02/16/2013 09:35 EST | Updated 04/18/2013 05:12 EDT

How to Love Your Heart this February


And so it's February -- the month where so much focus is placed on our love interests. A concept I'm certainly not against, since I proposed to my wife at this time of year several years ago now. But this year, I'd like to issue a challenge to seriously consider other matters of the heart during this month. In particular, I'd like you to consider your heart's health. Typically, in early January, most North Americans proclaim their well-intentioned New Year's resolutions, but within a few short weeks the resolution war is lost, and we renege on the resolutions we made.

In their January edition, Time magazine listed the 10 resolutions that are most commonly made and broken annually. Of the top 10, health issues such as losing weight and getting fit, quitting smoking, eating healthier, and drinking less all ranked highly. In essence, four of the top 10 resolutions made annually by North Americans directly or indirectly has something to do with heart health.

This year, more than any other, heart health is on my mind. In the past 10 days, two men I've known for years have passed away from heart attacks -- one being my brother-in-law, the other a good friend and mentor. Their loss is truly unfortunate and deeply profound to their family and friends.

Unfortunately for many of us, more often than not we understand that we should be doing something to curb our waistlines and improve our heart health, but we aren't motivated enough to actually sustain our efforts. Maybe it's because deep down, we are in denial -- we believe we won't be the next one to suffer the same fate my brother-in-law and my good friend just suffered.

Several years ago, I was in the same boat. I was several pounds overweight -- I knew it, and in many ways I wanted to make changes in my life. I wanted to lose weight and gain a more youthful approach to life. But I had fallen into a lifestyle of indulgence: too much good food, too much wine, not enough exercise, and too many insincere reasons why I couldn't make the changes. It all hampered my resolution efforts. Only when I suffered a small stroke did I realize, "It could be you next, Tom. You were lucky. You'd better get after your waistline issue if you want to live healthier, happier, and longer!"

You know statistics clearly indicate that obesity has become a rampant epidemic across North America. The American Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports the American public has an obesity rate of about 35 percent. In Canada, obesity rates are bulging as well, with about 25 per cent of Canadian adults being classed as obese and 37 percent as overweight. The cause of this obesity is clear: rich foods, increased alcohol consumption, and more sedentary lifestyles.

So, what to do? Well, for me, it was a choice. Did I want to live to see my grandchildren? Did I want to live a productive and healthy life? Did I want to leave a lasting legacy to my children, family, and friends of what a healthy and productive life could look like? The answer was YES!

And so I embarked on sustainable change in my life. Change that included revamping my eating habits -- more good veggies, less meat, less fat, and more sustainable exercises. No more fad diets, no more extreme weight loss exercise programs that made me hurt from my toes to my nose! Sustainable healthy eating combined with sustainable healthy exercising, including making sure I walk 10,000 steps a day, have helped me lose more than 70 pounds over the past three years. I feel better, I look better, and I know I can live this healthy lifestyle now and in the future.

Unfortunately, it took a small stroke to get my attention a few years back. Fortunately for me, though, that stroke did not take my life or leave me with physical damage that my family and I would have to deal with for years to come. It served as my wake-up call. Happily, I can say I've answered that call. The question is, will you answer your call, before you become a victim of heart and stroke disease? I hope so.

February is Heart Month in Canada. For those of you who pledge to lose weight and get in better shape this year, I encourage you to stay true to your resolution -- make sustainable changes in your lives so you can achieve the goals you know you should. Be around for many more romantic Valentine's Days with the ones you love. The gift of life... the most important gift we're given!

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