In 2010, the American Heart Association set the bold goal of improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent. In setting this goal, they created a paradigm shift from the treatment of cardiovascular disease to the promotion of cardiovascular health. Their recommendation was based on more than a decade of data showing adults who reach middle age without any major cardiovascular disease risk factors have a high chance of staying healthy well into old age. They don’t just have lower rates of heart disease and stroke; they also have lower rates of cancer, memory loss and kidney disease.
What is cardiovascular health? The American Heart Association defines cardiovascular health as having optimal blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood glucose while also maintaining a normal weight, not smoking, being physically active and eating well.
Unfortunately, essentially zero Americans have all seven of these cardiovascular health factors — mostly due to the unhealthy American diet. Only 19 percent of teens and 8 percent of young adults have six of the seven.
As an adolescent medicine physician at Boston Children’s Hospital, my research focuses on how we can keep teens heart healthy as they transition to adulthood.
My patients and their parents often ask about cardiovascular health. Here’s how I answer some of the most common questions.
What can you do to help keep yourself and your teen heart healthy?
Even just 75 minute of exercise per week meets the American Heart Association recommendation for adults. For kids and teens, 60 minutes per day is ideal, and it can be broken up into chunks throughout the day. Take the stairs, get off your train or bus a stop early, or park the car a little further away from your destination to get some extra minutes in.
The American Heart Association recommends a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish while minimizing sugar-sweetened beverages and salt. Bonus points if you can limit processed meats and increase your consumption of nuts, beans and seeds.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Get regular check-ups.
Your teen should see a doctor regularly to check in about lots of health issues, not just heart health. The National Institutes of Health recommends teens have their blood pressure checked once a year, their cholesterol checked at least once in adolescence, and their blood sugar checked if diabetes runs in your family or they have other risk factors for diabetes.
About the blogger: Dr. Holly Gooding and her colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Adolescent Health entitled Achieving Cardiovascular Health in Young Adulthood — Which Adolescent Factors Matter. They looked at body mass index, smoking status and physical activity in teens and how they were associated with cardiovascular health in young adulthood. Read the study.
Learn more about the Boston Children’s Division of Adolescent Medicine.