Parents, it starts with you. You are the first and most important
influence on the current and future health of your children. The example you set could put your children on a course for a lifetime of healthy living, especially when it comes to heart health. The health risks posed by a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet and
obesity are immediate because heart health matters at any age, even in young children.
Najman, MD, Cardiology at NorthShore, shares some easy ways that parents can set a heart-healthy example for their children while also improving their own health:
Healthy diet. If you want your children to eat fruits and vegetables,
you need to set the example by eating fruits and vegetables yourself. Include your children in the decision making and help guide them by discussing the benefits of the delicious fruits, vegetables and whole grains that you will eat together as a family
every night. If children grow up eating healthy foods together with their parents, eating those same foods as young adults and adults won’t feel strange or difficult at all; those same foods will be what they ate growing up.
Show your children that exercise is important by maintaining a regular workout routine. And, as often as you can, get every member of the family involved in a fun, physical activity. Jog together as a family; ride bikes together as a family; go on a brisk
evening walk together as a family. Children experience the same health benefits of exercise as adults—strong bones and muscles, maintenance of a healthy weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and a regular exercise routine reduces one’s
risk for heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and more. Get your kids moving now and they will likely maintain that active lifestyle later in life. Lead by example!
Smoke-Free. If you quit smoking, your kids are less likely to start.
Smoking is more common in teenagers whose parents smoke. If you are still smoking, quit. Secondhand smoke is linked to lung cancer but it also increases the risk of multiple types of cancers, heart disease, diabetes and many other medical issues as well.
Maintain a healthy weight. Today in the U.S., one child out of three is considered obese or overweight. Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, once common health issues encountered only in adulthood, have developed in children as young
as seven. Obese children are also more likely to become obese adults, increasing their risk of developing heart disease later in life. Don’t focus on weight with children; instead, shift to leading a healthy lifestyle as a family. Lifestyle changes
like eating right as a family and exercising can make all the difference.
What do you do to set a heart-healthy example for your children?
Paul Pearson, MD, PhD, Cardiovascular Surgery at NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute, enjoys a good challenge, which is what ultimately drew him to medicine, first as Illinois’s youngest paramedic and later as a surgeon.
Here, Dr. Pearson tells us what he finds most rewarding about his vocation and how his experiences as a parent of children with heart issues help him better understand and communicate with his patients:
What inspired you to go into
medicine?I have always enjoyed the excitement and challenges that characterize certain aspects of the medical field. I grew up watching the 1970s television show Emergency!, and was inspired to become a paramedic, as it turns
out the youngest paramedic in Illinois, at a time when the concept of pre-hospital advanced life support was just taking hold. Not only was I able to work through college but I was immersed in the excitement of critical situations where advanced training,
technology and quick, informed decision-making could save lives.
Why did you choose cardiac surgery? I have always thought that cardiac surgery expressed all of the best elements of medicine—advanced technology, highly trained
and skilled practitioners, decades of scientific inquiry and investigation—all applied to some of the most challenging, life-threatening health problems.
What do you find most challenging about your work?Any heart surgeon
will tell you that what keeps them from sleeping at night is the expression, “What we don’t know, we don’t know.” It’s when a critical situation occurs because of the inevitable gaps in our knowledge. This is where the years of
study, training and experience all need to come together to produce a good clinical outcome.
What do you find most rewarding? For me, the most rewarding aspect of surgery is the post-operative visit with the patient. By
that time, the patient is feeling better, recovery from surgery is well underway and the patient has usually been able to reflect on the dangerous journey through which they came out safe. For some patients, it is summarized as, “Thank you for
saving my life.”
How does your personal experience as a father of children with heart defects affect the way you practice medicine and connect with your patients? Two of my boys were born with ventricular septal defects
(VSDs). I vividly remember the first time their mom called me in tears and told me that the pediatrician had detected a heart problem in our newborn son. There was a rush of emotions, followed by questions and “what ifs.” I frequently
recall those emotions and still remember what I needed to hear from my son’s doctors. This helps guide me as I talk with patients in consultation today.
Why do you think heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the U.S.?The human body was designed to work, be active and challenged both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, we have transformed into a society of inactivity, at both the physical and mental level. This has resulted in dramatic consequences on
our cardiovascular system, body and, I also think, soul.
What do you think is the most important thing we can do to care for our hearts?It is really very simple. Be active. Push yourself. Sweat! Have your diet be one of moderation.
And for those who are physically able, jogging in the springtime rain is great for the heart and soul.
What inspires you outside of medicine?I love to read good books, listen to classical music played by a skilled orchestra lead
by a gifted conductor. Of course, I thoroughly enjoy spending time with my children. However, to reflect about life, nothing beats a summertime walk on the North Shore at twilight.
So often when we are making meal choices, we don’t skip a beat to think about the health implications our decisions have on our body. Eating
a well-balanced, nutritious diet is one way to stay healthy, and being diligent about making smart choices day-after-day can also help you feel better (both physically and mentally). Along with these benefits, eating right can help reduce your risk of illness
February is Heart Awareness Month and a great time to focus on your cardiovascular health while still enjoying what you eat.
Kimberly Hammon, Registered Dietitian, gives some nutrition tips on eating right for your heart:
Kimberly shares one of her favorite, healthy recipes to get you on track for a healthy heart.
Easy Chicken Pot Pie:
Cook time: 45 minutes
1 2/3 cups frozen mixed vegetables (thawed)
1 cup cooked chicken (cut-up)
1 can low-fat cream of chicken soup (10 ¾ oz )
1 cup reduced-fat baking mix
½ cup low-fat or skim milk
1/6 of Pie: 180 calories, 3 grams of fat, 13 grams of protein, 420 mg sodium.
Source: Texas Cooperative Extension
What is your favorite healthy recipe?