Family health

When it comes to family health, lead by example

Our families come in all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels, but there are simple steps you can take to ensure that every member of your family stays heart healthy. As we focus on heart health for the month of February, remember that the key to fighting cardiovascular disease is a healthy diet and an active lifestyle.

Dr. Douglas Spotts, Chief Health Officer of Meritus Health, says the best place to start is by setting a good example for those we love.

“You can play an important role in your family’s heart health from childhood and beyond by being that ‘good example,'” Spotts said. “When your loved ones see you making the right choices for healthy eating and being active, they will often follow in your footsteps and may even join you on the journey.”

Spotts offered some key ideas for eating and exercising.

Avoid sugary drinks and instead increase your water intake to the amount recommended by your healthcare provider.

Reduce the fat content with simple changes like choosing skimmed milk.

Eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low fat dairy products and lean meats and avoid fried and fatty baked goods.

If children or adults aren’t necessarily athletic, encourage daily family walks after dinner or run and toss the ball to the dog in the yard.

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Another way to set a good example for those around you is to not make bad choices for your health. One choice is to not smoke or to quit smoking because it increases your risk of having and dying from heart disease, heart failure, or heart attack.

“Quitting smoking significantly reduces the risk of recurrent heart attacks and cardiovascular death, and it is possible,” Spotts said. “Millions of people have successfully quit smoking and remain non-smokers.”

When you set a quit date, let your loved ones know and ask them to support you in your efforts. One way they can help is not to smoke in your home and vehicle.

Poor sleep habits and lack of sleep itself can directly affect your heart health, as they’re linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.

“Sleep regulates metabolism, and better sleep is associated with a healthier weight, which is good for your heart,” Spotts said.

It is also crucial to control blood pressure and control stress. Many studies report a link between stress and heart health, and after a heart attack, people with higher levels of stress and anxiety tend to have a harder time recovering.

“If you have high blood pressure, you and your healthcare provider should work together to come up with a plan to lower it,” Spotts said. “It’s really about making one or a few small changes — being more active, eating well, reducing sodium, drinking only in moderation, and taking prescribed medications as directed — that will bring big benefits to your health.”

Start a conversation with your healthcare provider if you know you need to make better choices for your heart health. After that, a great place to learn about activity in our community, choose healthier foods and snacks, and stay mindful and stress-free is at The website is full of free resources and information for everyone.

While you’re on the site, join the Go For Bold movement to lose a million pounds as a community by the end of the decade. It’s easy, and it’ll help you and your loved ones stay on track and take good care of your heart this month and every month.

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Meritus Health exists to improve the health status of our region by providing comprehensive healthcare services to patients and families. Along with many community partners and participating individuals, the organization is dedicated to the Go For Bold movement where we all do, eat, and believe in a healthy Washington County. More information at