Hello! It's February, which means it's Heart Health Month!

This month's newsletter brings you:

  • 6 Heart Health Tips
  • Reminder about NEW group appointments for digestive issues
  • Reminder about my FREE digestive health online support group Gut Lovers Society

Let's begin by pointing out how incredible your heart is!

Your heart is strong. Your heart started beating steadily for months before you were even born and has continued to beat through your whole life. Your heart, which mostly goes unnoticed and unappreciated, will continue its steady rhythm, pumping blood and oxygen throughout your body until the day you die.

Have you ever thought about this?

This powerful and life-giving muscle deserves all the love and care you can offer it. There's no muscle in your body that is as important as your heart or that works as hard.

I invite you to take a few minutes to just listen to your own heartbeat, or feel your pulse with your fingertips. Notice your heart's steady rhythm and celebrate its comforting reliability and incredible power.

If your heart has been through some turmoil lately––grief, loss, stress, fear, or heartbreak––I invite you to place your hands over your heart and say to yourself "I'm here for you" or "I've got you" (or anything else you feel like saying to your dear heart).

Your heart is amazing! I highly recommend taking time to notice and appreciate your heart whenever possible.

While ever strong and steady, the heart is vulnerable to negative changes in the body. Heart disease is still the second most common cause of death in Canada. Here are 6 tips to keep your heart healthy.

#1: Optimize blood pressure

When was the last time you had your blood pressure checked?

For most people, blood pressure is considered optimal at around 120-130 (top number) over 80-90 (bottom number) mm Hg. For the older folks, a blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg is considered normal.

There are two types of blood pressure to keep an eye on:

Type 1: Your resting (relaxed) blood pressure

This refers to your blood pressure when you are calm, relaxed, and otherwise not being strained by activity or stress. This is a good parameter to keep an eye on. If blood pressure is high even at rest, you should talk to your doctor.

Type 2: Your active (stressed) blood pressure

This refers to your blood pressure when you are active or under stress. Most cardiovascular events happen under stressful circumstances––not while lounging on the couch. Therefore, knowing your numbers in both types of circumstances is helpful. If your blood pressure rises significantly under stress or when physically active but remains normal at rest, treatment may still be necessary.

A note on home blood pressure cuffs:

Like any piece of medical equipment, home BP cuffs can vary in their accuracy. If you're not sure about your cuff, feel free to bring it into your next appointment or take it with you when you go to see your family doctor. Your cuff can be compared with medical-grade equipment to determine accuracy.

A note on recording blood pressure:

It's recommended to sit quietly for several minutes before checking a resting blood pressure. If you routinely check your blood pressure, I recommend keeping a written log that you can refer back to over time. Make a note of whether the recording was done in a state of relaxation or activity/stress.

#2: Optimize Cholesterol

I'm always keen to see my patients' lipid levels (ie. the molecules included on a cholesterol panel). Our total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol are especially useful to pay attention to when evaluating our cardiovascular risk.

Generally, we want our total cholesterol to stay within range (not too high and not too low either), but even more important is our HDL cholesterol, which we want to be nice and robust (ie. NOT low). Think of HDL cholesterol as "happy" cholesterol. It's the fatty protein that helps ensure your cholesterol makes its way around, going where it needs to go to be put to good use. A low HDL cholesterol has a significant impact on cardiovascular risk. And what helps raise HDL? Exercise (see next point).

#3: Use it or lose it!

Like any muscle, the heart needs exercise in order to stay strong.

The average adult should aim for a minimum 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise per week.

Another framework for thinking about cardiovascular exercise is to calculate your maximum heart rate, which is calculated as 220 - your age.

Example: if you are 40 years old, your max heart rate would be 180 beats per minute (220 - 40 = 180).

If you're new to cardiovascular exercise, start by exercising intensely enough that your heart rate hits 60-70% of your max heart rate for a total of 150 minutes per week. If this is easy for you, you can extend the timing of your exercise or increase your heart rate target to 80-90%. However, if even this first step feels challenging, start with a lower heart rate or for a duration you can handle and increase slowly from there.

From 60-70%, you can increase your workout intensity to hit 80% of your max heart rate, and eventually try pushing it to bursts of 90-95% of your max heart rate (we call this "high intensity").

Your heart gets stronger when it's moderately stressed (ie. experiences increased demand through exercise) but it can be dangerous to push your heart too hard right away without conditioning it. Your heart needs to get stronger over time––like any other muscle in the body. For more info on this or help with designing an exercise plan that's appropriate for your body, please schedule an appointment.

#4: Reduce or Stop All the Bad Things

Smoking, alcohol, excess sugar, narcotics, and stimulants can all stress out your heart––in a bad way. It's best to just stay away from these things as much as possible.

#5: Take Care of Your Mouth

Yes, you read that right. Inflammation in the mouth and gums can have a significant effect on the heart. If you have known gum disease or if your oral hygiene could use improvement, improving your oral health is a great way to protect your heart. If possible, it's recommended to see your dentist twice per year for regular cleanings and attend to any dental work deemed necessary.

#6: Acknowledge and Minimize Emotional Stress

Many emotional factors can affect the heart: heartbreak, stress, overwhelm, grief, loss, fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness... if you find yourself dealing with emotional pain or high levels of stress, consider getting the help you need.

While we often take a stance of "I can deal with it" or tell ourselves that "time heals all wounds," we are often wrong, and we don't realize just how wrong we are until our body yells at us with symptoms or a health crisis.

There are many strategies that can be used to care for our heart's emotional side, including (but not limited to):

  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Talking to a counsellor
  • Spending time in nature
  • Journaling
  • Acupuncture & massage
  • Spending time with animals or getting a pet
  • Working with a life coach / business coach / organizer
  • Delegating tasks to others
  • Hiring help
  • Reiki
  • Yoga
  • Art, crafts, and other creative pursuits

Even more help for your heart:

These 5 strategies are just the beginning! There are so many ways to support your heart and reduce cardiovascular risk. If you're keen to prioritize your heart this month and would like to explore even more strategies including medications (or getting off your medications), natural supplements, food, heavy metals, oxidative stress, and more, please schedule an appointment.

Clinic Updates

Reminder: *NEW* Group Appointments for Digestive Issues

I’m so excited to report that I’m now offering group appointments for the first time ever for those struggling with chronic IBS-type digestive symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, gas and bloating, heartburn, and abdominal pain.

Each group appointment will include a 20-30 presentation on a topic related to digestive health (ex. lab tests for digestion, how/when to use supplements for digestion, DIY strategies you can use to assess/treat your digestion, etc) followed by 30-60 minutes of Q&A and opportunity to discuss your unique health situation. You benefit from a deeply discounted rate and the support of a group who have symptoms just like you!

I’m structuring these appointments as a series of 4-6 weekly appointments for maximum benefit but you will have the option of skipping appointments in the series if desired or needed.

These will be small groups of 4-6 people All group appointments will be online Cost will be $99 for 60-90 minutes (usual rate for this amount of time is $210-$315) These appointments will be billable to your extended health plans (Pacific Blue Cross, Manulife, etc) All new patients interested in participating in group appointments will be required to first complete a quick 30 minute intake appointment ($125) before starting their group appointments. Existing patients do not need to complete this intake. If interested, please send me a message to get yourself on the list.

Please Review Me!

As a reminder, I could really use your help! Please take a minute to leave me an online review. These help improve my online visibility so I can help even more people! It’s quick and easy to leave a 5-star review on Google and Rate MD. For those who choose to leave me a review, and to those who already have, I am so grateful for your support!

You can now follow me on TikTok and enjoy my silly and educational videos!

That's all for this month! Wishing you a heart-filled February!

Until next month!

Dr. Erica Volk

Your Friendly Naturopathic Doctor

And just for fun, here is a photo of Rosie's 3 puppies, Maple, Spruce, and Cedar (from top down), all of whom my patients and I have been enjoying through the month of January. All have now gone on to complete their training before they move into their new homes.



Tel: 778.760.3400 Fax: 844-991-3601

428-665 Cook Road | Kelowna, BC | V1W 4T4

Hi! I'm Dr. Erica Volk, your friendly naturopathic doctor.

Sign up for Your Monthly Dose - my monthly newsletter bringing you health tips and updates right to your inbox!

Read more from Hi! I'm Dr. Erica Volk, your friendly naturopathic doctor.