February has been recognized as American Heart Month since
1963 yet heart disease has increased since that time and is now the leading
cause of death across the United States. Statistics from the American Heart Association
show that heart disease is responsible for one out of every three female deaths
in America. Fortunately, scientific understanding about heart disease has
exploded since the 1960s, giving Americans today the knowledge of how to prevent
heart disease. And who is better to promote heart heath awareness in America
than moms across the country?
The old adage that “more is caught than taught” is just as true about heart health habits as anything else. And fortunately, the CDC claims that more than 80% of heart disease is completely preventable! We, as moms, have the ability and responsibility to empower the next generation to make heart healthy choices that prevent heart disease and reverse current trends.
I want to share some steps we have taken in our own family to help our four children to take the reins of their own health and prevent heart disease.
1. We read, study, and learn together about healthy choices. Kids are never too young to learn simple steps they can make in daily choices that will impact their lives forever. We discuss health habits and make informed decisions as a family while holding each other accountable to higher standards. Knowledge is power.
2. Our kids have watched us exercise and have been involved in exercising adventures since they were very young. This includes anything from Tabatas, to family hikes, to biking the Virginia Creeper Trail, to strength training, to jumping on the trampoline together. The point is, we need to keep moving to prevent heart disease, and what better way to do it than as a family.
3. We started to make changes about 8 years ago in the way we looked at food as a family. We had been accustomed to eating the standard American diet, which unfortunately is trapping most of our country into obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. We started taking simple steps to reduce processed foods, simple carbohydrates, fatty meats, and sugars, and to increase heart healthy foods like green leafy vegetables, beans, and nuts. We have fun as a family cooking together and trying new recipes. Some of the most delicious heart healthy foods we have eaten are things we never expected to enjoy like sugar free green smoothies and black bean brownies.
4. We have taken efforts to unplug and de-stress as a family. Stress is linked to heart disease, and teaching kids stress coping skills will carry with them through life, potentially decreasing that risk. There are many ways to go about this, but one thing we have done is providing a “down time” every day where each member of the family has the opportunity to be quiet and alone without electronic use. During that time, we decompress and practice mindfulness.
Whatever it is that you decide to do, you must do something to positively impact your heart health and that of your own family. Moms across America can’t just complacently let our children watch us participate in habits that we know are not beneficial for us and will not help them as they grow into responsible adults. Remember that small steps will make big differences. Empower yourself, empower your kids, and impact the future.
PS. Smoking, alcohol, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, were not an issue for our family; however, they are crucial when it comes to heart health. If any of these issues are impacting your life, I encourage you to seek out the advice of a medical professional who will not just give you pills but will also help you make positive lifestyle changes!
Jennifer Harrington knew she wanted to go into medicine at an early age. Eventually that dream came true as she earned her Master’s in Health Science and was certified as a Physician Assistant. After over 10 years caring for patients in a family practice, she started teaching at the Lincoln Memorial University Physician Assistant Program. She continues to encourage heart healthy choices to her students and hopes that she is even making a bigger impact in patient lives by training those students to be excellent clinicians who are concerned about the whole patient and who empower patients to make better lifestyle choices. Jennifer also leads an annual medical mission to Peru where over 10,000 patients have been treated. Additionally, she is working on her Doctor of Medical Science degree in hopes of making an even bigger impact in the field of medicine. Jennifer served as the 2017 Kentucky Mother of the Year