February is American Heart Month, a time dedicated to learning more about heart disease. Heart disease includes conditions such as stroke, high blood pressure, angina, rheumatic heart disease and coronary heart disease, which can cause heart attacks. These conditions would be rare in children since they normally affect adults as they age; however, it's never too soon to adopt heart-healthy habits that the whole family can benefit from!
Prevention is very important when it comes to heart disease. Damage to the arteries is permanent, but interventions such as surgery and lifestyle changes can still improve your health if you do develop heart disease. As with any disease, taking preventative steps is the best approach for avoiding heart disease.
7 Ways Your Family Can Improve Heart Health
Whether you have heart disease, are at risk for it, or even if you have no family history of heart disease, these seven things can improve your heart health and lead to a longer, healthier life in general. Many of these steps are also helpful in lowering your risk for other diseases such as cancer.
- Get outside and exercise. Children need at least 60 minutes of exercise each day and adults should get at least 30 minutes. With children's screen time on the rise, it can sometimes be difficult to get everyone up and moving for their full 60 minutes. That's why it can help to get the whole family out doing something together. You can also encourage your kids to participate in gym class at school more if you're worried that they don't get involved enough.
- Watch out for foods that increase your cholesterol levels. Excess LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) combines with white blood cells to form plaque in your arteries, which can lead to heart disease over time. A diet high in saturated fat can raise your cholesterol to unhealthy levels. Try to limit fatty protein sources such as red meat, butter and fried foods as much as possible.
- Fit more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins into your diet. Everyone has different dietary needs, but a good goal to shoot for is 5 to 9 servings of fruits and veggies a day. To get a better idea of that that looks like, check out these examples.
- Work on lowering your blood pressure if it's high. High blood pressure is not as common in children as in adults, but it's possible. The same reasons that adults get high blood pressure – stress, poor diet, lack of exercise, and being overweight – can contribute to high blood pressure in children too. Over time, high blood pressure can contribute to heart disease.
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese. Obesity is a growing problem for adults and children alike. Extra body fat can contribute to a number of health issues, including high blood pressure, diabetes and unhealthy cholesterol levels.
- Maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Unless you or someone in the family is diabetic, it's unlikely that you know what your blood sugar is. However, the typical American diet tends to include far more sugar than recommended, so it's important to keep an eye on your sugar intake. Even if you aren't diabetic, limiting sugar consumption and getting more exercise can help you maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
- Encourage kids to not smoke, and quit if you do smoke. Most adults and even kids are aware that smoking is a risk factor for many diseases. One of these is heart disease. Smoking damages your circulatory system and can cause hardened arteries and blood clots, which can lead to heart disease.
Give Back To Kids In Your Area This February
Improving your family's heart health is an important thing to take on this February. If you'd like to make a difference for kids in your greater community this month, we have an easy way for you to give back! Making a car donation to Wheels For Wishes, benefiting children's charities, is a great way to reach kids in your area who need help and support.
If you're ready to make a donation, you can check out our chapter locator to learn more about which children's charity benefits in your area. When you're ready, give us a call at 1-877-431-9474 or make your donation online.