Informed, reliable advice is a valuable resource in this digital age where it can be difficult to verify the credibility of information. Canada’s pharmacists serve as accessible health care resources, offering helpful and trusted information on matters such as cardiovascular disease.

“We’ve moved past the perception that all we do is count out pills,” says Bhavika Prajapati, pharmacist and owner of a Shoppers Drug Mart store in Vaughan, ON. “With time constraints, long waits in emergency rooms and overtaxed doctors’ offices, people are starting to take more advantage of the accessible services we offer right in their own communities. We are here to help and there’s no appointment needed.”

Taking a team approach to health

It’s wise to include a pharmacist as part of your health care team when it comes to the prevention and management of heart disease. Pharmacists are medication experts, and are best positioned to address issues surrounding side effects, drug interactions, and correct usage to ensure that you are getting the most out of your medications.

“Don’t wait until something happens before you start paying attention,” says Prajapati. “It’s better to focus on prevention rather than dealing with it after the fact. I suggest speaking to your health care professionals about what you may be able to do now to help prevent issues in the future.

This holds true especially when it comes to women and heart disease. Women should be talking to their doctors and pharmacists about their risk factors. Studies show they are less aware of them than men, underscoring the urgency of more awareness and knowledge.

The SMART way to live

Prajapati uses the acronym S.M.A.R.T. to outline to customers which preventative steps to take. The S stands for stop smoking. Smoking is one of the greatest risk factors of cardiovascular disease. And she points out that heart health improves significantly just two days after quitting. After a year of being smoke-free, the risk of stroke and heart disease is cut in half.

Monitoring blood pressure is the next preventative step in SMART. High blood pressure puts people at risk and is an indicator of your overall heart health. Prajapati advises Canadians to visit their pharmacies to have their blood pressure checked and recorded in a log book: “It’s something everyone can do. Pharmacists can help customers navigate and understand the readings, and can then suggest next steps.”

Having an active lifestyle is important, too — one that includes at least two and a half hours of moderate to vigorous exercise weekly. Exercise is a powerful tool against premature heart disease, coupled with regulating cholesterol levels through healthy eating. That means boosting your intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish, while cutting down on processed foods, and saturated and trans-fats. Research shows that up to 80 percent of premature cardiovascular disease is preventable by adopting healthy habits.

Whether it’s providing information about their medications or advice for adopting healthier habits, pharmacists are dedicated to helping customers live their best lives. These professionals work diligently to stay current with the latest developments in health through seminars, workshops, and continuing education courses. “We’re well informed,” says Prajapati. “So we’re in a great position to help people in our communities. Come talk to us!”