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4 Tips For Fostering Lifelong Heart Health in Kids

As Julie Andrews sings in “The Sound of Music,” — “let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.

A long and healthy life begins in childhood. Learning about our bodies and the formation of wellness habits when we are young sets an excellent foundation to carry us into adulthood. This is why parents and caregivers have a unique opportunity to teach children about self-care and nurture beneficial practices early on. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Learning to prioritize cardiovascular wellness is crucial for children. Here are 4 ways kids can take charge of their heart health with your encouragement and guidance.

I. Know Your Genetics

Understanding your genetics and family health history is a crucial step in safeguarding your heart health. Our genes play a significant role in determining our predisposition to certain health conditions, including cardiovascular disease. Knowledge of familial patterns of heart diseases, cholesterol levels, and other cardiovascular factors can empower people to adopt proactive measures.

Talk to your kids about your family’s health history. If there are close relatives who have been diagnosed with (or have passed from) heart disease, gently include this in your discussions. Explain that this is a factor children should be aware of because family history is something all healthcare professionals will ask about. Help your children feel comfortable talking to their pediatrician about this. Make sure they understand the why behind this knowledge.

Emphasize the positive aspects, explaining how awareness of family history empowers them to make informed choices for their well-being. Encourage questions and address concerns. Use the opportunity to introduce healthy habits and stress the importance of a balanced lifestyle. Frame the discussion as an ongoing conversation, providing updates and additional information as needed.

II. Make Heart-Healthy Choices

Encouraging children to prioritize their heart health involves fostering habits that promote overall well-being. Regular exercise plays a key role, and making physical activity enjoyable through activities they love can be motivating. Emphasize the importance of a balanced diet. Focus on plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, which contribute to heart health. Educate them about the benefits of these foods while allowing occasional treats in moderation.

Additionally, emphasize the significance of abstaining from smoking, explaining the harmful effects on the heart and overall health. Engage in open conversations about these lifestyle choices. Highlight that these practices contribute not only to physical health but also to a positive and energetic lifestyle.

III. Get Screened and Follow Through

Cholesterol is a fatty substance crucial for building cells, but too much of certain types can pose health risks, particularly to the heart. Cholesterol screenings are medical blood tests that assess the levels of cholesterol in the blood. It is typical to start these tests as early as 10 years of age, so it’s fitting to explain to children the importance of these procedures in the context of heart health.

Begin the conversation by explaining that, just like visiting a doctor for check-ups, cholesterol screenings are essential for understanding how their bodies are growing and developing. Assure them that these screenings are meant to catch any potential issues early on, promoting a healthy heart as they grow. Emphasize that these screenings are a normal part of taking care of their bodies and can help prevent future health concerns. Keep your child involved in their medical care and discuss their blood work results with them, so they will be set up for success when it comes time for them to do this on their own.

If results indicate elevated cholesterol levels, discuss potential follow-through preventive care, such as adopting a heart-healthy diet, staying physically active, and, in some cases, medication. Encourage an open dialogue, making them feel empowered and informed about the importance of these screenings in maintaining their overall well-being.

IV. Listen To Your Body

It’s important to teach children about the significance of listening to their bodies when it comes to heart health. Explain that our bodies often send signals to let us know how they’re doing, much like how they might feel hungry or tired. In the context of heart health, paying attention to any unusual sensations during physical activity is crucial.

Encourage them to be aware of their bodies. Remind them to pay attention to chest pain, discomfort, or feelings of lightheadedness or fainting, especially during activities that involve exertion. Emphasize that these signals are important and should be shared with a trusted adult or caregiver. Teaching children to recognize and communicate these signs early on empowers them to prioritize their heart health and seek appropriate help if needed.

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About the Expert

Dr. Christina Johns is a nationally recognized pediatric emergency physician and Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care. An official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, she is board-certified in both pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine. With extensive media experience, the proud mom of two teenagers shares over 20 years of pediatric expertise with patients and families everywhere. Follow Dr. Johns for more insights on children’s health!