Debt is a scary thing. After years of living it up – often financed with easy credit – Canadians are feeling the crunch and looking to learn how to get out of debt. Almost half a million of us are behind on our credit card payments by 90 days or more, says Jeffrey F. Schwartz, executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada, a national nonprofit credit counseling organization.
But how do you get out of debt? The problem with big debt loads is that repaying becomes more and more difficult – especially as interest snowballs. Given today’s roller-coaster real estate market and the lag time between big-picture economic recovery and an actual uptick in job opportunities and income, the smart money’s on paying down debt now, rather than later.
Easier said than done, right?
We asked Schwartz for his professional advice on getting the most bang for your debt-repayment buck.
1. Lay it all out "Determine how much you owe by laying out your statements and totaling up the amount you owe on each credit card," says Schwartz. Taking a cold, hard look at how much you really owe can be sobering – yet empowering. You're taking your first step from being in the red to getting back in the black. 2. Prioritize your debts Pay off the highest-interest debts first, says Schwartz, even if it means tackling "bitty" balances in the hundreds or lower thousands, before chipping away at that whopping five-figure line-of-credit balance that’s keeping you up at night.
"Your highest interest rate debt is your most expensive. You're paying more for those dollars to be loaned to you. To be efficient, pay off the highest interest debt first and then work your way down from there," says Schwartz. 3. Assess where you spend – and where you can save Your next step will be creating a household budget. But first, find out how much you spend each month, and think about where you can save. (Think also about how you might add to your income each month, too.)
"Write down what you're spending," says Schwartz, from your mortgage and debt payments, to lattés and DVD rentals. By tracking your spending habits, you'll find it easier to identify where you can cut back. Page 1 of 2 – Learn when you should get credit counselling on Page 2
4. Make a household budget "Sit down with your family and physically write out a budget," says Schwartz, remembering to include your debt repayments.
"A detailed budget allows you to identify opportunities for savings or changes in spending patterns. Recording your expenses in a meaningful and organized way will help you to track where you have come from and where you are going," says Schwartz.
Stick to your budget: it's your road map to Debt-Free Street. 5. Get credit counseling if you need it If you're drowning in debt, get help.
Call a credit counseling agency if any of the following apply to you. • Your credit cards are maxed out and you're only paying the minimums each month. • You're using cash advances from one card to pay another. • You're dipping into your savings to pay your bills. • You're spending more than 15 per cent of your take-home pay on debt repayment.
A professional credit counselor can work with you assess your situation, set financial goals, and help you with budgeting.
They may also put you onto a debt repayment program, working with your creditors to lower your interest rates by as much as 10 per cent so you can repay your debt faster. Although this may temporarily affect your credit rating – "It may show up on your credit report that you're making payments through a credit counseling service and that may prevent you from obtaining additional credit while you are on the program," says Schwartz – in the long run, you'll be better off.
"Once you've completed the program, your credit will look much better than it does now," says Schwartz.
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.
Thinning hair got you down? Learn why hair thins as we age, and discover three cuts that can boost volume and confidence.
If a drain snake has become your number one shower accessory, you may be dealing with the onset of thinning hair. “Hair thinning affects about 40 percent of women over the age of 40,” says Dr. Jeff Donovan, a Toronto dermatologist and hair transplant specialist. While a number of factors play into hair loss—thyroid disorders, iron deficiencies, etc.—fluctuating hormone levels are typically the root of the problem.
As estrogen levels decrease, explains Dr. Donovan, so too does the “production of hair oils, which leads to changes in lustre, thickness and shine.” All hair follicles become thinner over time, but only microscopically so. (Luckily for us, only dermatologists ever look that closely.) So while you should definitely speak to a doctor if your hair is suddenly thinning out, a flattering new haircut may be all the help you need.
1. The lob
"The 'lob,' or long bob, is definitely the look of the season," says Kristjan Hayden, creative director of Aveda Canada, and women with thinning hair should have no problem partaking of the trend. The key to achieving the look, explains Hayden, is to ask for a lob that is all one length, cut straight across at the collarbone. “When you layer hair, you are removing fullness,” says Hayden, “but if layers are a must, keep them very long.” To avoid scraggly ends, keep the perimeter of the hair as “solid and blunt” as possible.
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2. The modern pixie
The pixie is back, baby! And women with thinning hair are perfect candidates for this daring ’do. Blunt cuts are optimal for longer hair, but women who sport shorter styles should maximize volume with layers. “Layers help to create the illusion of fullness because you are seeing a lot of ends and texture,” says Hayden. His rule of thumb for cutting thinning hair: the shorter the chop, the thicker the hair looks.
3. The transitional fringe
It may seem counterintuitive, but a well-cut fringe helps to “camouflage sparse areas along the hairline,” says Hayden. A heavy fringe demands thick locks, he adds, but “a side-swept or transitional bang can make hair look fuller.” A transitional bang is typically parted to the side and covers part of the forehead before transitioning into a sweep. Plus, a flattering fringe is a great way to add visual interest to an otherwise blunt haircut.
Over 50 and fabulous? Our guide to aginggracefully helps you choose the skincare, hair and makeup products that are right for you.
Ginger may not be the first spice you think of to incorporate in your snacks, salads and dinners but it's one of the healthiest on the planet! Here's why:
1. It's healthy for your heart.
Research has shown that ginger may lower cholesterol and help prevent blood clotting, which could, in turn, help prevent blood vessel blockages that can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
A recent study out of Pennsylvania State University found that a meal made with a spice blend that included ginger (along with garlic, rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, paprika, turmeric and black pepper) reduced levels of triglycerides by 30 percent when compared to an identical non-spiced meal.
2. It helps your tummy!
Ginger has long been associated with relieving nausea and morning sickness, motion sickness, and even menstrual pain, as it's original use was for pain relief. A 2012 study shored up that wisdom, showing that ginger can reduce nausea after chemotherapy when taken as a supplement.
3. It can help you breathe easy. Ginger tea is a classic remedy purported to ease cough and cold symptoms. And it turns out, there’s some science to its soothing powers when you’re sick. In 2013, research out of Columbia University found that ginger might help asthma patients breathe more easily.
4. It has anti-inflammatory effects.
Osteoarthritis causes joint pain and stiffness, but the anti-inflammatory effects of ginger can help that. In a trial done by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, participants who took ginger extract had less pain and needed less pain medication than those who didn't.
*Although rare, too much ginger can cause heartburn, diarrhea and irritation of the mouth, according to the University of Maryland. There can also be interactions with medications, such as acetylsalicylic acid.
Want an in-demand job with a healthy future? Look no further than the skilled trades in Canada. "There is an incredible amount of opportunity in the trades industry in Canada right now," says Peter Harris, editor-in-chief of Workopolis, who reports on trends and changes in the Canadian job market.
"Trades workers need not be subject to the boom-and-bust cycles of provincial economies, because trades jobs are evergreen and also come with a great deal of freedom of mobility," he says. For example, in every city across the country, homeowners are always looking for reliable, affordable work on their homes: renovation, plumbing, electrical, roofing and more, says Harris.
Positions in the skilled trades offer another bonus: These roles are far more insulated from being sent offshore and to automation, says Harris. "[These are] the two biggest threats to many career paths," he says. Furthermore, Canada faces a shortage of one million tradespeople by 2020, as many people in that field will be retiring, he says. "The average age of welders is 57, and large numbers of trades workers across the board are also into their 50s."
Defining the "best" trade is highly subjective; it depends on where you live and what you consider most valuable: lots of demand, high pay, flexibility to set your own hours or whatever you feel is vital to a good job. That said, based on the job opportunities being posted online in the skilled trades, Harris says the most sought-after employees are in these five vocations.
1. Construction workers Whether it be working on new home construction, infrastructure (like roads) or commercial enterprises, construction workers are in high demand in Canada. Construction is considered a cornerstone of Canadian industry and it represents about seven percent of the Canadian workforce, according to the Canadian Construction Association. While positions may be plentiful, construction work is often seasonal and contract-based.
2. Vehicle repair In the past year, the number of job postings for the mechanic trades has spiked 94 percent over June 2013, says Harris. As anyone who has ever owned a car knows, auto mechanics tend to be perennially busy. According to Human Resources Skills Development Canada, this job is also called automotive service technician, helpful keywords if you're searching for post-secondary education programs, which tend to use this title instead of "car mechanics."
3. Maintenance worker Although maintenance work comprises a very broad array of specialties, these jobs are in high demand across the country, says Harris. Not just hands-on repair (although it can include these skills), maintenance work encompasses operations, planning and information management skills as well. These jobs are posted under a variety of names, such as maintenance technician, maintenance mechanic, maintenance specialist and, of course, maintenance worker.
4. Electricians Electricity is vital to life as we know it in Canada. Licensed electricians lay out, assemble, install, test, troubleshoot and repair electrical wiring, fixtures, control devices and related equipment in buildings and other structures, according to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Electricians are highly sought-after in commercial, industrial and residential spheres. There are many positions open with electrical contractors, maintenance companies and industries, and there are also ample self-employment opportunities.
5. Heavy machinery operators (such as a backhoe, bulldozer) Wherever there's a freshly paved road or newly built construction, a heavy machinery operator isn't far behind. Operators work backhoes, bulldozers, graders and other heavy-duty construction vehicles. Another term that describes this trade is heavy equipment operator, which is the terminology post-secondary schools and colleges use to designate program offerings. Like construction work, these roles can be plentiful across the nation, but also tend to be seasonal.