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Living Heart Healthy

Living Heart Healthy

Guest blog from Trisha Parsons, Professor at Queen’s University’s School of Rehabilitation Therapy

I am a work in progress. In acknowledging that, each year I am one to generate a New Year’s Resolution. The resolution I make is an expression of taking ownership and redefining a new goal for my life. Some years’ resolutions go better than others; and after having many decades of experience, I settled on a different formula this year. It started with a simple question, “how can I live to protect my heart health?” As I reflected on what I meant by “heart health”, my mind quickly snapped to what I know as a physiotherapist and an expert in exercise prescription: that the health of my heart is largely dependent on how much physical activity I do. Cardiovascular disease prevention and health promotion is an inter-disciplinary construct – there is more at play than just being physically active. I know this intimately from my work in Cardiac Rehabilitation and from the large body of published articles on the efficacy of inter-disciplinary intervention in this field1-6. But beyond this conceptualization lays a simple idea: preserving a heart’s health takes more than keeping it physically strong. Caring for our hearts can mean tending for both our physiological and metaphorical heart.

In honour of February’s Heart Month, I decided to share my resolution for the coming year and the rationale for which I chose these goals. In order to live in a more heart healthy way that each day, I would strive for the following:

10,000 steps taken

As a physiotherapist who routinely prescribes exercise and movement to Canadians, I am familiar with physical activity guidelines that advise us to aim for a minimum of 10,000 steps per day in order to maintain our health. These generic guidelines, however, are just that: guidelines. And how much physical activity you should do each day is highly dependent on you pre-existing health condition, what you are currently doing, and what your goals are. “A journey of a thousand miles begins under ones feet”. For me right now, this is a goal.

1,000 words written

Each day I have committed to writing 1,000 words. As a University Professor, I want to be clear, that these 1,000 words are a different type of writing from that which I do for a research journal; they are reflective or generative words, meaning each day I write in a personal journal. Sometimes I write to a specific prompt designed to explore my thinking on a topic. Sometimes it is to write creative fiction or poetry. I also write in order to process the experiences that I have each day as a witness to suffering. In so doing, I work to protect the core of my compassionate heart in practice.

I also do this exercise in order to recognize the health benefits that arise from being creative and the sense of accomplishment that I feel over making something new. I also left myself the opportunity to substitute other forms of creative expression. For example, I give myself credit on those days where I colour a picture with my sons (a picture is worth a thousand words).

100 blessings, acts of thanksgiving, or moments of presence with those I love

I’ve drawn inspiration here from a religious tradition of prayer and meditation. I wanted to encourage a greater intention to be mindful, present, and thankful each day. So for me, I’m making a conscious effort to express thanksgiving and to listen whole-heartedly when called to do so. I find myself challenged to do this well, with all the growing noise and complexity in both my home and work life. However, these moments could simply be thoughtful moments in the day when I increase my awareness of myself or of others around me. While I need to do more of this, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it needs to take more time.

10 hugs given or received

My mother was French Canadian, and when our family and friends gathered we didn’t shake hands to greet each other, we hugged. As a physiologist, I find science that shows the cardiovascular value of touch and hugs fascinating. Although there hasn’t been extensive funding to date on the therapeutic value of hugging, provided I’ve gained consent first, and use my common sense with infection control issues, I see this as a low-risk, low-cost way to improve my health. So until I read something to the contrary, I’ve made an effort to increase my daily hug quota.

1 hour of reading

Finally, the last item on my daily tracker is one hour of reading. As above for writing, I want to be clear that I’m referring to reading that goes beyond that which I do as part of my academic position. This reading is about turning to the wisdom of others for support and encouragement. Sometimes it means re-reading a tried and true volume, re-visiting my favourite quotes, or following up on a recommendation made to me by someone else. Sometimes it is to deliberately start my day with feeding myself with humor and laughter. For me, the goal here is about spending time with the creative wisdom of others through reading; you might also accomplish this by listening to music, watching a TED Talk, or viewing art.

So that’s it, my resolution to improve my heart health for the coming year. I know that this is an ambitious list. I have reminded myself each day since January 1st, as I re-commit to the items on this list, that I am a work in progress. I have grown to recognize that what matters more than ticking off the boxes as “achieved” is that I have protected space to pursue these goals.

I would welcome your thoughts and ideas on how you have worked to promote heart health, either for yourself or for others, in the comments below. Full blog post: CPA shoPTalk


  1. Oldridge N. Exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation in patients with coronary heart disease: meta-analysis outcomes revisited. Future Cardiology. 2014;8(5):729-51.
  1. Turk-Adawi K, Sarrafzadegan N, Grace SL. Global availability of cardiac rehabilitation. Nature Reviews Cardiology. 2014;11:586–596.
  1. Grace SL, Poirier P, Norris CM, Oakes GH, Somanader DS, Suskin N. Canadian Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation. Pan-Canadian development of cardiac rehabilitation and secondary prevention quality indicators. Can J Cardiol. 2014;30(8):945-8.
  1. Arthur HM, Suskin N, Bayley M, Fortin M, Howlett J, Heckman G, Lewanczuk R. The Canadian Heart Health Strategy and Action Plan: Cardiac rehabilitation as an exemplar of chronic disease management. Canadian Journal of Cardiology. 2010;26(1):37-41.
  1. Stone JA, Arthur HM, Canadian Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation Guidelines Writing Group. Canadian guidelines for cardiac rehabilitation and cardiovascular disease prevention, second edition, 2004: Executive summary. Can J Cardiol. 2005;21(Suppl D):319.
  1. Canadian Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation. Canadian guidelines for cardiac rehabilitation and cardiovascular disease prevention: Translating knowledge into action. 3rd ed. ed. Winnipeg, Man.: Canadian Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation; 2009.

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