According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. In fact, more than 600,000 people die of heart disease each year, and approximately one out of every four deaths occurs in the U.S.
The good news is that heart disease is preventable, and a balanced diet and regular exercise go a long way in preventing heart attacks and strokes. However, it pays to start early. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which looked at the cardiovascular health of nearly 8,000 children between the ages of 2 and 11 years, noted the importance of starting healthy habits as early as possible. By encouraging your kids to be active and eat right early on, you may be teaching them the tools that will save their lives in the future.
The following are five important ways to help your kids develop heart-healthy habits at any age:
1. Just say “No.”
It does not just affect your lungs. WebMD reports multiple studies that show that saying no to cigarettes and smoking helps dramatically lower the risk of heart disease. Educate your children early about the dangers of smoking, and encourage them to just say “No.” If you are a parent who smokes, make a commitment to quit, or at least, make sure you do not smoke in sight of your children.
2. Eat well and prosper.
A well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish, as well as limited trans-fats and sodium may help keep hearts healthy throughout life. The experts at WebMD suggest that you help your kids eat well by keeping plenty of healthy snack foods on hand and serving healthy, balanced meals at home.
3. Get your sweat on.
Staying physically active is a crucial component of heart health. Encourage your kids to raise their heart rates by finding fun activities to do together. For example, go on hikes as a family, host a dance party after dinner or head to the local field or court for soccer or basketball practice.
4. Show them how it is done.
While it is easy to tell your kids to not smoke, eat lots of veggies and work out regularly, they are paying more attention to what you do than what you say. According to a Duke Health research study, walking the walk (and eating the leafy greens) is strongly correlated to kids who grow up to be physically active and eat right. Remember, monkey see, monkey do. You truly are the greatest influence on your children and their heart health.
5. Get regular check-ups.
The CDC is clear, regularly scheduled check-ups are important for both heart and overall health. Take your kids for full physical exams every year to identify potential issues, and get advice on how to fix these issues before they become actual health problems.