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Heart Healthy Families, Heart Healthy Futures

By Emily Savage

Lace and glitter construction-paper crafts are not the only hearts that take center stage this month. February is American Heart Month and our priority is keeping you and your family heart healthy.  BCB Resident Pediatrician, Dr. Jennifer Newport, MD of Lakeview Pediatrics, provides some valuable tips to help promote cardiovascular health (the heart and the blood vessels) for you and your family through all stages of life. 

Heart Health Tips During Pregnancy

  1. A focus on pregnancy heart health: healthy eating, continued exercise throughout pregnancy (as tolerated and as appropriate for your medical conditions), keeping medical issues with cardiac implications, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, rigorously managed— are all important parts of your cardiovascular health during pregnancy.
  2. Make sure you know your cardiac family history if possible. This includes any heart problems in yourself, your partner, siblings, parents, grandparents or cousins might require extra cardiac testing for the fetus or extra monitoring for a pregnant parent.
  3. Don’t ignore potentially severe cardiovascular post-delivery symptoms. Women hear a lot about preeclampsia prior to pregnancy, but may not realize that it can set in after the baby arrives. Symptoms in the first few days after delivery, such as nausea, vomiting, headache, abdominal pain, decreased urine output, sudden weight gain, and/or shortness of breath need to be discussed with your doctor right away.

Heart Health Eating Tips for the Whole Family

  1. Heart-healthy eating, often called ‘The Mediterranean diet,’ is a diet dominated by veggies, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats, such as olive oil.
  2. Add weekly portions of fish, poultry, beans and eggs, moderate portions of dairy products and limited portions of red meat. Those who follow such a diet have lower overall rates of cardiovascular illness over their lifespans.
  3. But what if your kids won’t eat ANYTHING healthy?! Sneak it in! Hide vegetables in chicken meatballs or shred zucchini into brown rice for color; blend pumpkin into spaghetti sauce or pizza sauce; frozen bake-able veggie nuggets can substitute for tater tots.
  4. When children are among their peers, they often model more adventurous eaters. This often happens naturally at school meals, and you can take opportunities to have them share meals with less-picky friends and family.

Stay Active All Year Long

  1. Finding ways to exercise during the winter is a recurrent complaint among my patient parents, who admit that screen time increases during the winter. Kids who walk or bike to school in the spring and summer, lose that possibly small, but regular access to daily exercise as the temperatures drop and the sidewalks get slippery.
  2. Try to find indoor substitutions for outdoor activities and playground time. Indoor play spaces are available, but can be pricey. McDonald’s expends winter toddler energy with their ‘free’ play places, but a hamburger and fries is working against the heart healthy goal.
  3. Another option to use up some of that pent up energy: a YouTube or iTunes dance party. Try different styles of music. You may be surprised to find your two year old doesn’t want “Baby Shark”, but won’t stop bouncing around to bluegrass or pop music.
  4. For folks who have a physically-interactive video game console used the RIGHT way (up on the feet, really *doing* the game, not lying on the couch, shaking the controller with one wrist), that could be an argument for a little extra screen time. And embrace the winter—it’s part of the Chicago experience! Build a snowman, go sledding, or have a friendly snowball fight!
  5. Get your kids involved in organized sports. Children who get involved in sports early are more likely to continue to have physical activity as part of their daily life than those who don’t try to pick up a sport or physical practice until their 20s or 30s. For kids who aren’t interested in more-traditional sports (soccer, baseball, etc), keep your eyes open for different options—fencing, junior ninja warriors, cultural dance, or martial arts, for example.

And, just in case it needs to be said…

  1. Don’t smoke.
  2. If of legal age, drink alcohol in moderation or not at all.  Resveratrol, found in red wine and possibly supportive of heart health, can also be found in red grapes, blueberries and pistachios.
  3. Don’t use drugs of abuse (such as cocaine, meth, prescription amphetamines not prescribed for you or at a higher dose than you were prescribed, etc.). Seek help for eating disorders, which can have severe cardiac complications. It can be difficult to stop any of these habits on your own—don’t be afraid to look to professionals for help! If you are on a cardiac/blood pressure medicine take it as close to ‘as directed’ as possible.

Last but not least…

  1. Preventing heart and overall cardiovascular disease is a lifelong process. Making it a family goal can keep it fun and make it a natural part of day-to-day life that will benefit you and your family far into the future.
  2. REMEMBER:  Know your family history. If there is a relative with high cholesterol, your children should have their lipids tested earlier than the routine screening time (nine-11 years old).
  3. Lead by example. If parents don’t exercise, their children are less likely to exercise as well. Work toward healthy family activities—if walking or biking to school is an option, take it. Active family vacations and weekend trips bring everyone together. State parks with camping, hiking, cross country skiing, and possibly swimming, don’t have to be too expensive.


You can find more from Dr. Newport and Lakeview Pediatrics on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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