Heart disease might not be on your average college student’s radar, but taking care of your heart is a message people of every age need to consider.
That was one of the messages Fort Smith dietitian Jared Tam shared with college students at the Thebacha campus last week as part of a healthy snacks informational session for Aurora College Week.
February is Heart Month across Canada, so as a community dietitian, Tam said he’s taking every opportunity to share preventative measures to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Heart disease is consistently among the three leading causes of death in the NWT and as recently as 2007 was the highest, according to Statistics Canada data.
Tam’s advice for those looking to maintain a strong heart is, in short, to eat healthy and exercise.
“Nutrition and activity are the two biggest modifiable risk factors for heart disease,” Tam told The Journal in between chatting with college students at the booth he set up in the college’s foyer last week.
It seems straightforward to eat well and exercise, but many people struggle with setting “S.M.A.R.T.” goals, Tam said.
“People say, ‘I want to lose weight,’ but that’s not a goal. It’s not smart: S.M.A.R.T. It’s not specific, it’s not measurable, it’s not achievable, it’s not realistic and it’s not timely. That’s what smart stands for,” he said.
“I want to exercise 30 minutes a day on a treadmill, at 8:00 p.m., while watching Seinfeld. That’s a specific goal,” Tam said.
Tam’s booth at the college focused on the nutritional side of a healthy lifestyle by identifying which snacks foods are the “right stuff,” like fruits, vegetables and whole grain crackers, and which should be labeled “food porn,” like candy, chips and pop.
“A lot of people know how to eat well, but the biggest challenge for me is trying to get people motivated enough to make the changes for themselves,” he said.
Stress, busy lives and a lack of sleep are other areas that Tam said can affect heart health.
Tam, who has been working in Fort Smith for six months now, said most of his clients come to him through referrals from the health centre, though he welcomes self-referrals as well for those struggling to attain a healthy lifestyle. His services are free of charge through the Fort Smith Health and Social Services Authority.
Tam said he’s been happy with many clients’ progress thus far.
“I’ve already seen a lot of people change both knowledge-wise and their whole approach to physical activity,” he said. “Fort Smith has never had a permanent dietitian before, so I’ve got a lot of people who are willing to learn.”
His not-so-secret approach is that all his suggestions are simple and straightforward. “Everything I tell them I do myself,” he said.
Tam also holds cooking classes once a month for those who might struggle with preparing healthy meal options. “We’re making fresh, healthy and most importantly tasty meals with those foods,” he said.
To learn more about Tam’s services, contact the Fort Smith health centre at (867) 872-6203 or Tam directly at (867) 872-6218.