile, we can develop a personalized plan to help you manage things.
Heart disease is tricky, because many of the related conditions are asymptomatic. It would be nice if hypertension did something obvious, like give you a rash, but in reality we have to detect it with preventive measures, like regular physicals. Happily, many of the things we can do to fight heart disease, like fighting stress and inflammation with exercise and an improved diet, also contribute toward your overall heartfulness. The mind-body connection at the root of heartfulness is just one more way that the human body is a wonderful thing.
Dr. Peter Nord is Medcan’s chief medical officer. Interested in learning more about our Proactive Genetic Screening