Heart Health Tips for Families

What are some of the things you do with your family? Maybe you have dinner together, celebrate the holidays together or go on vacation together. What about staying heart healthy together? This activity can not only be fun, but it also can help everyone in the family stay healthy so you can continue to enjoy more high school graduations, weddings and other family milestone events.

Parents can teach children to be heart smart by setting good examples. It is much easier to convince children to do the same when you are practicing healthy habits, such as being active. This is one area where the whole family can get involved. Limit the amount of time spent watching television or playing video games. Instead, go for walks, play hide-and-seek outside or swim together. Aim for 30 minutes of activity each day. Regular exercise can help your heart and lungs work better, as well as lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and control appetite and weight. By avoiding a sedentary lifestyle, you can lower your risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Avoid rewarding children with food. Find other ways to celebrate good behavior other than candy or sweets, which can encourage bad habits. The entire family can learn more about heart-healthy foods by reading food labels. You even can make a game of it. At the grocery store, try to find crackers with the lowest amount of fat or look for soups low in sodium. You also can challenge your children to come up with ways to eat more healthy foods at home, such as using small amounts of margarine instead of butter when cooking or choosing fruits and vegetables for snacks instead of chips or fries. Involving everyone in planning and preparing meals can promote good eating habits and help reduce cholesterol levels, maintain normal weight and prevent heart disease.

Be a positive role model and don’t smoke. By not smoking, you can lower your risk of heart attack, stroke and lung disease. By quitting smoking, you can add years to your life, and your children will no longer be exposed to second-hand smoke. You also can breathe easier, feel less tired and save money by not buying cigarettes.

Remember to talk to your doctor about your cholesterol level, blood pressure and weight. Total blood cholesterol level should be less than 200. Anything higher than that can increase your risk for heart disease, especially if it is 240 or above, which is considered high blood cholesterol. Your blood pressure should be in the 120/80 range. You have high blood pressure if it is 140/90 or higher. If you need to lose weight, lose it slowly at a rate of about one-half to one pound per week. Talk to your children’s health care providers to make sure they are monitoring cardiovascular indicators such as body mass index, cholesterol and blood pressure.

By making simple changes, a family can commit to being heart healthy so everyone can enjoy long, happy lives together. For more tips about developing healthy habits, visit the American Heart Association Web site at www.americanheart.org.

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