It’s never too soon to instill heart-healthy habits in your children, especially if heart disease runs in your family.
“Science has found that about 85% of any person’s risk of chronic disease, especially heart disease, is due to lifestyle choices,” says Harvey Hahn, MD, cardiologist with Kettering Health Network. “Only 15% is due to genetics. What you eat and do, the amount you sleep, the stress level you’re under, and even what you think have an impact on your health.”
Whether your children are toddlers or teens, teaching them begins with modeling good habits yourself. “Even if you have been diagnosed with heart disease, you can control and even reverse it with lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Hahn. “If we want our kids to not have to fight for their health in the future, it’s really important to help them learn and practice making good choices now. It’s a lot easier to stay healthy than fight to lose weight and try to get off of medications.”
Dr. Hahn offers these heart-healthy habits to improve your own heart health and to practice as a family as your children grow:
- Don’t smoke or vape. “It’s the highest risk thing you can do, is expensive, and is really hard to quit,” says Dr. Hahn. “Regardless of what you think, it doesn’t make you cool or attractive. People that are popular would still be that way even if they didn’t smoke or vape. Don’t be a copycat.”
- Eat more of the fruits and veggies that you like instead of focusing on what you can’t eat.
- Don’t aim for perfection. “If you skip one exercise day, or eat some really bad food, just get back on the program,” Dr. Hahn advises. “In fact, pre-plan failure: Build in cheat days! I have one day a week where I really loosen up the eating rules. It is a little reward: I get things I like but aren’t so good for me, and it saves up will power for when I really need it.”
- Walk into a more active lifestyle. “Some people feel bad if they are not training for a marathon or doing CrossFit,” says Dr. Hahn. “You are the sum of all that you do. Even 15 minutes of continuous fast walking lowers your risk of death. Walking is also the easiest, cheapest, and most sustainable activity you can do. In bad weather, just walk around your house, up and down your stairs while you listen to music, watch/listen to TV, listen to an audiobook, or just think.”
- Evolution, not revolution. “Extreme makeovers don’t last,” cautions Dr. Hahn. “Instead of going totally plant-based, start with a ‘meatless Monday.’ Instead of half your plate being fruits and veggies, just eat one more fruit a day. Sleep 30 more minutes a night instead of trying to get eight hours straight. Instead of working out six days a week, start with one.”
- Take a hike! “Being outside, especially in greenspaces, has been shown to lower cortisol (a stress hormone), lower blood pressure, and improve mood,” Dr. Hahn says. “Fresh air and sunshine are good for you. Take a short walk at lunch. Take a local hike, run, or bike ride every weekend.”
- De-stress. “It’s easy to say, but so important to do,” says Dr. Hahn. “Don’t fret about things you can’t control, which is most everything. Don’t compare yourself to others—they have their own issues, and those may be worse than yours. Minimize watching the news. Also, depending on the person, limit social media. The news, comparisons with everyone else’s choreographed photos, and outright bullying have all been shown to hurt mental health. Sleep and exercise are probably the two best ways to de-stress and get healthier.”
- If you believe in a higher power, pray. “It’s ok to pray for yourself,” says Dr. Hahn “but also prayers for your family and friends.”
Knowing your risk for heart disease is an important step in keeping your heart healthy. Visit ketteringhealth.org/heart to take our risk quiz.