The Heart Of The Matter

By Jennifer Gregory


As parents, we are so busy packing lunches and reading bedtime stories, we often forget to make the time to take care of ourselves and our health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease. By reducing your risk for heart disease, you are giving your children the gift of having a healthy parent. When you create a healthy lifestyle for yourself and your family, you are also instilling lifelong habits in your children.

One of the most important things that you can do for your heart is to maintain a healthy weight. The American Heart Association now recognizes obesity as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which can lead to a heart attack. Dr. James P. O’Rourke, Cardiothoracic Surgeon says, “Obesity can raise LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and lower HDL ‘good’ cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is linked with lower heart disease and stroke risk, so reducing it tends to raise the risk.” By incorporating these fun habits into your day, you will reduce your family’s risk for both heart disease and obesity. 

Get moving.

If your child sees you enjoying exercise regularly, she will develop a positive attitude towards exercise and want to be active. When you exercise as a family, you are also spending time together and creating family memories. Dr. Patrick Withrow, Interventional Cardiologist, advises, “The most important exercise is the one that you will do.” He recommends that families try walking together because it has the lowest dropout rate of any form of exercise and does not require any special equipment. Consider taking a walk together after dinner or exploring nearby parks or trails on the weekends. Biking is another popular family activity that even younger kids can enjoy.

If you are looking for a quick activity for all ages, try a game of hide-and-seek, kick the can or freeze tag. On wet or cold days, put on some energetic music and dance around the living room together. You can also set up an obstacle course around the house and see who can complete it in the shortest amount of time.

Reduce stress.

Withrow says, “Out of the all factors, chronic and unrelenting stress over a situation that you can’t change will age you the fastest.”  By reducing the stress in your life, you can improve your overall health and lower your blood pressure. You will also teach your child positive ways to manage stress that they can use throughout their life. 

Make sure that you take time as a family to laugh and have fun together.  Set up regular family time, such as family meals, game night or walks together after dinner.  Talk about family issues and encourage open communication between family members.  Regular exercise will also help reduce stress and provide a positive outlet for any frustrations.

Eat heart healthy foods.

Eating a healthy diet that contains lean meats, fruits, whole grains and vegetables will help your family maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk for heart disease.  Ruth Kraper, Registered Dietitian, suggests “Offer your children encouragement and lots of praise for trying new foods. If they are still reluctant, continue to offer the food and try serving it in a different way.”  

Consider serving new foods in a kid- friendly manner, such as making a face out of vegetables or coming up with fun names for new foods. Since children are often more willing to eat food that they helped prepare, have your children help you in the kitchen whenever possible. 

Prepare meals at home.

When you eat meals at a restaurant, the food typically contains more trans fats than home -cooked food and the portion sizes are larger than those you would serve yourself.  Kraper advises families to, “Have a family sit down meal as a priority. Your family will benefit significantly by having this together time. Your children will learn that eating on the run should be the exception instead of the norm.”  

Consider packing lunches for your whole family instead of eating lunch at school or work. Some healthy lunch options include sandwiches with lean meat on whole grain bread without cheese. Many children enjoy peanut butter on whole wheat bread with raisins or cranberries. Try adding a new fruit to everyone’s lunches each week, such as kiwi, mangos or plums. 

Keep your family smoke free.

One of the best heart healthy habits that you can develop is to not smoke or quit smoking. According to the American Lung Association, approximately 20 percent of adults are smoke tobacco products. In addition to the immediate health benefits that you are providing for yourself and extending your life, you are modeling a smoke-free lifestyle to your children. Talk to your children from an early age about the health risks of smoking and encourage open communication. 

According to Office of the Surgeon General, there is no level of second-hand smoke that is safe for children and even small amounts of smoke can be harmful.  By eliminating second-hand smoke, you are reducing your child’s risk for asthma, ear infections, and bronchitis. Make sure that they are also not exposed to second-hand smoke from relatives and public places. For information and tips on how to break your addiction to nicotine, see the American Lung Association website at

As you create a healthy lifestyle for your family, be sure to be positive towards the changes and keep the emphasis on spending time together. Stay on the lookout for new ways to integrate heart healthy habits into your life, such as a new sport or a new recipe. 

Newsletter Signup

Your Weekly guide to Baton Rouge family fun. BR Parents has a newsletter for every parent. Sign Up