As a child growing up, I remember watching my grandfather do his calisthenics. He was so happy exercising — it was part of his life; his routine. The energy flowed down to me and his gift was to teach me that exercise was fun. It was never a chore, never a pain. I couldn’t wait to finish my homework so I could get out and play. 


That feeling stayed with me. I certainly have days where I don’t feel like exercising — I’m human. My perfect day involves the outdoors, exploring this awesome country that we are privileged to live in. It has always been this way.

The power of one hour

As Director of the Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant Programs at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre in Toronto, I spend each day treating men and women of all ages and backgrounds, who are severely impacted by the progressively debilitating effects of a failing heart. I see the worst-off cardiac patients whose hearts won’t let them walk stairs or get dressed without gasping for air. It seriously compromises a patient’s quality of life — not only how long they live, but how they live.

Heart disease is an epidemic in this country. It is also the most costly disease in Canada, putting the greatest burden on our national health care system.

The best way to think about curbing the epidemic of heart disease came from one of my former patients. He told me to wake up each morning and recognize that your life is worth one hour a day. That’s all it takes: one hour. The impact of one hour of exercise on your blood pressure, your blood sugar, your sleep, your quality of life, and your longevity is invaluable.

Reaching new heights

I watch patients face the challenges of coping with heart disease, facing their mortality — I see courage, hope, and strength in their eyes. As a physician, I am continually amazed by the inner strength of my patients. I am overwhelmed by the experience. It’s really what’s driven me to push myself to new heights and reflect on how precious life truly is.

In 2006, I started an initiative called Test Your Limits to raise awareness and support for heart disease research. Test Your Limits is rooted in encouraging people to live to their full potential, regardless of age or health circumstance. We need to move upstream to where the issues start — get people moving, being active, and living a healthy life. Accompanied by doctors and transplant patients, the Test Your Limits team has climbed in Nepal, trekked in Bhutan, and skied to the North and South Poles, raising over 2 million dollars. This April, the team will once again test their limits in support of heart disease research as we cycle the Tibetan Plateaus from Lhasa to Kathmandu.

My ultimate goal is to put myself out of business as a cardiologist. It is to get to a day where my skills are not needed because the message of heart health and taking the steps to achieve it is the norm, not the exception.




Dr. Heather Ross is a cardiologist at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, University Health Network (UHN), Director of the Ted Rogers Centre of Excellence in Heart Function, UHN Site Lead for the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research, past-President, Canadian Cardiovascular Society, and one of the world’s leading heart transplant physicians.