Heart Health for Teens
February is American Heart Month. More than likely, you are not worried about your teen’s heart health, and for obvious reason: the majority of teens have strong, healthy hearts because they are young! But, many of the habits that are established in the adolescent years can impact our children’s heart health throughout their lives. Parents can make a difference in the heart health of their teens by teaching them positive behaviors now that will influence their adult health. Here are some suggestions:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 9 out of every 10 cigarette smokers first tried smoking by age 18. Every day, almost 3,900 teens try their first cigarette. That means that you, as a parent, have one of the most influential roles in your teen’s future heart health! Make sure that you don’t smoke, so that you are role modeling what you expect. And, talk to your teen. They need to know about the consequences, both now and in the future, of smoking. They also need your advice on how to handle peer pressure on this issue. Empower them with a way to decline cigarettes and other drugs, while still saving face with their friends. You might want to read our previous blog, “Teen Smoking.”
Engage in Physical Activity
Studies show that a child’s physical activity decreases during adolescence, but exercise is crucial to healthy living and is a natural mood enhancer. Exercise and fitness play a huge role in protecting your heart, maintaining a healthy weight, and feeling good in general. Being active releases natural feel-good hormones. School sports can satisfy this need, but if your child does not participate in sports, be sure you encourage them to exercise. But, don’t try to force your teen to do traditional exercises (such as sit-ups and push-ups) if they are having trouble with motivation. Instead, help them find activities they enjoy, such as going for a walk, swimming, skateboarding, or riding a bike. Talk to your teen about the benefits of exercise, and again, role model good fitness for them.
Eat a Healthy Diet
About one in three kids in the United States is overweight or obese. Eating out, larger portion sizes and junk food are major culprits. An overweight child has a 70 to 80 percent chance of staying overweight as an adult. It’s important to establish good habits at home now. Provide healthy foods at meals, limit the amount of junk food available at home, and make a habit of eating together as a family. Explain what makes up a well-balanced, nutritious, healthy diet. Talk to your teen about how the foods they choose to eat can affect his or her health, appearance and energy level.
Your teen may act like they don’t care what you have to say, but studies show that they are watching and listening to you more than you realize. Don’t underestimate your influence. Be sure to have discussions about the importance of not smoking, physical activity and a proper diet. But more importantly, role model healthy behaviors. You can foster a healthy environment in your home by doing these things yourself. If you smoke, quit. If you are overweight, eat healthier meals together, and get moving as a family.