February is Heart Health month, which is something we usually think about for adults.  But what I love about being a pediatric specialist is that I can PREVENT health problems in the future through education and advocacy.  Also,, I work with parents all day – and I want them to be healthy too!  So that means heart health month is very important for pediatricians too. 

Here are 7 tips for things you can teach your child (and yourself) NOW that will improve their (your) heart health in the future.  The habits that are learned during childhood, tend to be ones that influence lifelong health.

  1. Body Movement – ideally moving regularly throughout the day, but that can be hard the way our lifestyle is set up.  Notice I didn’t say “exercise”, because that term is very limiting.  Body movement can be accomplished through doing chores, gardening, playing, dancing, hiking, yoga, and so much more. 
  2. Eat the rainbow of veggies each week – vegetables (and fruit) contain phytochemicals which have multiple effects on the cardiovascular system as a whole.  I find that MOST kids do well with eating fruit, so I have parents focus on vegetables.  Aim for at least 5-9 servings of Veggies and Fruit daily – but know that some of the healthiest societies regularly eat upwards of 12 (yes TWELVE) servings daily.
  3. Eat healthy fats – healthy fats are generally oils that have not been heavily processed – they often read cold pressed or expeller pressed on the label.  Cook with avocado oil, add olive oil to salads/greens.  These oils can also be found in whole foods (avocado, olive, etc) and while in the whole food have other benefits including phytochemicals and fiber!  Limit saturated fats (usually solid at room temperature). 
  4. Breathe – our fast-paced lives cause us to our sympathetic nervous system to be engaged constantly – which makes the heart work harder.  Breathing slowly and deeply engages our parasympathetic nervous system, which is our relaxation system.  This helps more than just our hearts; it allows us to digest and absorb all those helpful phytochemicals and nutrients from all those veggies we are eating! There are several apps available to learn deep breathing – the one we like is Calm.
  5. Laugh – Laughter can increase blood flow, dilates blood vessels, cause release of nitric oxide and reduce stress hormones, all of which help heart health.  Find some people to laugh with, or even try laughter yoga!
  6. Be in Nature – being in nature has many benefits which help the heart, most of all it induces relaxation which reduces stress, which helps the heart.  Get outside and play!
  7. Connect – connection and belonging are very important for overall health, including heart health.  We are live in a transient society where more and more people move away from family and loved ones.  While social media allows us to see what is happening in others’ lives, we are often not truly connected to others.  Find a tribe!  Get connected!