Those same seven health factors and behaviors are especially important to young people, helping them develop healthy habits that will carry throughout their lives.
“Most kids are born with ideal cardiovascular health and it’s an amazing asset if we can maintain it as long as possible,” said Christina M. Shay, Ph.D., who helped develop educational materials for the American Heart Association to help kids and their families in this area.
The Life’s Simple 7 health factors and behaviors are: Get active; eat a healthy diet; maintain a healthy weight; control cholesterol; manage blood pressure; reduce blood sugar; don’t smoke or stop smoking.
Research has shown that following Life’s Simple 7 can help people move toward “ideal cardiovascular health,” which lowers chances of heart disease, stroke and other health problems. Even small improvements have been shown to improve health.
Helping children and teens lay the groundwork for good habits throughout their lives is critically important, especially as key risk factors, such as obesity, rise among children, said Shay, who is a research assistant professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
“If individuals develop unhealthy behaviors or unfavorable risk factors during childhood or adolescence, they’re more likely to continue those as adults,” Shay said.
In fact, people who reach middle age with ideal levels of Life’s Simple 7 are 80 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular diseases than adults who have two or more risk factors at that age.
To help kids and their families learn more about how to stay healthy and lower their risks for cardiovascular disease as adults, the American Heart Association has launched a Life’s Simple 7 for Kids website and downloadable resource.
Life’s Simple 7 for Kids translates those lifestyle components for younger audiences, giving them the tools to understand why staying healthy is important and offering age-appropriate suggestions for simple steps to getting healthier.
For example, to promote getting active, Life’s Simple 7 for Kids encourages kids to run, walk and play every day. Other practical suggestions includes video games or mobile apps that involve dance, exercise or sports to help kids get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, like the NFL Play 60 app from the AHA.
In the eating healthy section, the campaign teaches kids about the components of healthy eating and tips on making healthy choices, such as drinking water instead of sugary drinks when thirsty.
The site also tools to help kids measure their own cardiovascular health and track their progress, offering tips for how to improve their health for those who have already have developed risk factors.
“Children often assume they’ll just stay healthy, they don’t tend to think about keeping themselves healthy,” Shay said. “This is about showing kids that keeping their hearts healthy is just as important as other health-related activities like brushing their teeth or taking a shower.”
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