Running for Heart Health with the Ottawa Heart Institute

February is heart month. Every year, the purpose is to bring awareness to the importance of cardiovascular health and what you can do to maintain it. Central to this, is the critical work being done by the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. Not only do they provide life-saving treatment as Canada’s largest heart health centre, but they’re also global leaders in heart health research and prevention.

As Matt Harris, Manager of Philanthropy at the Heart Institute says, everyone in the city knows someone impacted by the organization. This year, he will be running his third half marathon at Ottawa Race Weekend as part of their team to help raise funds for the cause and to support his own health goals.

Matt struggled through his first half marathon in 2018, realizing he needed to take running more seriously if it was something he wanted to pursue. Despite being in good shape from the gym, he found running challenging and decided to commit to it. That was interrupted in 2020, with Covid and the birth of his daughter leading to shifting priorities and significant weight gain.

By 2023, Matt was determined to change his lifestyle, fueled by his work at the Institute and the desire to be healthy for his kids. He set a goal to run his second half marathon with his wife at the end of the year, starting his training in the spring. Since then, Matt has lost an impressive 50lbs and is now preparing to run with the Heart Institute team. His goal is not just to finish the race but also to improve his overall fitness and time.

Reflecting on his journey, Matt acknowledges the impact running has had on his life. He notes, “I’m more disciplined with forcing myself out now. It doesn’t feel like a chore anymore. It’s a good chance to clear my head.” Running has become a part of his standard routine, helping him stay focused and present with his family.

He also acknowledges how critical this kind of cardiovascular activity is for your heart health, something reinforced by his work at the Heart Institute. While you can’t control some factors – like family history or being born with any kind of heart issues, staying active and making certain decisions can help you keep a healthier heart.

As Matt says, “I talk to people all the time who say the Heart Institute saved my life. That never gets old. It’s impossible to not be motivated by that and those stories are everywhere in our community.”

One of those people, who will also be running in Ottawa Race Weekend is Eric Chamois. Almost a year ago, on February 22, 2023, Eric went into cardiac arrest and underwent triple bypass surgery. “I don’t remember anything but I’ve been told that I am very, very lucky to have survived,” Eric says. “ Before my heart attack, exercise and healthy eating weren’t that important to me. I now know that these have to be priorities. Since my surgery, I have done a complete 180 life change.” Eric now does various kinds of cardio and strength training exercises daily and follows Mediterranean and MIND diets. “I rarely drink alcohol and my last cigarette was the morning of February 22, 2023,” he says. This will be Eric’s first time participating in the Race Weekend, and he is preparing by running daily and incorporating weightlifting into his routine.

Eric’s friend, Jamie at Character Creative, started a team to participate in the Race Weekend, to raise funds for the Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation. Eric’s experience inspired Jamie to choose OHI as the charity, and Eric, along with his wife and friends, will be running to support the Foundation.

“This past year has shown me how much somewhere like the Ottawa Heart Institute can help someone like myself. They need help to do the prevention, research, and support required to aid people, like myself and another family member, that have suffered or will suffer from heart-related conditions,” he says. Eric also emphasizes how important lifestyle choices are to your health. “I’d like everyone to exercise every day. It’s very easy to get bogged down in everyday life and not take care of ourselves.”

Heart Month reinforces the need to support organizations like the Ottawa Heart Institute, which continues to save lives and improve the health of individuals worldwide. Join or donate to the Ottawa Health Institute’s Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend team to contribute to life-saving research and care today.