How parents can help kids have healthier hearts

It’s important to think about how to help kids have healthy hearts for a lifetime.

father playing basketball with his son

Image source: Thinkstock

February is American Heart Month.

While many of us are thinking about our own risk factors for heart disease and the risks for our older family members, we may be missing the group on which we can have the greatest impact — our children.

Research has shown that atherosclerosis, the build up of plaque in the arteries, starts in childhood. This plaque buildup can lead to heart attacks, arrhythmias and stroke in adults. There are clearly defined risk factors for our kids that can have a huge impact on their heart health as adults.

Here is a list of risk factors for heart disease in children that we can prevent or improve:

  • Nutrition/diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Tobacco exposure
  • Blood pressure
  • Lipid levels
  • Overweight/obesity
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Metabolic syndrome

If you could prevent heart disease before it even began, through simple and non-medical means, wouldn’t it be worthwhile?

Make regular visits to your pediatrician

Start by making sure that your child has an annual physical. Your child’s annual well-check includes tracking height, weight, BMI, blood pressure, and heart rate, as well as discussing nutrition, physical activity and family health risk factors. When your child is a teen, he or she should have at least one cholesterol check to screen for elevated cholesterol.

Day to day things that you can do to keep your children’s hearts healthy include:

  1. 60 minutes of physical activity daily
  2. 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables
  3. Serving lean protein sources at each meal
  4. Avoiding tobacco exposure and talking to your kids about the dangers of smoking

For more information, visit the American Heart Association’s Healthier Kids section.

Stay well!