What is Your Child’s Risk of a Heart Attack?

obesity by age and year

Pretty high if you are a Gen-X or Y parent. My last post may have depressed you or even made you a little mad (I think I called you fat).  If so, this post is going to really piss you off.

It looks like Gen-X and Y are passing down the “sit on your ass and eat crap” gene to our kids – the “Net Generation”.  As a result, children today are experiencing high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and elevated cholesterol – previously adult conditions.  Unfortunately, the perfect storm for early-onset cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.

NetGen’s Fate

I am not trying to piss anyone off.  As a father, I am very concerned about the declining health of our NetGen children. The American Heart Association (AHA) found that nearly one third of today’s children are overweight or obese – one third!

Although the moniker “NetGen” sounds kind of cool, it does not conjure images of a very active lifestyle.  My kids are in the 6-11 age group in the chart above and my wife and I are in a constant battle to reduce their screen time and get them outside.

I don’t think we are alone in this battle.  This quote from former Surgeon General Richard Carmona puts it in perspective:

Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

I am not sure if that quote is about Gen-X, Y, or the NetGen, but you get the point.

There is Hope

I provide a lot of information on this site about self-improvement.  Hopefully some of that has sunk in and is incorporated into your new healthy lifestyle. Why – because you have a generation to save!

One of the first things you can do for your children is make them aware of heart disease in their family history (if there is any).  My kids are already aware of the crappy hand Dad dealt them.  It’s hard to ignore the big zipper running down the middle of Daddy’s chest.

Smoking has already been established as evil with my children.  My wife and I also frequently speak with our kids about eating healthy and exercising.  Talking is great, but kids learn by watching.  So set a good example – eat your vegetables and exercise (I am assuming you no longer smoke at the dinner table).

Need more help getting your kids to eat their veggies?  Here is an outstanding post on the Fooducate blog that finally unlocks the mystery.  Guess which one of the following three strategies works best to get your kids to eat healthy foods?

  1. Eat it, it’s good for you
  2. Eat it, it’s tasty
  3. Eat it

You guessed it, number three.  We are parents, we can tell our kids what to do.  Eating healthy is not an option.   Now with that mystery finally solved, on to exercise.  Get up off the couch and get active with your kids.  Play with them!  Watching sports on TV with your kids does not count as active playtime.

Let’s Move

I am far from an expert in motivating children.  Just ask the kids and parents on the kindergartener soccer team I coached this year.   What a cluster….I mean challenge.  Fear not, there are a lot of great resources out there to help us parents.  Check out the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative.

The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake. – Michelle Obama

The American Heart Association also has a program called Voices for Heathy Kids.  Both offer similar strategies for reversing the declining health of our children.  Eat healthy and get active!  It’s pretty simple, but definitely a challenge for today’s “over committed” families.

Time for the guilt.  Disregarding our own health is irresponsible enough.  We can’t encourage the same behavior in our children.  A healthy lifestyle is a family commitment.  Just start small, make it fun, and make it a habit.

References:

“Overweight in Children.”  The American Heart Association, 17 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 June 2014.

“Statistics Fact Sheet – Youth and Cardiovascular Diseases” Go AS, Mozaffarian D, Roger VL, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Blaha MJ, Dai S, Ford ES, Fox CS, Franco S, Fullerton HJ, Gillespie C, Hailpern SM, Heit JA, Howard VJ, Huffman MD, Judd SE, Kissela BM, Kittner SJ, Lackland DT, Lichtman JH, Lisabeth LD, Mackey RH, Magid DJ, Marcus GM, Marelli A, Matchar DB, McGuire DK, Mohler ER 3rd, Moy CS, Mussolino ME, Neumar RW, Nichol G, Pandey DK, Paynter NP, Reeves MJ, Sorlie PD, Stein J, Towfighi A, Turan TN, Virani SS, Wong ND, Woo D, Turner MB; on behalf of the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2014 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2014;129:e28–e292.

Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Get Off Your Ass

get_off_ass_2Dying isn’t hard, but it does provide a good lesson in humility. My cardiac rehab started with short walks on the high school track. I remember that first day I barely made it one lap. I was 41 years old and being lapped by speed walking retirees. I had to find a way to crush my competition! Stick with me, and I will show you the way.

I went for walks, either on the track or in the neighborhood, everyday. It’s amazing how quickly your body begins to gain strength and endurance. Within two months, I had progressed from 1 lap at the track to walking several miles at a time. I was eventually keeping pace with the retirees. At month three, I went back to work and the daily walks came to an end.

The daily walks ended, but I needed to find time to continue with an exercise routine.  In a rare moment of dedication, I decided to get up early a few days a week so I could continue my walks. Once I felt strong enough, and with the permission of my doctor, I graduated to light jogging on flat surfaces. Eventually, I built up to a four mile walk/run three to four times a week. Then, as usual, I lost interest.

In my next futile attempt at physical fitness, I joined a gym. I was going to get ripped! I even shelled out a bunch of money on a personal trainer. I didn’t like going to the gym and I didn’t like my trainer. I stuck with it for about a year, but I was miserable. I was paying good money for the inconvenience of traveling back and forth to gym to hang out with a bunch of lunkheads while getting no results. And it stunk. Gym experiment over.

Do Your Best, Forget the Rest

Back to the internet for more inspiration. Who did I run into, none other than Mr. Tony Horton. If you are not familiar with Tony Horton, he is the force behind the P90X series of home workouts. If you can make it past Tony’s cheesy infomercials, fabulous and perpetually dark hair, and bulging biceps, you will find a very effective program. Not only does it work, but in my opinion, is great for “younger” cardiac patients like myself.

P90X is what finally made me focus on diet AND exercise together. Instead of justifying my bad diet with more exercise, I finally saw the light. Diet and exercise needed to be worked together in order to achieve a healthy lifestyle and physical results. The basic P90X program:

  • Diet – The diet has three phases designed to burn fat and build muscle. I never followed it strictly but I hear it works.
  • Strength – A set of dumbbells or bands is required, but many of the routines incorporate a heavy dose of bodyweight strength training (push-up, pull-ups, etc.)
  • Fitness – There are a few cardio workouts and some pretty serious yoga mixed in throughout the program. The cardio is definitely intense and the Yoga will kick your ass.

I liked P90X so much I did it twice. I then went out and bought Insanity and P90X 2. If you can find a cardiologist that recommends Insanity, you should change doctors. I made it about halfway through and gave up. P90X2 is good for a change of pace, but I prefer the original. More recently, I have started Turbulence Training. I will describe that in a later post.

Modify, Modify, Modify

P90X is a commitment, at least an hour a day, six days a week for 90 days. I definitely needed the structure in the beginning. Today, I am doing a modified version of everything. By modified, I mean only the first half of each strength routine and no cardio. Here is what that looks like:

  • Monday – P90X workout & bike to work
  • Tuesday – Core workout or stretch & bike to work
  • Wednesday – P90X workout
  • Thursday – Core workout or stretch & bike to work
  • Friday – P90X workout

I usually leave the weekends unscheduled. If inspired, I may go for a run or bike ride, but that rarely happens.

Since I reduced the workouts, added the biking (15 miles round trip to work) AND started eating right, I have lost weight, put on muscle, improved my cardiovascular conditioning, and just feel better. I have read that 80% of conditioning is diet related. I finally believe that. Once I cut the bad carbs and sugar and focused on lean protein, vegetables, and healthy fats, everything just clicked.

What’s the point of all this? Find a program/system that works for you. If it’s not fun or convenient, you aren’t going to stick with it. Also, you don’t need to spend a ton of money or time. And of course, talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.

The full series of Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Photo credit: The U.S. Army / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)