If we are honest with ourselves, most of us consider conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke something that only older people need to worry about -- that is, people older than we are now.
Personally, I never gave heart disease or high blood pressure a second thought until one of my co-workers suffered her first stroke at age 36.
Within the last two weeks, one woman I know suffered her first heart attack at age 30 and my sister suffered a stroke at age 41 due to unchecked high blood pressure.
So, when should we begin worrying about heart attack and high blood pressure and the sometimes life-threatening, and often physically devastating, effects? Truthfully, it’s never too early to begin living a heart healthy lifestyle.
While lifestyle changes may help manage -- and even prevent -- heart disease and high blood pressure as we age, the trick to enjoying a heart and blood pressure healthy future may rest with the lifestyle choices we make in our childhood and teen years.
According to one Australian study, the lifestyle choices teens make today may have long term health consequences affecting their risk of heart disease and high blood pressure well into the future.
Researchers found that teen behaviors such as consuming excess dietary salt, increased body-mass-index or BMI, obesity, the use of birth control bills, and for teen boys, alcohol, resulted in greater risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
The findings were based on results from the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort Study. Also known as Raine, the study began in 1989 and followed 2868 children from birth to age 17.
By age 17, only 1771 children were still part of the Raine study. Study participants were followed at regular intervals occurring at age 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 10, 14, and 17 years.
At age 17, the remaining participants were asked to provide input on their lifestyle habits including things such as whether or not they were physically active, smoking habits, use of alcohol, diet, contraception usage, and other medications used.
Researchers then calculated the relationship between these lifestyle factors and high blood pressure.
In general, researchers found significant differences in blood pressure between participants who led healthy lifestyles versus participants who engaged in less healthy lifestyle choices.
Participants engaging in poor lifestyle habits were found to have a greater risk of heart disease and stroke during adulthood.
Researchers also found that 24 percent of the participants already had high blood pressure or were pre-hypertensive.
Obesity played a role with 34 and 38 percent, respectively, of overweight and obese participants exhibiting high blood pressure.
Some gender differences were also observed. For example, many teen boys in the study who consumed alcohol and teen girls taking birth control pills were found to already suffer from high blood pressure.
Because it’s uncommon for a child or teenager to die of heart disease or stroke, many teens and young adults may still feel bullet-proof and immune to heart disease and high blood pressure. Lifestyle habits -- both good and bad -- that are formed during the teen years may well become habits which are carried into adulthood.
If those lifestyle habits are bad, today’s behaviors may become tomorrow’s stroke or heart attack. As parents and concerned adults, we can help our teens form good habits now. Here are some healthy guidelines.
As with adults, children and teens need regular physical activity. In fact, physical activity habits set in childhood and the teen years frequently carry over into adulthood. A child who is glued to video games or television is likely to continue those habits as they age.
Regular physical activity helps by promoting a healthy weight, lowering high blood pressure, and strengthening bones. It can reduce the risk of diabetes, and improve heart health as well as self-confidence. Children need a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise daily.
According to the CDC, three million teenagers in the United States alone smoke cigarettes. Most adult smokers begin smoking during their teen years and approximately 5 million will suffer premature deaths due to smoking-related causes.
Smoking is believed to cause as much as 75 percent of all cases of heart disease where a person might otherwise be risk-free. (THI 1)
Educate your teen about the dangers of smoking and long-term health consequences. If they already smoke, help them take action to quit.
Believe it or not, due to the rise of obesity among children and teens, fatty diets, and lack of exercise, many are now developing high cholesterol.
The American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed guidelines recommending that all children should have cholesterol levels checked between the ages of 9 – 11 and 17 – 21 years. Early identification and management of cholesterol level may reduce the risk of heart disease later in life.
By some estimates, more than 30 percent of all children and teens are obese. Unfortunately, it’s believed that fat cells gained as a child stay with you for life rendering you more likely to be an overweight adult.
If you think your child may be overweight, talk to your doctor about how you can manage your child or teen’s weight and encourage healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime.
Lifestyle Behavior In Adolescents May Adversely Affect Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Risk in Adulthood. Medical News Today. 12 Jul 2012.
Heart Disease Risk Factors for Children and Teenagers. Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. February 2012.
Reviewed by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith