Heart Health Starts on Day One

For centuries, the month of February has been associated with affairs of the heart – first with a pagan Roman fertility celebration on February 15 and later with the advent of St. Valentine’s Day on February 14. No one knows the true identity of the Valentine that lent his or her name to the holiday we know today, and stories explaining the origin of Valentine’s Day are as varied as the sentiments in a bag of candy hearts. But the indelible icon representing Valentine’s Day has remained constant – the heart.

Today, Valentine’s Day celebrations often revolve around decadent dinners and toothsome classroom treats. Chocolate truffles and cupcakes with mile-high frosting take center stage as we celebrate the love in our hearts. What if we instead used this opportunity to pay homage to the organ itself? To use Valentine’s Day as an annual opportunity to assess our heart-healthy habits (even as we’re biting into that cupcake)?

Although it is the leading cause of death in America, few realize that heart disease begins to develop at birth – perhaps even in utero. Anatomical changes in the heart and arteries that will strongly predispose a child to future cardiovascular disease and/or stroke have been observed as early as age 5. But like any of life’s challenges that face our children, there are things we can do to help mitigate the risk of a heart attack or stroke later in life. Making positive changes to a child’s diet, environment, and lifestyle can diminish their genetic predisposition to heart disease.

  • Get rid of Bisphenol-A (BPA) plastics, which are known hormone disruptors and may lead to heart disease and obesity. Purge your kitchen of old water bottles (or even some newer ones that still contain BPA). Use glass food storage and lunch containers wherever possible, and use wax wrappers rather than plastic baggies.
  • Don’t overlook school meals. Kids consume about 40% of calories at school, so make sure healthy choices are available. Send a healthy, appealing home-packed lunch. Shop for ingredients together and allow your child to pack his or her own lunch, choosing between the healthy options that you’ve purchased together. Your child is more likely to eat a lunch that he or she has made.
  • Get the family moving. Sure it is great to bike ride or hike together, but it is also important to instill heart-healthy habits into a child’s daily routine. Take the stairs. Park at the far edge of the parking lot. Walk to school or the store. Wherever life presents a convenient-yet-less physical option, opt out!
  • Slow down! Nearly one in five American meals is eaten in the car, where it is difficult to offer freshly prepared lean meats or veggies. In one study of eighteen developed countries, the United States had the highest obesity rate yet was near the bottom in the average amount of time spent eating each day.
  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Whole ingredients like fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, and dairy are usually found around the sides of the store, whereas processed foods are generally found within.
  • Visit farmers’ markets for local, seasonal produce. Even many northern cities offer indoor markets during the winter. The selection won’t be as vast as a grocery store importing plums from South America, but the items that are available will be tasty and nutritious, and will have had a far smaller environmental impact.
  • Our heart is a muscle that never stops and needs the right nutrients to function properly. You may remember that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell and provides all the energy. Here is a list of supplements that help this little engine work: magnesium, CoQ10, vitamin C, vitamin E, alpha lipoic acid, carnitine and ribose.

Valentine’s Day evolved from a ceremony of fertility to one of love, or from primal to interpersonal connection. Let’s take it one step further this year and make our child’s environment full of love. Embrace them as you always do and add healthy eating, supportive supplements and an increased awareness of toxins.

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