Keeping A Heart-Healthy Family
Developing healthy habits can start anytime, however, it is especially important children develop them at a young age to help reduce their risk of heart disease as they grow older. One of the most effective ways to do this is to make healthy living a priority for the whole family.
“You are never too old or too young to begin taking care of your heart”, says Avni Jain, MD, a family medicine physician with Adventist Medical Group. “Some of the biggest risk factors for heart disease, including obesity, lack of healthy eating and lack of exercise, can be prevented by implementing healthy habits during childhood.”
Here are some suggestions for ways the whole family can take better care of their care and reduce their risk for heart disease.
Encourage healthy eating
Everyone can benefit from having healthier, home-cooked meals that consist of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and lean protein.
“When you get the whole family involved in cooking, it helps everyone learn the value of healthy ingredients and how to monitor what’s going into their meals,” says Dr. Jain. “It’s also a great way to teach kids about the benefits of each vegetable or protein as you prepare them.”
While considering what meals to make, be sure to include foods that have been proven to be heart-healthy, such as:
- Fatty, oily fish such as salmon or mackerel
- Leafy greens such as spinach or kale
- Berries, such as blueberries or strawberries, which are full of phytonutrients
- Carotenoid rich foods such as red peppers, carrots, squash and sweet potatoes
Try to steer away from foods that are linked to increased risk of heart disease, including red meat, canned vegetables high in salt, canned fruits in syrup and highly processed foods, such as potato chips or fast food.
Dr. Jain says if you eat a healthy diet most of the time, you’ll be able to indulge occasionally. “You’re allowed to eat your favorite dessert or something you crave from time to time, just in moderation.”
Stay active together
You don’t have to be involved in sports or be a member of a gym to get the proper exercise your body needs. According to Dr. Jain, children and adolescents should aim to get 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. “It can be broken up throughout the day if that’s easier. The important thing is to get up and get moving.”
Try incorporating physical activity into your family’s daily routine, such as taking a bike ride together, walking the dog around the neighborhood or playing a pickup game of soccer. While you have a break in between episodes of your favorite show or while a commercial is playing, challenge each other to see who can do the most jumping jacks, push-ups or sit-ups. Finding ways to make exercise fun can make it more enjoyable for everyone.
Try to limit time spent watching television or playing on tablets and gaming systems. Excessive screen time leads to a sedentary lifestyle, which increases the risk for obesity and heart disease.
Avoid exposing your children to cigarette smoke or secondhand smoke at all costs. Secondhand smoke exposure increases your child’s risk of developing heart disease later in life, even if they go on to not be a smoker themselves.
If you or a family member do smoke and would like additional help quitting, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW. This toll-free number directs people to free services from their state, including trained coaches who provide information and help with quitting.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, try to add just one heart-healthy aspect to your life for now. As you feel that you are gaining control, try adding another, then another. Pretty soon, you’ll be well on your way to helping the whole family decrease their risk of heart disease.
“Starting something new may seem overwhelming but start small,” says Dr. Jain. “Every little bit counts, and those small steps and gradual changes can make a big difference in your family’s health over time.”
Learn more about your risk for heart disease by taking Adventist HealthCare’s free online heart risk assessment at AdventistHealthCare.com/LYH. Don’t forget to share and discuss your results with your doctor!