Developing heart-healthy habits when we’re young makes it easier to maintain good habits as we get older. It actually has an impact on our health as adults. Studies show that children and teens with risk factors (such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, being overweight or smoking) have a much greater risk for cardiovascular disease as adults.
Those risk factors in young people are increasing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity prevalence among children and adolescents reached 19.7% between 2017 and 2020. That means almost one in every five children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese. Another CDC study showed that 1 in 25 adolescents aged 12 to 19 has hypertension, and 1 in 10 has elevated blood pressure.
What can parents do to help their children build heart-healthy habits? We’ve put together a list of our top 5 tips to help guide you.
- Feed a healthy diet.
A heart-healthy diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, healthy fats, lean protein and low-fat dairy. It should be high in fiber but low in sugar, salt, processed foods and saturated fats. In addition to quality of diet, quantity is also important to make sure your child is eating enough for healthy development while avoiding overeating that can lead to excessive weight gain. Speak to a physician or dietitian if you are unsure of how to create a heart-healthy diet specific to your child’s needs.
- Keep kids active.
A sedentary lifestyle is just as harmful for children as it is for adults. Children need at least an hour of exercise per day, but that doesn’t mean it has to be structured activities or sports. Active play, going for a walk, riding a bike and playing games all count.
Here are some ideas to help get kids moving:
- Plan family activities like taking a walk after dinner, heading to the park or hitting nature trails on weekends.
- Play with your kids. Running around the yard or riding bikes in the neighborhood is as good for you as it is for them.
- Limit screen time to free up more time for playing.
- Find opportunities to add extra activity into their day, whether it’s taking the stairs rather than the elevator, parking farther away at the store or dancing during commercial breaks when watching TV. It all adds up.
- Encourage children to sign up for sports or classes they enjoy.
- Get regular checkups.
It’s important for your child to have regular wellness checks to screen for risk factors and that you know their numbers. This includes blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index (BMI). It’s also a good idea for your child to get a sports physical before starting new activities to avoid potential rare events, such as sudden cardiac arrest.
- Talk to your kids.
Making sure children and teens understand what a healthy lifestyle is and why it’s important can go a long way to building good lifelong habits. This is especially important for teens when they become more exposed to dangers like drugs, alcohol and smoking.
Smoking in teens is one of the biggest risk factors for cardiovascular disease later in life. Therefore, making sure your children don’t use any kind of nicotine product (which includes vaping) is paramount.
If you or someone else in your family smokes, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health and the health of your family. At a minimum, do not smoke inside the home or in the car.
- Lead by example.
Children and teens are far more likely to adopt healthy habits if they have a good role model. The phrase “do as I say, not as I do” simply doesn’t cut it when instilling lifelong healthy lifestyle habits in children. Whether your family has always led a heart-healthy lifestyle or you are making changes now, it’s going to have a more positive influence on your children if you do it as a family.
This includes things like:
- Preparing and eating healthy meals together.
- Making time to exercise as a family.
- Learning stress-management techniques.
- Teaching your kids about nutrition and how to read nutrition labels.
- Involving children in meal planning and grocery shopping.
Remember: Every little bit counts. Start with small changes now. Over time, the results can be highly beneficial.
The team at Advanced Cardiovascular Specialists consists of North Louisiana’s leading experts in cardiovascular care. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call our office at (318) 798-9400.