Building Heart Healthy Family Habits

by Joyce Koppang, MD

We are all creatures of habit. That’s why it is important to start healthy habits at a very young age. My mother was ahead of her time when she instilled in me and my siblings the importance of healthy eating and routine exercise. I’ve now passed down those positive habits to my children. Even though kids are naturally drawn to processed sugar and fatty foods, taste buds can quickly adapt to enjoy healthier options like fruits, nuts, whole grains and dairy. If your children start their lives eating these healthy foods, it’s natural for them to continue making heart-healthy choices as teenagers and into adulthood.

If you’re interested in improving your kids’ diet, make sure you improve your own as well. The easiest way for your kids’ diet to change is to change together with the whole family. Buy healthy food for everyone, because they probably won’t be able to resist cookies you’ve hidden in the pantry “just for mom and dad.”

It’s never too late to make simple switches to start eating healthier. Start small and choose fruit instead of dessert, or avoid fried food one day a week. From there, you can continue to improve your family’s diet. One easy way to make a big difference in your kids’ (and your own) health is to replace sugar drinks and sodas with water. Don’t quit if you mess up one day, get right back into it! The key to changing your diet is persistence.

In addition to a healthy diet, regular physical activity keeps our hearts and bodies strong, so encourage your kids to exercise at least an hour every day. It teaches time management and also instills the importance of daily exercise, which will carry on with them through adulthood. When we exercise, our hearts get stronger and can deliver more oxygen to our bodies, helping us live longer, healthier lives. When my children are home from college, we spend family time at the gym and enjoy lots of heart healthy food.

February is heart health awareness month, and a great time to begin making healthier choices. So what are you waiting for? Set your family on track to live long, healthier lives.

Joyce Koppang, MD, is a cardiologist at Cardiovascular Associates, a Brookwood Baptist Medical Partner.

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