Making lifestyle changes as a family!

Healthy lifestyle changes with family
Healthy lifestyle changes with family

If you’ve recently had a heart attack, your family may be worried about how well you will recover – and also about their own risks of heart disease. Involving your family in understanding a bit about heart disease – and making some positive lifestyle changes together can make it easier to achieve your own goals. And your family will also benefit from a lower risk of developing heart problems themselves. 1

Are my family at risk of heart disease?

Having a first-degree relative (a parent, brother or sister) with heart disease means you’re more likely to develop similar problems, so your children and siblings have an increased risk of heart disease. 2

Often, families share similar lifestyles – so, bad habits such as eating unhealthily and smoking can sometimes be passed on. 

‘Try not to feel responsible – the key thing to remember is that lifestyle changes at any point can have real benefits,’ says health psychology specialist Clare Moloney. ‘Don’t look back, look forward to how you can all lower your risks.’ 

Explaining the risks to your family

Explaining the risks of heart disease can help your family see that the changes you need to make affect them, too. As the UK’s biggest killer, heart disease causes around 160,000 deaths in the UK each year3.  In the year after a heart attack (also known as a myocardial infarct or MI), nearly 1 in 5 patients go on to have another cardiovascular (CV) event*4. There are some things we can all do to reduce our risk by modifying factors such as smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. 5

You could also take your family along to a cardiac rehab session, so they can find out more. Cardiac rehab is there to help you and your family get through this difficult period and find ways to live as healthily as possible. 

If they’re over 40, your family members may also be entitled to a free health check with their GP or practice nurse, to find out their risk of coronary heart disease.6  Many pharmacies also offer cholesterol and blood pressure checks.

Changes the whole family can make

  • Quit smoking: Stopping smoking is the single most important thing a family member can do to help reduce their risk of heart disease. And they will start to reap the benefits very soon after they quit.7
  • Get active: To help your heart work more efficiently, everyone should aim to exercise for 20-30 minutes a day, doing an activity that’s strenuous enough to leave you slightly breathless.8
  • Eat a Mediterranean- style diet: For family meals, choose poultry rather than red meat, wholegrain pasta and breads, plenty of fruit and veg, plus oily fish several times a week.9

Set small goals

‘You all need time to adjust, but if you tackle these changes as a family and set yourselves small, achievable goals, the health benefits will be enormous,’ advises Clare.9 ‘Small steps matter and the little things really do make all the difference.’ 

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* In a retrospective, cohort study linking morbidity, mortality and medication data from Swedish national registries, 97,254 patients admitted to hospital with a primary MI (between July 2006 and the end of June 2011) and alive 1 week after discharge were included for analysis. The primary endpoint was a composite of risk for non-fatal MI, non-fatal stroke or CV death 365 days post-index MI and Day 366 to study completion.4