Q & A — It’s never too early to develop heart-healthy habits

Heart disease, often called cardiovascular disease, refers to a variety of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. It’s one of the leading causes of death for adults in the United States. However, there are several steps you can take to lower your risk of heart disease. While there are some heart problems people are born with, you can prevent or better manage many heart-related issues by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Lauren Havens, nurse practitioner with Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, shares her thoughts about thinking heart healthy, especially at a young age.

Q: What’s a good age to start acting heart healthy?

Havens: It’s never too early to develop heart healthy habits. Developing habits early on with good nutrition, exercise and regular health care visits can benefit you throughout life. Starting young not only strengthens your heart and may prevent disease, it also lays the foundation for better habits as an adult.

Q: What kinds of foods are good for kids’ and young adults’ hearts as they age?

Havens: Making smarter food choices leads to stronger cardiovascular and overall health. Our food selection also helps us maintain a healthy weight, which is essential for heart health. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, whole-grains and lean protein (chicken and fish) are the mainstay of heart health.

Q: What are some ways kids and young adults can be heart healthy at various stages of development?

Havens: At any age, being active is important. For children ages 2 and older, it’s recommended they get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day.

Limit screen time. In other words, spend less time on the computer and television and more time doing activities. Organized sports are a good way to get children involved in exercise and also promote teamwork. If a child is not interested in sports, other activities include walking, biking, jumping rope or simply playing outdoors.

Q: What’s the impact of thinking about heart health from an early age?

Havens: Setting up heart healthy habits at a young age impacts future health. Maintaining a healthy weight, consuming heart healthy foods and exercising regularly can all significantly lower your chance of developing heart disease, and contributes to a longer and better quality life.

Q: Is it ever too late to start thinking about heart health?

Havens: It’s never too late to start thinking about heart health. Even if you already have cardiovascular problems, making lifestyle changes and following a heart-healthy plan can reduce your chances of complications and help manage current problems. For instance, making lifestyle changes such as working towards a healthy weight, consuming a heart healthy diet and exercising regularly may even decrease the amount of medications you require — or make the ones you’re taking more effective.

Lauren Havens, D.N.P., is a family medicine provider at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

Reach Dana Melius at 507-931-8567.

Former Regional Managing Editor, Adams Publishing Group--Southern Minnesota/Western Division: St. Peter Herald, Waseca County News, Le Center Leader, Le Sueur News-Herald. Now serving as a freelance reporter.

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