Most people think of heart disease as something that only middle-aged or older folks have to worry about. But long-term studies from the last several decades have shown that heart disease sometimes begins in childhood. Therefore, preventing heart disease later in life begins with eating a healthy diet and developing healthy habits in childhood.
Coronary artery disease, or CAD, is more commonly called heart disease. In truth, CAD can develop into heart disease. CAD is the development of plaques on the walls of arteries that feed the heart muscle. As more plaque is deposited, blood and oxygen flow to the heart are restricted, which can lead to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats and heart attacks later on.
Studies that examined the bodies of youths who died from causes other than heart disease (such as car accidents) have shown that plaques can build in the heart’s arterial walls in the first decade of life. And there is evidence to suggest that plaques that will be in a person’s arteries for life have already formed by the late teens.
Risk factors for CAD include a family history of heart disease, excess weight and lack of regular physical activity. Being that one in three children in the United States is now considered overweight or obese, one can see that a lot of children nowadays are at risk for developing CAD and for getting heart disease later.
Health and pediatric experts recommend that parents and others steer children toward healthy lifestyle choices; the earlier healthy measures are adopted, the more benefit they’re believed to have in a person’s lifetime. Further, intervention through healthy lifestyles can cause developing arterial plaques to diminish, and thus prevent CAD from turning into heart disease, CHD.
What Are Heart-Healthy Choices for Children?
The great thing about being healthy is that in most cases, what’s good for one family member will be good for the others, as well. Healthy habits can be incorporated or increased by the whole family, and all members will benefit.
At the top of the list is diet. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables will go a long way toward promoting heart health. Include heart-healthy oils in your child’s diet, such as those found in fish like salmon and sardines, nuts and seeds, and cooking oils like olive and coconut oils.
Avoiding processed foods is another important element of a good diet. It doesn’t take a lot of work to bake a whole chicken or beef roast in the oven, complete with an assortment of vegetables (that are placed in the baking dish in the second half of the cooking period). The end result is a tasty, great meal, free from all the artificial chemical preservatives and high salt content that pre-packaged meats always have.
Always strive to add vegetables or fruits to all the dishes you make and the snacks you let your children consume. When making oatmeal cereal, for instance, add chopped nuts or chopped fruits to make it even healthier. Keep fruits like bananas around, and cut raw vegetables and chunks of cheese in small containers in the refrigerator; these can be ready to go any time your kids need a snack.
Avoid having unhealthy foods at home, high in salt, sugar or chemicals, and low in nutrients. Instead of letting your kids eat the packaged pastries that are popular with children, for instance, bake cookies at home, folding nuts or adding oatmeal to the cookie recipe to make them more healthy. Nearly all brands of store-bought pastries, cookies (and some kids’ cereals) have hydrogenated oils, which have been linked in studies to CAD. So, this is a case where investing the time to make your own pastries will yield healthier results in the long run.
Help Your Child Lose Excess Weight
Being that extra weight is one of the main predictors of future CAD, help your children stay at a healthy weight by having nutritious, low-sugar snacks in the refrigerator. Two examples: Apple slices and cheese or celery sticks and peanut butter.
Include Plenty of Exercise
Losing extra pounds through exercise is something that the whole family can get into. Your child can certainly join sports activities at school or in the neighborhood, but staying active is good for the whole family. It can also be more fun for multiple family members to participate in a given exercise activity than for one person to go at it by themselves.
Make Sure Your Child Gets Enough Sleep
Be sure your child is going to sleep at a good time every night. Even one night of insufficient sleep slows down a person’s metabolism and can contribute to weight gain. Be mindful that elementary-school children need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night, while teens need about 9 hours.