February is American Heart Month. Even though we associate heart problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol with adults these problems can occur in adolescence. Following a heart healthy lifestyle is good for everyone – kids and adults!
Why Be Heart Healthy?
Heart disease is an adult problem with potential roots in childhood.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Risk factors for heart disease include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, obesity, and family history (1). Many of these risk factors can be changed in children and teens.
Risk Factors in Children and Teens
An estimated 3.5% of all children and teens in the United States have high blood pressure, however, the condition often goes undetected and untreated (2). The effects of high blood pressure can increase the risk of disease later in life. Also, children and teens eat more saturated fat and have higher cholesterol levels (1).
Ways to Keep Your Heart Happy
There are many positive health habits surrounding diet, physical activity, weight, and stress we can practice today to help keep you and your child’s heart happy.
- Get and Stay Active. Youth need an hour or more of physical activity daily. Physical activity improves heart health and lung function, helps attain and maintain weight and reduces likelihood of developing risk factors for later diseases. Use this interactive tracker to see how you can help your child get active during the day!
- Manage Stress. Kids and teenagers experience stress! Stress negatively affects the body in both the short term and long-term. Practice mindfulness and de-stressing techniques like deep breathing, stretching, taking a walk or listening to music.
- Limit Screen Time. Being on the computer, checking social media or playing video games are sedentary activities. Sedentary activities increase risk factors for heart disease. Try to take active breaks during sedentary activities.
- Limit Saturated Fat. Saturated fats raise cholesterol and should be limited to less than 10% of daily intake. Cook with oils, eat more fish, and switch to low-fat dairy products to reduce saturated fat intake.
- Keep Salt Intake Low. More than 80% of children and teens exceed the recommendations for sodium intake. When grocery shopping, look for no added salt or low sodium versions of your favorite grocery staples. Also, limit the number of times you eat away from home.
- Watch Your Sugars. Sugar contributes to weight gain which can negatively affect heart health. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets. Look for no-added sugar or reduced sugar versions of beverages and snacks.
- Pay Attention to Family History. Family history and genetics can be a sign of whether your child develops high blood pressure or heart disease (3).
- Visit the Doctor. Attend regular checkups with your child’s pediatrician to get an overview of their health. Discuss family history, blood pressure, weight and other risk factors.
- Eat More Fruits and Vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain fiber which helps remove cholesterol from the body. View this fruits and veggies post to see how you can add more produce into your diet.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight. Carrying extra weight makes your heart work harder. As youth with overweight and obesity increases, heart related conditions are also increasing.
Keep Your Heart Happy
Everyone can benefit from a heart healthy lifestyle. Poor habits can lead to heart problems. A healthy heart in childhood can lead to a healthy heart in adulthood. Keep your heart happy by incorporating these tips into you and your child’s life. What heart healthy tips will you try this month? Show love to your heart this month and every month!