Heart Health for Children

Heart Health for ChildrenHeart health is relevant for people of all ages. Although heart disease is most common in people middle aged and older, the habits that contribute to it begin much younger, often in childhood. February is Heart Health Month so we’re sharing ways to support heart health for children to help reduce the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions for the next generation.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. Forming heart healthy habits should begin in infancy for your child’s best chance at staying healthy and avoiding this nasty disease. You’re off to a great start by breastfeeding. Not only does breast milk defend against several of the most common risk factors for heart disease including obesity and diabetes, it also gives your baby the best nutritional start to a lifetime full of wholesome and smart nourishment. Breastfeeding sets the stage for great eating habits in the future. Way to go, moms, for starting your babies on the best path to health!

Continuing to focus on good nutrition is important from the time you begin solids until your kids leave the nest. Teaching the components of a balanced diet, learning how food affects your body, serving healthy meals and snacks, preparing food and eating together as a family, and being a role model for healthy eating are all vital to your child’s development of healthy eating habits. Additionally, avoid excessive fats, sugars and salt in your food and limit your consumption of alcohol. All of these contribute to heart disease.

Physical activity is another essential aspect of heart health for children. Starting in infancy, your baby’s muscles and brain are trained for movement. As your children grow into toddlers, preschoolers and beyond, they need at least an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise a day. Of course the best way to incorporate physical activity is through play such as playgrounds, sports, classes and other fun games. Showing your kids the joys of an active life will encourage them to get moving and stay moving for years to come.

Both diet and exercise help prevent obesity, a crucial factor in reducing risk of heart disease (and many other diseases for that matter). Regular yearly check-ups can help keep track of your child’s weight and BMI as well as check other important metrics such as heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. You should also discuss your family’s heart history with your pediatrician to ensure you are keeping an eye on any potential risk factors specific to your child.

Hearth health for children can help prevent cardiovascular complications in the future. Your children are only in your care for a short time during their youth. Support their best health through a balanced diet, physical activity and staying on top of their heart health.

Sources: American Heart Association, CardioSmart and Everyday Health

Breastfeeding and Heart Health

As we enter heart health month in February, we’re going to examine many matters of the heart, both medically and emotionally.  Heart health is genetic but lifestyle factors play a large role in maintaining cardiovascular health and reducing risk factors for heart disease, the number one cause of death among women in the U.S.  One huge lifestyle choice that impacts heart health that is well within your control is breastfeeding.  Today we’re looking at breastfeeding and heart health.

Before we get into breastfeeding, we should talk a little about the toll that pregnancy takes on the heart.  During pregnancy, a woman’s body has to work harder to sustain both herself and her growing baby.  The body’s blood level increases by approximately 50% to help with the task.  But pumping all that extra blood causes the heart to go into overdrive and can leave the heart in worse shape than prior to pregnancy.  However, breastfeeding may be able to reverse this damage and actually improve heart health.

Breastfeeding and heart health__1452884468_50.243.196.179The leading study on breastfeeding and heart health examined 140,000 women after their child-bearing years.  The research was overwhelmingly positive for women who breastfed their babies.  And the longer they breastfed, the greater the benefits.

The study looked at how many women developed heart disease and heart-related risk factors of heart disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.  Researchers found that women who breastfed 7 to 12 months not only had lower incidence of heart disease, but they also had lower occurrence of the other risk factors associated with heart disease.  Conversely, not breastfeeding at all or breastfeeding for a month or less showed to have higher rates of heart-related risk factors.

While we know genetics does impact heart disease, this study found the same results across race, socioeconomic status, income levels and education.  The bottom line showed that a mother’s heart health benefits from breastfeeding.

A more recent study also shows a positive correlation between breastfeeding and heart health.  In this study researchers examined atherosclerosis or the level of plaque built-up in arteries, which is a major risk factor of heart disease.  The women in this study were examined prior to pregnancy and again 20 years later to determine the thickness of their carotid arteries, an indication of atherosclerosis.  Researchers found that 17% of women who breastfed for a year of less had dangerous plaque while 11% of those who breastfed for more than 10 months had this type of plaque.  While this may seem like a small 6% difference, it could be the determining factor of battling heart disease.

Experts in women’s health, cardiology and obstetrics all support breastfeeding as a benefit for heart health.  Many of them claim breastfeeding should be emphasized more and advocacy should be supported to encourage mothers to make this choice not only for their babies but their own health as well.  Beyond heart health, breastfeeding shows great benefits in lowering certain types of hormone related cancers, emotional problems and other health conditions.  Breastfeeding is an essential part of heart health, and one you have control over as you enter your journey into motherhood.  Cheers to your heart health!