Heart-healthy habits begin when you're young
Diet and exercise are great ways to lower cardiovascular risks throughout your life
It's important to stay on top of your heart health numbers
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(Compiled and reviewed by the Regional Cardiac Education Committee, clinical staff and physicians in Providence Health & Services’ Portland Service Area)
If you think heart disease is only a problem older people have to worry about, think again. A healthy heart comes from a lifetime of good habits, which means you're never too young to take care of your ticker, or too old to keep it in good shape. Here are some good heart health tips for every stage of life and every generation — from youngsters and millennials to Gen X and Boomers and Seniors.
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Get 60 minutes of exercise every day. Kids should be breaking a sweat to stay healthy with moderate to vigorous activity. That means walking, running, swimming, or team or individual sports. (Sorry, dancing on Fortnite doesn't count.) Here are a few ideas to help get your kid moving.
Skip the sodas and sweets. The added sugars found in these and other processed foods and drinks can lead to an increased risk for heart disease later in life. Start healthy eating habits now with a diet focused on whole foods--plenty of produce, whole grains and lean proteins. Get your child's day off to a nutritious start with a good-for-you breakfast.
Learn some baseline numbers. Your child will probably get their blood pressure measured during their annual checkups, and cholesterol checks may start when a child is a tween. (If you have any concerns about cholesterol before then, speak with your pediatrician.) If a child is showing signs of prediabetes — they are overweight or obese, and there is a family history of the disease — your doctor may want to check your child's blood sugar level; diabetes can be a risk factor for heart disease.
Here are a few more numbers worth knowing to improve your child’s health.
20s/30s – Millennials/Gen Y
Keep up with your checkups. Younger adults may think they're healthy enough to skip an annual doctor's visit. However, this is an important time to keep up with your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar numbers to make sure nothing is amiss. (For instance, your cholesterol should be below 200 and your blood pressure should be around 120/80 or less.) It's also a great opportunity for your doctor to conduct a cardiac risk assessment.
Know the risk factors and symptoms for heart disease. It always helps to know the signs of heart problems because it may help you catch a cardiac issue in its earliest stages. Remember also that heart attack symptoms are sometimes different in men than in women.
Find out your family history. If you've got relatives with various cardiovascular ailments, that can be valuable information for you and your doctor. A family history of heart disease may influence how your physician treats you by incorporating preventive lifestyle changes and early screenings into your health care plan. Talk with older family members about their health history and draw up a document (there are several examples online) that keeps track of it all.
Don't smoke. If you picked up the habit earlier in life, it's time to stop. (Needless to say, if you haven't started smoking, then don't start now.) Smoking can be a major risk factor for heart attacks and other cardiovascular issues.
Don't party into the wee hours. Who doesn't want to stay out late and have fun? You don't have to be a homebody to have a healthy heart, but you do have to be conscious of how much sleep you're regularly getting. Studies have indicated that sustained poor sleep cycles (either interrupted by sleep apnea or insomnia, or not getting enough hours of sleep) can lead to a host of cardiac issues, including high blood pressure and heart disease, and could even be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
40s/50s – Gen X
Stress less. Career, mortgage, raising kids, caring for elderly parents--you have a lot of responsibilities and it can add up to a lot of stress. That frazzling anxiety can take a toll on your heart, so try some stress relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing. Yoga is also great for easing the mind while stretching your muscles.
Be on top of your BMI. You know your weight can play a role in heart health, so you've ideally continued the healthy eating and exercise habits you started earlier in life. Stay on top of it in middle age and keep an eye on your body mass index (BMI). Generally, a healthy range is 18.5 to 24.9; higher than that may put you at risk for cardiovascular problems.
Listen to your body. You've learned the signs and symptoms of heart attack already, so now is the time to be especially aware of them. This isn't a time to shrug off any chest pain as a mere annoyance. If you are experiencing any signs of a heart attack, call 9-1-1 as soon as possible. Time is of the essence: the earlier you get treatment, the better your chances of having a good outcome.
Late 50s/60s and older – Boomers and Seniors
Keep your friends close. Research has indicated that people who have a vibrant social network (not the online kind, but real-life people to interact with) may have lower stress and blood pressure. Maintain your relationships; if you live alone, try some of these suggestions for going out and meeting people.
Stay active. You may not be able to run a half marathon like you did when you were younger, but you can still keep up with exercising. Physical exercise is good for your heart; if you have certain health conditions or take medications, check with your physician to see what will work best for you. Aim for a mix of aerobic activity (even something as simple as walking or swimming, which can be easier on older joints) and some strength training (hand weights or yoga — the latter also helps with balance and flexibility).
Montana: International Heart Institute
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.