As heart disease is most commonly associated with the process of aging, we frequently read about the importance of heart health among adult men and women. In fact, according to the Cleveland Clinic, heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization for patients 65 years and older, so it’s understandable as to why the older demographics tends to garner the most attention.
However, educating children about heart health and instilling life-long heart healthy habits while they are young can help to reduce the risk of developing heart disease later in life.
Here are a few small lifestyle changes that can make a big impact for kids’ long-term heart health:
Limit salt intake Excess sodium in the bloodstream can lead to high blood pressure, which is a top risk factor for heart disease. Reducing sodium intake can reduce your children’s chances of developing high blood pressure, as well as their risk of heart attack, heart failure and many other health concerns. Try substituting salt for other tasty spices or herbs, such as garlic, curry powder, cumin, paprika and rosemary.
Teach kids about healthy eating through cooking Making healthy food choices can be tough for picky eaters, but children may be more willing to try new foods if they are involved in the cooking process. Invite your children to help you cook dinner and use the time as an opportunity to educate them on the benefits of eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy sources of protein. Let them make decisions like what kind of vegetables to pair with the main dish, so they can take ownership of the meal.
Snack healthy, too! Try to avoid snacks like chips, crackers, cookies and buttered popcorn. The “reduced fat” label can be deceiving and it’s best to send kids to school with those nutrient-packed snacks that you can trust, like fresh fruits and vegetables, canned fruit in juice or water (not syrup!), nuts, seeds and more.
Stay physically active Exercise plays a huge role in maintaining a healthy weight, but this can sometimes be challenging for children who don’t participate in organized sports. However, there are many other ways to promote physical activity, such as riding bikes, jumping rope or even playing a game of tag.
Educate on risk factors The American Heart Association attributes one-third of coronary heart disease deaths to smoking and secondhand smoke. Educate your children on the risks of smoking traditional cigarettes as well as e-cigarettes, which tend to be marketed heavily toward adolescents. Additionally, it’s important to be aware of risk factors that are hereditary, such as a family history of heart disease. If you are concerned about your child’s heart health, talk to your pediatrician about scheduling a heart screening to ensure no issues or conditions go undetected.
Prioritizing heart health at a young age can reduce your children’s risk of developing heart disease later in life and can help them grow up to be more health-conscious adults.