They say that every cloud has a silver lining, but heart attacks sure seem like a stretch. Can anything positive come out of these life-threatening events?

Just ask Raffy Espiritu. Since suffering a heart attack, the 43-year-old Vancouverite has picked up these easy tips to improve heart health by getting more active and eating healthier, one small step at a time.

Easy ways to exercise for heart health

Walk to lunch

“Don’t take your car, just walk,” Raffy suggests. If you brown-bagged it, walk to a park bench a few blocks away. Or choose a restaurant, cafe, or grocery store a few blocks from your office to eat your meal. Getting up from your desk and out of the office will help clear your head and renew your focus. Even a few minutes of light exercise like this can work wonders on your mood and physical health.

You should be dancing 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Raffy was a regular at hip-hop dance classes. He says his heart attack made him realize that “life is finite and very precious. Now I’m the kind of person who’s not afraid to express myself or have fun in the studio. I have one life to lead, so I just put it all out there.”

Of course, you don’t have to join a class to get your groove on. Kick-off your shoes, turn up your favourite tunes, and dance around your living room like nobody’s watching. (The cat doesn’t count.) Turns out that 30 minutes of getting jiggy burns up to 300 calories. Add your significant other to the groovy mix, and you could end up burning even more calories in the boudoir. 

Take the stairs

Swap the elevator or escalator for the stairs when you can, as Raffy suggests, and you’ll burn around 10 calories per minute while strengthening the biggest muscles in your legs. If you happen to live in a building with stairs, a climb takes five minutes, and you do the climb twice a day — running errands or getting some fresh air, let’s say — you’ll burn around 100 calories and slide a 10-minute workout seamlessly into your schedule without any fancy equipment or a gym membership.

Healthy eating for a healthy heart

Swap fries for salad

“Now I’m eating a lot more salads,” says Raffy, who mostly goes with healthy greens, not fatty fries as a side dish at home or when eating out. A side of fries contains about 300 calories and 20 grams of fat, while a fresh and crunchy side chef salad with vinaigrette dressing has a third the calories, nearly a tenth of the fat, and is packed with vitamins and fibre.  

Cut back on salt 

“I’m definitely more aware that eating too much salt can be bad for you, and that fresh foods are better for you than foods filled with preservatives,” Raffy says. Too much salt can increase blood pressure, which can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Passing on the saltshaker is one way to reduce your intake. Another way is to keep an eye on packaged goods you buy at the store. They often contain a ton of sodium. A good rule of thumb is to stick with packaged goods that have less than 15% of your recommended daily intake. (For men up to 50 years old, the recommended amount is 1500 mg per day.)

Reward yourself

“I want to enjoy life, and part of that is being compassionate with myself,” Raffy says. “I’m more aware of what I’m eating, but I’m also not going to stress about it. If you really want a bag of chips or a scoop of ice cream, then go for it. Just recognize that you’re rewarding yourself, and it shouldn’t be an everyday thing.”

Believe it or not, research suggests that treating yourself once in a while helps you stick to a healthy eating plan. Controlling cravings isn’t easy, and if you never satisfy those cravings, it can be tempting to bail out altogether. You’re only human, right? But if you know a well-earned reward is just around the corner, it’s easier to stay the course.

Mind-blowing benefits!

“If you’re doing more for your health today than you did yesterday, pat yourself on the back and keep doing what you’re doing,” says Raffy, whose inspiring full story you can read here. “My doctors told me that some of my heart attack was due to unhealthy habits — my diet could have been better, and I used to smoke. They also told me that by building up my arteries with regular exercise, I had actually saved my own life. That blew my mind!”

Do you have simple things you do to help keep your heart healthy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

This article was originally published on September 30, 2019.

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