Q: I am 40 years old and on treatment for elevated cholesterol and hypertension. I was not raised in a health-conscious family. We ate almost anything and did not exercise. I have teenagers, and as a family we are moving more and eating more healthfully. Will they be able to avoid having to take medications as I do?
A: It’s very good that you and the family have adopted lifestyle changes that will very positively impact your risk factors for cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and even some cancers. It is never too late to make lifestyle changes, and it’s vitally important that you andthe family persevere in pursuing exercise, dietary, and general lifestyle changes. These will make a difference to your immediate and also your long-term health. Continue to have regular checkups to determine the efficacy and need for medications; it may be possible to modify and decrease the dosage of your medications as the benefits of lifestyle change kick in. It is of paramount importance that you have regular follow-up to ensure that your blood pressure and cholesterol are in the ideal range.
Regarding teenagers: regular exercise, eating a healthful and balanced diet, selecting foods with low sodium (salt), avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and maintaining ideal body weight will most certainly stand them in good stead. Hypertension may run in families, but in all cases of high blood pressure and lipid abnormalities, lifestyle interventions are paramount and mandatory. The real question is whether the youngsters will continue with the lifestyle measures.
Behavior change, especially lifestyle changes, are not easy to make and maintain. Intentionality and determination are required. Healthy habits are best learned at a young age, optimally in the preschool age group. Our health choices and behavioral framework in childhood influence and determine our choices and lifestyle patterns as adults. Preventive strategies are therefore best implemented in early childhood.
Just recently an exciting study, Program SI! (salud integral, or comprehensive health),1 showed that when preferences are formed in early childhood they may exert powerful influences on behaviors later in life. Health education needs to be included throughout the life cycle, but especially in the very young! As a church we have long known this but have not implemented it as we ought.
Ellen White wrote: “A practical knowledge of the science of human life is necessary in order to glorify God in our bodies. It is therefore of the highest importance that among the studies selected for childhood, physiology should occupy the first place. How few know anything about the structure and functions of their own bodies and of nature’s laws! Many are drifting about without knowledge, like a ship at sea without compass or anchor; and what is more, they are not interested to learn how to keep their bodies in a healthy condition and prevent disease.”2
We are blessed with knowledge and may be encouraged by the assurance recorded by Paul: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). This includes health behavior changes!
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.