Heart health: Lifestyle changes for kids to prevent heart attacks later in life | Health
Covid-19 has left a long-lasting impact on our heart health and a series of recent sudden cardiac arrests prove that we are not doing enough for one of our most important organs which works 24 hours a day to deliver oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body . Recently, a bride in her early twenties died of sudden cardiac arrest during her wedding ceremony in Lucknow while a 16-year-old boy died while playing cricket. Bus drivers, people dancing at weddings, at concerts and pujas succumbing to cardiac arrest are worrisome and require urgent action and lifestyle changes. Heart attacks and heart ailments are not only common in young adults apart from the elderly, but also threaten to affect teenagers and children. (Also read: Is Covid-19 vaccine causing rise in heart attack cases? Here’s what cardiologists say)
While children used to be more physically active, they are now quickly becoming sedentary due to increased interest in smartphones, video games and other gadgets. They are also eating more junk food than ever before. Stress and competition start to affect children early these days due to peer and parental pressure. All of these risk factors are likely to affect their heart health later in life. If you also don’t think twice before letting your child munch on that burger and fries and sip on colas, it’s high time to serve them healthy alternatives to their favorite unhealthy foods.
“According to the American Heart Association (AHA), certain factors, either genetic or environmental, play an important role in a person’s chances of developing heart disease. Some of these risk factors can be modified or treated, and some cannot. When these risk factors do develop in a early age, they are likely to progress over time, putting individuals at high risk for heart attacks in adulthood. The good news is that several studies have now shown that preventing or controlling these risk factors early in life leads to a dramatic reduction in cardiovascular disease in adulthood. We can implement lifestyle and behavioral changes in our children by identifying and preventing these risk factors early,” says Dr. Sanah Merchant Soomar, Consultant Pediatric Cardiologist, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital.
Dr Soomar discusses lifestyle factors that put your teenager at risk of having a heart attack.
High blood pressure
Blood pressure should be evaluated even in children during routine pediatrician visits. This condition is uncommon in children, but when present, it is a serious risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Children with a strong family history of heart disease and high blood pressure should be monitored more closely. In most cases, lifestyle changes will help prevent children from developing high blood pressure.
Lifestyle changes for high blood pressure
• Help your child maintain a healthy body weight. Overweight children usually have higher blood pressure.
• Increase their physical activity.
• Limit the daily salt intake.
• Smoking increases blood pressure. Warn teenagers about the dangers of cigarette smoking and drug abuse. The nicotine in cigarettes causes the blood vessels to narrow, making it even harder for blood to flow through the vessels.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance called a lipid found in all body cells. Fewer than 15% of children have high cholesterol levels, but when present, it can cause fatty plaque build-up in blood vessels that begins in childhood and progresses into adulthood. This disease process is called atherosclerosis. Over time, atherosclerosis leads to heart disease, which is the single leading cause of adult death in India over the past 2 decades. This condition is often genetic and runs in families.
Lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol
• Children and teenagers should exercise daily.
• Eat foods that are low in cholesterol and fat and consume more whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables. Healthy eating habits should be started at a young age, and avoid deep-fried foods. Avoid excessive carbohydrates and sugars (such as rice, wheat, bread and juices) as these are also stored as fats in the body. A diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates and saturated fat is best.
• Know the dangers of cigarette smoking.
• Manage weight to avoid the risks associated with obesity.
• Control diabetes, high blood pressure, or other conditions that contribute to heart disease.
Almost 1 crore people die every year from heart diseases caused by smoking. Among young people who would otherwise be at very low risk for heart disease, cigarette smoking can cause as many as 75 percent of heart disease cases.
A child whose body mass index (BMI) is above the 95th percentile is considered overweight. It is a major risk factor for heart disease. It can also lead to the development of type 2 diabetes in teenagers. Children become overweight simply because they eat more calories than they burn during exercise and daily life.
The American Heart Association recommends that all children age 5 and older get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. It should include a mix of moderate and high-intensity activities.
In summary, modifying risk factors in early childhood and introducing good behaviors, especially healthy eating habits and daily exercise, will lead to reduced heart disease later in life.
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