National Heart Health Month is an initiate to motivate people of all ages to take care of their health to prevent cardiovascular disease. Although some children are born with heart problems, many others who are born healthy can develop cardiovascular disease because they have poor lifestyle habits. Many of these poor lifestyle habits begin in childhood and last into adulthood. We know that prevention is key with avoiding cardiovascular disease and keeping the heart healthy!
Recent statistics show that children who have cardiovascular risk factors at age 13 or younger can develop heart disease as young adults. AND children who have cardiovascular risk factors in their early teens may have hardened arteries that look like the arteries of adults many years older! The American Heart Association developed “Life’s Simple 7” as a way to prevent cardiovascular disease.
People of all ages can follow “Life’s Simple 7”:
- Avoid smoking and using tobacco products
- Be physically active every day (kids should be active for at least 60 minutes a day)
- Eat a heart-healthy diet
- Keep a healthy weight
- Keep your blood pressure healthy
- Keep your total cholesterol healthy
- Keep your blood sugar healthy
Additionally, here are some tips from The American Heart Association that can be applied to children:
- Breast-feeding is ideal nutrition and sufficient to support optimal growth and development for about the first 4–6 months after birth. Try to maintain breast-feeding for 12 months or longer. The transition to other sources of nutrients should begin at about 4–6 months of age to ensure sufficient micronutrients in the diet.
- Delay introducing 100 percent juice until at least six months of age and limit to no more than 4–6 ounces/day. Juice should only be fed from a cup.
- Don’t overfeed infants and young children — they can usually self-regulate the amount of calories they need each day. Children shouldn’t be forced to finish meals if they aren’t hungry as they often vary caloric intake from meal to meal.
- Introduce healthy foods and keep offering them if they’re initially refused. Don’t introduce foods without overall nutritional value simply to provide calories.
- Serve and eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
- Choose healthy fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
- Choose a variety of foods to get enough carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients.
- Serve whole-grain/high-fiber breads and cereals rather than refined grain products. Look for “whole grain” as the first ingredient on the food label and make at least half your grain servings whole grain.
- Serve a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, while limiting juice intake. Each meal should contain at least one fruit or vegetable.
- Serve fat-free and low-fat dairy foods.