Thinking about getting fit? If improving heart health or slimming down doesn't tip your scale in favour of starting an exercise routine, consider that fitness will boost your sex life, too. "Exercise – no matter what your age, gender or size – not only improves your health and fitness, but also your overall quality of life. Including your sex life," says Toronto-based women's fitness expert Eva Redpath.
The more you reflect on this phenomenon, the more it makes sense: When we get in shape, our hearts pump better and our lungs get more oxygen, and that contributes to a feeling of "aliveness" which carries over into the bedroom, explains Diane Anderson, a registered clinical counselor in Vancouver who specializes in love relationships. In fact, fitness comes with a host of other surprising between-the-sheets benefits.
The sexual health benefits of including cardio in your workouts Cardiovascular health improves stamina, Redpath says, and even an increase in flexibility can lead to bedroom exploration with more pleasure, comfort and ease. "[Exercise] makes all your issues and organs healthier, including your genitalia," says Anderson. "You can kiss longer and last longer during lovemaking because you're not so tired," she adds.
In addition to actual physical prowess, your body will unleash a host of powerful feel-good hormones as well, she says, such as serotonin, melatonin and testosterone. But perhaps most interestingly, Anderson says there is evidence that increased fitness levels can play a role in changing how we smell. By decreasing the levels of toxins in our bodies, we can improve our body odour and our breath, she says.
How fitness can affect women's self-image "Especially for women, moving and being 'in' your body can help you to be more connected to your body – which often increases sexual enjoyment," says Anderson.
Redpath, who runs a class called Body Conditioning by Dancers, has long noticed the connection between sexuality and comfort with one's own body. "I am always amazed when I teach my women's fitness classes at how out of touch and disconnected women are with their bodies. Oftentimes women shy away and giggle when I ask them to move their bodies in a feminine way," she says. "I encourage women to own and honour what they have been given. If you do not appreciate and love your body yourself then how can you expect to openly and wholeheartedly share it with a partner?" she asks.
Page 1 of 2 – Discover the unexpected results one woman's new yoga routine had on her marriage on page 2. Why exercise boosts your self-esteem "Exercise can put you in a positive, self-confident, assured state of mind. There is nothing more attractive to your partner than your [positive] attitude," Redpath says. If you're overweight, even walking can help. "I have many clients who simply found even basic walking increased their positive feelings and self-esteem, and increased their sex life," Anderson says.
Indeed, if you're just starting to exercise, your perception of how you look is almost as powerful as your actual fitness level. "When we feel like we look better in our bodies (even if the changes are subtle) we usually respond very favourably to sexual advances, sexual invitations, and our desire levels increase," Anderson says.
Unexpected benefitsof working out Your own mental transformation can affect your partner's desire, sometimes in unexpected ways. "I know a woman who started doing yoga and felt more alive in her body. Her husband had been ho-hum about their love life, which was a problem for her because she liked and wanted more sex with him," Anderson recalls. "So she started to get more involved with yoga to satisfy her intellectually and to satisfy her need to be 'in' her body more. The more she got into yoga, and the less demanding she became of him, suddenly the more he became interested in her. Why? Because he felt less threatened because she was less demanding of him sexually. Her focus on her own self in a healthy and physical way was good for her and for him," she says.
Looking better Nothing beats looking as great as you feel, which probably won't go unnoticed by your partner. "We tend to think that muscle looks better and feels better (most-likely because we live in such fat phobic society), so even slight changes in your muscle tone will have a positive effect on both the athlete and the observer," Anderson says.
Fitness will intensify something called kinaesthetic ability, which means you are more likely to be and look graceful, sexually speaking. "There is also an evolutionary biological theory that states we are more sexually attracted to healthy bodies because it indicates lack of disease," she adds.
Tips for improving your love life through exercise "Looking to start a new exercise regime or revamp your old one? Join a dance class or group fitness class," Redpath suggests. "You will see the immediate results of being in touch and in tune with your body."
Other ideas include exercising with your partner. "You'll be eyeing each other up in the gym and your sex drive will be revved up after an invigorating workout together," she says.
Also, change your exercise program frequently. "With change comes new challenges and excitement, creating new drive. That will inspire and translate into all aspects of your life," says Redpath. If you're still not motivated, Redpath has a final piece of advice. "The key to sexual pleasure is getting out of your head and into your body. What better way to ignite your senses than by exploring your body through exercise and movement?"
Whip up a dozen moist muffins on a leisurely Sunday morning. Or better yet, set out the muffin recipe ingredients the night before and let the first person up bake a batch for everyone. Most of these muffin recipes can be made in advance and frozen.
Heart disease and stroke are one of the leading causes of death for Canadian women—and risk factors, symptoms and even treatment might vary by age. Here's what you need to know.
It was Dec. 13, 2014. I was getting ready to go out for dinner when suddenly everything went wrong. I lost coordination, almost like I was drunk. I went numb, as if the local anesthetic that dentists use had been applied to half of my body. My arm went limp, I could barely walk and, out of the blue, I got a raging migraine. At 31 years old, I was in the midst of a transient ischemic attack, often called a ministroke, but I had no idea.
It wasn't until the next day, when I was feeling only slightly better, that I realized something was really wrong. I didn't want to wait for an appointment with my family doctor, so I called Telehealth Ontario, the provincial service that connects callers to a registered nurse via telephone. In the very back of my mind, I wondered if I'd had a stroke—but I was too young, or so I thought. But when I described my symptoms, it became clear that I wasn't too young. In fact, the nurse who took my call was worried enough to send paramedics to my house. Soon, I was in the back of an ambulance, rushing through Toronto's busy streets on the way to the hospital.
The statistics Luckily, my stroke was mild, and, in July 2015, I underwent surgery to have a patent foramen ovale closure device inserted to close the hole in my heart. But, to this day, I'm still shocked at how little I knew about the risks associated with stroke and heart disease, or just how common they are. As I soon learned, about 1.6 million Canadians—557,000 of them women over the age of 24—report having cardiovascular disease. And, according to a study looking at factors and behaviours affecting cardiovascular health published in 2013 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, fewer than one in 10 adult Canadians were in ideal cardiovascular health from 2003 to 2011, which means 90 percent of us are making choices that are increasing our risk for a cardiovascular event. In fact, heart disease and stroke is one of the leading causes of death for Canadian women, and most of us have at least one risk factor.
It's a club that I didn't particularly want to be a part of, but having joined, I began wondering what other women's experiences had been like.
Unlike me, when Victoria resident Carolyn Thomas started having a range of symptoms— crushing chest pain, nausea, weakness, sweating and a persistent ache down her left arm—on her 58th birthday, she immediately thought it could be a heart attack and went straight to the ER. But when she got there and told the doctor on duty about her symptoms, he said it was just acid reflux. "I remember exactly what he said," she recalls. " 'You're in the right demographic for acid reflux. Go home and call your family doctor for a prescription for antacids.' " Embarrassed and apologetic, she did just that. But her symptoms persisted for two more weeks. She eventually went back to the hospital, and this time, she was told she was suffering from what was actually one of the most serious types of heart attacks—a complete blockage of her left anterior descending artery, which is often referred to as the widow-maker.
Since then, she has recovered, but it's far from full—she had to retire early and continues to see a specialist at her regional pain clinic.
Irmine MacKenzie also went to the hospital immediately. It's been 35 years since the New Waterford, N.S., resident lost the use of her left arm and leg after suffering a stroke caused by carotid artery stenosis, narrowing of the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the brain. She was 61 years old and, having just finished eating breakfast with her husband, John, she headed to the kitchen to tackle the dishes. Suddenly, plates started dropping from her hands, shattering as they hit the floor.
After a six-week hospital stay and a three-month stint in a rehabilitation program in Halifax, she eventually learned to walk again. Her ability to manage quite well over the past three decades is clearly a testament to her grit— and maybe some kind words from a stranger. "I won't ever forget the ambulance driver who took me to the rehabilitation centre," she says. "He told me, 'We're taking you by stretcher now, but you'll be walking out of there with a cane.' " Sure enough, that's exactly what she did.
A better understanding It has now been two years since I suffered my transient ischemic attack, and I feel like I'm still learning about heart health. I now understand the importance of cardiac rehabilitation, for one thing. When I had my stroke, I didn't know this kind of program existed—my cardiologist didn't refer me to one, but having access to dedicated professionals in a safe, encouraging environment could have helped me navigate the health-care system and guided me toward healthier choices.
One thing I found myself, Carolyn and Irmine echoing is how, as women, we must advocate for ourselves in the health-care system, ensuring that our voices are heard and our health is looked after. We need to put ourselves first, without shame or guilt. As Dr. Paula Harvey, director of the cardiovascular research program at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, says, "It comes back to education and partnership with your health provider. Don't be afraid to ask questions and be informed."
Heart health by the decade Nearly two-thirds of all heart attacks and strokes occur in Canadians 65 or older, but younger Canadians are increasingly at risk. Here's what you need to know at every age.
In your 20s and 30s: Young people with heart-health issues are part of a growing minority. A study published in 2012 out of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine found that, over a period of 12 years, strokes among people aged 20 to 54 made up an increasingly greater proportion of strokes across all age groups, growing from about 13 percent in 1993–94 to 19 percent in 2005.
Closer to home, the Heart and Stroke Foundation says several studies predict that the rate of strokes among younger adults will double in the next 15 years. The main reason? According to Dr. Tara Sedlak, a cardiologist at Vancouver General Hospital and clinical assistant professor at The University of British Columbia, it comes down to lifestyle—high stress levels, poor eating habits, lack of exercise and smoking. Research bears this out: The University of Cincinnati study suggested that a rise in lifestyle-related risk factors (such as diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol) may contribute to a higher incidence of stroke.
But there is a way to turn the tide: As with other age groups, simple changes such as exercising regularly, quitting smoking and eating healthily could see the rates of cardiovascular disease—and, more specifically, stroke—decrease, says Dr. Paula Harvey, director of the cardiovascular research program at Women's College Hospital in Toronto.
In your 40s and 50s: Cardiovascular disease is less common among younger women, in part because of their higher estrogen levels; the hormone offers some protection to the arteries. But as women approach menopause and their estrogen levels drop, the incidence of stroke and heart attack increases.
Unfortunately, broad knowledge of their increased risk may not protect perimenopausal women from misdiagnosis. According to research by the Canadian Medical Protective Association, which provides advice, legal assistance and risk-management education to 95,000 Canadian physicians, doctors are missing the signs of stroke in patients nearly 10 percent of the time, largely because symptoms are often nonspecific—patients often complained of headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
And women, who have historically been less inclined to advocate for themselves, are particularly at risk. Research out of the University of Leeds in England showed that, between April 2004 and March 2013, 198,534 heart attack patients at National Health Service hospitals in England and Wales were initially misdiagnosed—and most of them were women. During that time, women suffering a heart attack were 50 percent more likely to be misdiagnosed compared to men.
It might be difficult to challenge doctors who tell you nothing's wrong, but Dr. Sedlak encourages women to listen to their bodies and to be firm with health-care providers about what they're experiencing. "If you feel there is a real problem, be persistent," she says.
In your 60s and beyond: Women over 65 have the most strokes of all age groups, but they still have fewer strokes than men the same age. However, a Danish study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2015 found that, after 60, women tend to have more serious strokes than men—and they're more likely to survive, which can have serious repercussions on quality of life.
John Sawdon, the public education and special projects director of the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada, explains that cardiac rehabilitation programs, which are free with a referral from your doctor, are the perfect next step for recovering cardiac patients of all ages, but they're particularly important for older Canadians, who tend to live more sedentary lives. These programs are supervised by a cardiologist and, after an assessment, are tailored by your cardiac rehab team, which usually includes nurses, physical therapists, kinesiologists and social workers. They can provide exercise training, education on heart-healthy living and stress counselling—all of which can contribute to the health and well-being of people who have heart problems. And they're effective, too: "Research has shown that those completing cardiac rehab live seven years longer than control groups," says Sawdon. It also "reduces incidence of another heart attack by 50 percent."
What's your risk? Ninety percent of adult Canadians have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But while factors such as obesity, hypertension, alcohol abuse, family history and ethnicity increase everyone's risk, regardless of gender, the following three are particularly relevant to women.
Smoking: While we all know that smoking is seriously unhealthy, it can be especially damaging to women's cardiovascular health. Smoking when taking the oral contraceptive pill can drastically increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. But quitting can cut your risk within a year.
Diabetes: According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, people with diabetes are at a very high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In fact, "they may develop heart disease 10 to 15 years earlier than individuals without diabetes."
Mental illness and stress: "Women have a higher frequency of stress-induced heart disease, and women's hearts are affected by stress and depression more than men's," says Dr. David Fitchett, a cardiologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
Heart health dictionary
Atherosclerosis: When arteries narrow and harden due to plaque buildup.
Cardiomyopathhy: Diseases of the heart muscle, which cause it to become enlarged, thick or rigid.
Cardiovascular disease: A broad term for problems with the heart and blood vessels, often due to atherosclerosis. These conditions can lead to heart attack, angina or stroke.
Heart attack: Also known as a myocardial infarction, these attacks happen when the flow of blood to a section of the heart is blocked, preventing the muscle from getting oxygen.
High blood pressure: Also called hypertension, this is when the long-term force of blood against artery walls is elevated, requiring the heart to work harder, which may eventually lead to heart disease.
Microvascular angina: A disease of the small coronary artery blood vessels. Many angiograms do not view the small blood vessels, so this can be difficult to diagnose.
Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: A tear in the coronary artery wall. Physical or emotional stress appears to play a role. Most cases (around 70 percent) occur in women under 50—and a third of those are pregnant or postpartum women.
Stroke: When the blood supply to a portion of the brain is interrupted. This can happen when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain either bursts or is blocked.
Do you speak the language of flowers? Find out the different meanings of various flowers, plus get five tips on making your bouquet last.
In the Victorian era, particular flowers in certain colours were chosen to express specific feelings. Using this language of flowers – called "floriography" – a bud, bouquet or even a boutonniere delivered more than colour and scent. Here's what some familiar flowers may convey:
Apple blossom - Good things to come Aster - Contentment Buttercup - Childishness Pink carnation - Gratitude Yellow carnation - Rejection Crocus - Gladness Daffodil - Chivalry and respect Daisy - Innocence and purity Daylily - Enthusiasm Dill - Lust Edelweiss - Daring and courage Forsythia - Anticipation Gardenia - Secret love and joy Blue hyacinth - Constancy Ivy - Wedded love and fidelity Lavender - Loyalty White lily - Heavenly purity Lily of the valley - Humility Mint - Virtue Orange blossom - Marriage and fertility Palm leaves - Victory Dark crimson rose - Mourning Pink rose - Friendship Red Rose - Passionate love Snowdrop - Hope Sunflower - Adoration Red tulip - Declaration of love Violet - Faithfulness
So that beautiful bouquet of dark crimson roses and white lilies surrounded by palm leaves that you just sent to your friend or love one could be telling her, "Many are mourning my victory and success within our relationship, as it's heavenly to be with you!" But – since floriography word lists vary – it could simply be saying, "Hi!"
5 best ways to make your bouquet last 1. Buy fresh flowers. Avoid flowers with any signs of mildew or mould, and look for buds that are just beginning to open. A&P, Dominion and Loblaws help out by guaranteeing their blooms will last for a specified number of days.
2. Keep it clean and lukewarm. Start with a squeaky-clean container and lukewarm water (tepid water is more readily absorbed than cold), then change the water every other day.
3. Add a floral preservative. Most bouquets come with their own packet of goodies that provide nutrients and prevent bacterial growth – all to keep the flowers fresher longer.
4. Strip and recut the stems. Remove any leaves that will be immersed, then recut the stems to encourage water uptake. Trim soft stems straight across. Cut woody stems on an angle, then smash or slit the bottom 2.5 cm (1 in). Pinch small wads of cotton from a cotton ball and stuff them into the bottom of hollow stems to help them hold moisture.
5. Show them off in a good spot. Set your floral arrangement away from drafts, direct sunlight, radiators and ripening fruits (the latter emit ethylene, which prevents buds from opening, discolours blooms and leaves, and shortens vase life).
Dainty and flavourful, everyone loves to indulge in tiny bites of traditional tea sandwiches. Though they appear finicky to make, these tea sandwiches are easy to assemble and entirely make-ahead.
Pinwheel Sandwiches Trim crusts from 5 slices white or whole wheat sandwich loaf, cut Pullman-style. (Ask bakery to cut sandwich loaf horizontally, or Pullman style.) Using rolling pin, flatten slices slightly. Spread with 1/3 cup (75 mL) butter, softened; spread with filling.
Place 1 asparagus spear (or 2 baby gherkins) along 1 short end of each. Starting at asparagus, roll up tightly without squeezing. Wrap each roll tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour. With serrated knife, trim ends; cut each roll into 6 slices.
Makes 30 pieces. Pinwheel Sandwich recipe: Curried Egg Salad Triangle Sandwiches Spread 16 thin slices whole wheat or white sandwich bread with 1/3 cup (75 mL) butter, softened; spread filling evenly over 8 of the slices. Top with remaining slices, pressing lightly. Place on rimmed baking sheet and cover with damp tea towel; cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Trim off crusts. Cut each sandwich into 4 pieces.
Makes 32 pieces. Triangle Sandwich recipe: Ham Pickle Spread Square Sandwiches Make sandwiches as in Triangle Sandwiches above except use 8 thin slices white and 8 thin slices whole wheat sandwich bread. Cut each sandwich into quarters.
Makes 32 pieces.Square Sandwich recipe: Pimiento Cheese Spread Finger Sandwiches Make sandwiches as in Triangle Sandwiches above. Cut each sandwich lengthwise into 4 fingers.
Makes 32 pieces. Finger Sandwich recipe: Tuna Olive Salad
Choose the best-quality bread. Never serve end slices. Freezing bread before cutting and then spreading makes for easier handling.
Bread should be lightly buttered no matter what the filling. Butter should be at room temperature before spreading. Sandwiches will not become limp and soggy as readily if you spread butter right to edge of bread.
Cut crusts off bread with long, sharp knife after (not before) assembling sandwiches. This keeps everything neater.
Since tea sandwiches should be delicate, cut each sandwich into thirds or quarters or in half diagonally. Or use cookie cutters to cut into decorative shapes.