When should you start thinking about heart health? It turns out this is something of a trick question.
“The truth is, you’re never too young or too old to take care of your heart,” says Suzanne Steinbaum, D.O., Director or Women’s Cardiovascular Prevention, Health, and Wellness at Mt. Sinai in New York City, and American Heart Association (AHA) volunteer. “But too many people get a late start.”
AHA’s message: Form good habits early, and keep them up through every stage of life. While many things can affect your heart health, there’s no denying that following a balanced diet and moving more are two of the best ways to keep your heart strong and healthy.
The School Years
Childhood is when we can lay the foundation for a lifetime of wellness. Moms, dads, and caregivers—this is where you come in. “Grown-ups can play a major role, both in planting a healthy seed for kids’ habits and being a positive role model,” says Dr. Steinbaum.
- Find the balance.
Teach your kids all about how to pick nutritious, balanced lunches to cover each of the food groups and encourage them to try new foods.
- Promise them playtime.
Children should be active for at least one hour every day.
- Limit sugar-sweetened beverages.
Encourage kids to think of lemonade, soda, and sports drinks as a “sometimes food.”
Heart health may be the last thing on your mind in your late teens or early 20s. After all, you may still be in school or getting the hang of the working world. “These formative years are actually a great time to follow through on healthy habits, because you’re on your own and figuring out what your lifestyle will look and feel like,” says Dr. Steinbaum.
- Stretch your hard-earned dollars.
You can eat healthfully on a budget if you plan ahead, compare store prices, and take advantage of seasonal produce.
- Explore new forms of exercise.
Calories in, calories out. From kickball leagues to barre classes, the choices are endless—and a great way to make new friends.
- Throw out those butts.
If you picked up a smoking habit in your headstrong youth, commit to quitting. “There is no safe level of smoking—or of secondhand smoke,” Dr. Steinbaum reminds us.
Time Crunched & On Your Way (Late 20s and 30s)
Now that you’ve launched your career, and possibly started a family, it’s easy to get swept up in life’s hectic pace. With time at a premium, it’s even more important to fuel your potential to keep up with the everyday chaos.
- Learn to love cooking.
Get more acquainted with your kitchen and learn to cook a few new recipes every month. Discover new flavors and new ingredient. Plant a small indoor herb garden and collect recipes for 30-minute meals.
- Stay active.
“Exercise is worth making time for,” Dr. Steinbaum states. “Aim for 25- to 30-minute cardio sessions, three to five times a week, depending on the intensity. Can you take a walk during your lunch break or hop on a stationary bike when the kids are in bed?” Add strength training at least twice a week for the right mix.
- Learn your family history.
Shake down your family tree to discover any relatives with heart disease, which puts you at higher risk. Share this important info with your health care provider.
Reaching “A Certain Age” (40s)
You’ve got a few more years under your belt (and maybe a few more pounds). No matter how you spent your 20s and 30s, now’s the time to formally take stock of your health. “Your doctor can tell where you stand with blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, and more—then come up with a game plan to improve those numbers if needed,” Dr. Steinbaum advises.
- Watch your portions.
The heart works harder if you’re carrying extra pounds. Your body needs fewer calories as you get older, so get in the habit of choosing smaller portions.
- Get some sleep.
Catch six to eight hours of ZZZs every night, as sleep is a crucial building block of heart health.
- Manage stress.
Whip out that yoga mat, because “meditation and mindfulness have been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and prevent heart disease,” Dr. Steinbaum explains.
The Golden Years (50s, 60s, and Up)
You’ve tackled so many of life’s opportunities and challenges. Don’t slow down now—when it comes to heart-healthy living, that is.
- Choose nutritious foods that appeal to you.
“Believe it or not, our taste buds change with age,” Dr. Steinbaum shares.
- Walk it off.
Walking is a tried-and-true form of exercise—and one of the easiest. Not only is it good for your heart, it can help you drop or keep off weight.
- Phone a friend.
Healthy living is even more achievable when you have a partner or friend to join you on the tennis court or on the track.
When it comes to heart smarts, age may be just a number. “Remember, these habits apply to everyone!” says Dr. Steinbaum. “No matter when you start, even small changes can help in the long run.”
To learn more about heart health at any age, and to get your personal heart health score visit the American Heart Association. To discover more about what healthy food can do for you, follow our chefs and dietitians on Instagram @Aramark.
Note: Since everyone’s health history and nutritional needs are so different, please make sure that you talk with your doctor and a registered dietitian to get advice about the diet and exercise plan that‘s right for you.