With our packed calendars, squeezed budgets and fraught family functions, holiday pressures can take a toll on our health. But don't let them. Instead, try one of these strategies each day for a stress-free season. Day 1: Get out in the winter wonderland When you've got five out of seven nights booked for holiday gatherings, chances are exercise isn't on the schedule. Change plans with friends or family one night to go for a walk or a skate or even hit the toboggan hill together. "Being physically active helps lower cortisol [a.k.a. the stress hormone], helps maintain our blood pressure and releases endorphins," says Dr. Bryn Hyndman, medical director at Vancouver's Qi Integrated Health. "So it actually helps us manage stress and feel better." Getting outside will give you a breather from all the togetherness; plus, as Dr. Hyndman points out, "being outdoors in nature is shown to be calming." Day 2: Unplug and be present Does an email alert from work or a text from your mother-in-law send your anxiety soaring? It's time to unplug. A 2011 Swedish study connected high-frequency cellphone use to an increased risk for reporting mental health issues, including symptoms of depression. Schedule time for checking emails, then power down for the rest of the day so you feel present at holiday gatherings, suggests Marc Woods, registered psychologist at Genest MacGillivray Psychologists in Halifax. "Treat it as a task to be accomplished, like brushing your teeth," he says. "Once it's done or scheduled for later, you don't have to sit around worrying about it." If separating from your phone is a struggle, start with small goals, like checking your emails and messages for just 15 minutes after every meal.
Day 3: Do a perspective check A holiday to-do list can cover a lot of ground: Buy a present for your spouse, pick up cranberries, book a flight to your parents' place. However, when the list is long, we tend to treat all items like top priorities and feel like failures if we don't complete our tasks. Toronto relationship expert Kimberly Moffit recommends ranking your to-do list. "How important are these tasks really?" she asks. "If you don't get some things done, it's not the end of the world." Moffit suggests to-do apps, such as Todoist or Nozbe, which enable you to colour-code tasks by importance. "Knowing you've accomplished your top priorities can help you put away your work."
Day 4: Make a handmade gift Creating something that requires focus—such as knitting a scarf or crafting homemade cards—is a gift for your mental health. "That kind of activity can stimulate a pattern of consciousness we call flow, or deep focus, where we are completely present in what we're doing," says Dr. Hyndman. "We're not thinking about the past, we're not thinking about the future. There is a calm and joy that comes with that." And that's just what the season calls for. Day 5: Sleep soundly If you're having a not-so-silent night, keep a pen and paper beside your bed to record what's on your mind. "When things are written down, there's less mental stress because you don't have the fear of forgetting them," says Dr. Hyndman. Day 6: Take a breath Feeling frazzled after a busy day of work and shopping? Take 10 minutes to breathe deeply and with awareness. "When you have stress, you have more muscle tension, your heart rate increases and your breathing gets more shallow," says Woods. "When you're breathing deeply into the lower part of your lungs, you get more oxygen, it helps slow your heart rate and it induces a more relaxed state." An app such as Breathing Zone can coach you along. Day 7: Start the slow cooker Sugary treats can cause blood-sugar spikes that lead to headaches and drops in energy. "That can really compound anxiety in people who are already feeling stressed," says Dr. Hyndman. Instead, start your day by filling a slow cooker with healthful veggies, lean meat and whole grains so you can come home to an easy dinner rich in fibre and protein that will keep your blood sugar—and your mood—stable.
Day 8: Be a kid at Christmas Nervous about feuds at a family gathering? Play with the kids. "Spending time around children can be helpful in dissolving tension," says Dr. Hyndman. One study has shown that fathers get a burst of oxytocin—a feel-good hormone—when they play energetically with their kids, while mothers get a similar increase when they're very affectionate with their children.
Day 9: Try a soothing supplement If your holidays are more hairy than merry, Dr. Hyndman suggests trying the supplement L-theanine, naturally found in green tea. "It may help support levels of GABA, serotonin and dopamine [neurotransmitters that are "feel-good" hormones] in the brain, which have a calming effect," she explains.
Day 10: Call a lifeline When you're feeling overwhelmed, speak to someone supportive. "If something is bothering you, talk to somebody who will listen to you and help you feel understood and validated," says Woods. "Sometimes, the person will also help you problem-solve." A 2009 University of Michigan study found that bonding helps increase women's progesterone levels, in turn decreasing stress and anxiety.
Day 11: Schedule quiet time Before another overwhelming day or week, spend five minutes looking at your schedule and book a few quiet breaks, suggests Dr. Hyndman. If something's not urgent, see if it can be put off until January. "Part of planning ahead is making sure you take care of yourself," she says. And knowing where that next moment of Zen is coming from will help get you through the more stressful moments. Day 12: Change your tune Listening to carols not only helps get you in the Christmas spirit but also helps you relax. Studies show music can lower heart rates and reduce stress. Jennifer Buchanan, a music therapist in Calgary, says slow minor-key songs help relax the brain (think "What Child Is This?"), while instrumental versions can help with productivity at work, but the best calming music comes down to personal preference.
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.
Chocked full of vitamins and nutrients, adding kale - both raw and cooked - to your snacks and meals can provide you with great health benefits! Find out which ones:
Although kale seems like just another trend that people are going crazy over, and looks like any other leafy green in the stores, you shouldn't pass it up! Kale contains multiple vitamins and all the good stuff to keep your body happy and healthy when incorporated into a well-balanced diet.
1. It's good for your bones.
One of the vitamins in kale is vitamin K. Deficiencies of this vitamin, or even just low intakes of it can be linked to a higher risk for bone fracture. According to Medical News Today, when you get enough vitamin K in your diet, it acts as a modifier of bone proteins and helps your bones absorb calcium. You get the most out of this vitamin if you pass on cooking up your kale and consuming it raw, like in a salad or smoothie!
2. It promotes heart health.
Kale contains fibre, potassium and vitamins C and B6 which all are good for your heart health. If you increase the potassium in your diet, while keeping up healthy eating and reducing sodium intake, you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases according to Mark Houston, M.D., M.S. The intake of potassium is also super important for lowering blood pressure (almost just as important as reducing sodium consumption)!
3. It helps move you along.
Digestion health is a big benefit of kale. It is full of fibre and water content that both prevent constipation and keep you on track in terms of digestion. The B vitamins in kale also are essential for the release of energy from food, which also helps you keep good digestive health.
Note: Those who's kidneys are not fully functional and have a hard time removing extra potassium from the blood should enjoy high-potassium foods like kale in moderation. Always consult your doctor if you have concerns about adding foods to your diet.
Check out these recipes that feature the leafy green as it's main ingredient:
Cold temperatures and harsh winds can take a toll on your lips—and there is nothing sexy about a chapped mouth. The good news? Our favourite lip balms can help eliminate dry, sore and chapped lips. These affordable picks range from $4 to $32.
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).