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6 Steps to a Heart-healthy Lifestyle as a Family

As we move into February, which is known as American Heart Month, we bring awareness to heart health and diseases such as cardiovascular disease.

Millions of Americans are living with some form of cardiovascular disease. In addition to the millions of Americans living with cardiovascular disease, nearly one-half of all Americans have at least one key risk factor associated with this condition.

The key risk factors include smoking, high LDL cholesterol and high blood pressure. Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle is not only beneficial to an individual diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, but for entire households.

Changes can be intimidating, but they become easier when adopted by the entire family. According to researchers, when families adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle together, the family changes can impact the behavior and health habits of children positively during childhood and also have a long-term impact on their behaviors as they become adults.

These six steps were adapted from the American Heart Association on how to make time for the whole family to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle:

1. Allocate free time to family activities. For one week, keep track of each family member’s activities. After doing so, you can identify times and plan activities you can participate in together as a family. What activities can you do as a family?

Consider doing something as simple as a 30- to 60-minute walk a couple of times a week or participate in local cleanup efforts or garden. Your family is more likely to meet the weekly physical activity requirements of 150 minutes for adults and one hour a day for children by planning these simple activities.

2. Spend time planning and preparing your weekly meals. Keep track of how often your family chooses fast food and grab-n-go meals for family mealtimes. Once you find blocks of time, you can begin to plan your family meals in advance to reduce the number of times the family uses fast food as an option.

Planning and preparing meals in advance not only will help reduce fast-food consumption, but it also will lower your intake of fat and sodium, encourage family members to make more healthful choices and allow your family to experience the additional benefits that family mealtimes provide.

3. Simplify schedules. People in the U.S. typically feel as if they are expected to do everything in the blink of an eye. However, a persistent quick and go-go lifestyle isn’t good for our health, and it isn’t something that can be sustained long term.

Simplifying not only your schedule, but your entire family’s schedule, will allow the family to focus more on dedicating time to doing family activities, family meal planning and meal preparation, along with stress management.
4. Take small steps versus giant ones. The key to a successful change is to make it small. When making goals, make sure they are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic/relevant and timely). Create SMART goals for all family members.

5. Encourage all to pitch in. Encourage all members of the family to pitch in and work as a team when planning and preparing meals. In addition to meal planning and preparation, family members can assist with any chores needing to be done around the home.

Children, depending on their age, can help shop and prepare more healthful meals alongside their parents. In addition to assisting with meal planning and preparation, children are great helpers with some indoor and outdoor cleaning chores.

6. Lead by example. When encouraging children to make more healthful choices and adopt lifestyle changes, parents should lead by example and model the behavior they want their children to adopt. For example, if children see their parents eating more vegetables, they’re more likely to follow suit.


Now that your family has begun adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, encourage conversation during family mealtime by considering our conversation starters on our Facebook page at and explore our website


Check out to explore ways to eat right at your next family meal.


Stephanie Jensen, Program Assistant, NDSU Extension

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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