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Healthy Heart Tips


February is Heart Month and a perfect time to talk about taking care of your heart!

How healthy is your heart? Did you know that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in Arkansas? Among Arkansas children ages 0-5, 8% are obese. For children in grades 9-12, more than 15% are overweight. These are alarming statistics, but making lifestyle changes early can help to lower this number.

What is heart disease? The heart is the center of the cardiovascular system. Through the body’s blood vessels, the heart pumps blood to all of the body’s cells. The blood carries oxygen, which the cells need. Cardiovascular disease is a group of problems that occur when the heart and blood vessels aren’t working the way they should. Here are some of the problems that go along with cardiovascular disease:

  • Arteriosclerosis – Also referred to as hardening of the arteries, arteriosclerosis means the arteries become thickened and are no longer flexible.
  • Atherosclerosis – A buildup of cholesterol and fat that makes arteries narrower so less blood can flow through. Those buildups are called plaque.
  • Heart attack – This is when a blood clot or other blockage cuts blood flow to a part of the heart.
  • Stroke – This is when part of the brain doesn’t get enough blood due to a clot or burst blood vessel.

While heart disease is not a major cause of death among children and teenagers, if healthy habits are developed early on, it could possibly prevent issues down the road. There are certain risk factors that play an important role in a person’s chance of developing heart disease. Some risk factors can be changed, treated or modified, and some cannot. Family history and a condition that develops secondary to another illness or disease are examples of risk factors that can’t be changed. However, risk factors that we do have control over include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Physical Activity

So how can you get your child off to the right start? First, help him or her to maintain a healthy body weight. This can be done through monitoring food intake and increasing physical activity. Here are a few more specific tips to a healthier lifestyle:

  • Make at least half your plate whole grain
  • Make the other half of your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Choose more calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt, and lower fat cheeses
  • Go lean with the protein – choose seafood, beans, peas or nuts
  • Limit salt intake
  • Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water a day
  • Watch portion sizes
  • Exercise at least an hour every day

Parents have to set the example. Children should be involved with grocery shopping and meal preparation. Make it fun for everyone! And get outside and exercise together as a family! It will do your heart some good!

Shannon Hendrix is director of nutrition services at Arkansas Heart Hospital. For more information about these healthy lifestyle tips, visit

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