Stay smoke-free for a healthy heart, pediatrician says

February is Heart Health Month and doctors say one major way you can reduce your risk of heart disease is to not smoke.

KRCG 13 spoke with SSM Health Pediatrician Dr. Brian Conley about the negative impact smoking can have on heart health. He said if you're an adult who smokes, you still have a chance for a healthy heart – but quitting now is key.

"The good news is that if young parents will stop smoking often a lot of the changes in their lungs will be completely reversible and they can look forward to a long and healthy life," Dr. Conley said.

Dr. Conley's specialty, pediatrics, is all about prevention. He said as a children’s doctor, he focuses first on encouraging parents to start discussions about the potential harm caused by smoking early in their child’s life. “It's much better to start on the beginning side of life,” he said. “I encourage parents not to smoke during their pregnancy, and certainly not to smoke around their children because they're the first role models children see."

Dr. Conley said if you don't smoke before you're 25 years old, you're much more likely to never have an issue. "If we can try to keep kids from smoking until they're older, they develop the executive functions in their brains to make good decisions,” he said.

According to Dr. Conley, the two best things parents can do to discourage smoking is to lead by example, and provide good information. "At least with girls, I talk about wrinkles and aging of the skin,” he said. “With boys I tend to talk about aging and that type of thing, but it really seems to hit home with the women if you can talk about how the skin will age dramatically from the continued use of cigarettes."

But with one third of all coronary heart disease deaths linked to smoking according to the Center for Disease Control, there's a lot more at stake than just bad skin. To make sure your whole family has healthy hearts both now and down the road, Dr. Conley said he suggests making a smoke-free environment part of your children's lifestyle from birth.

Tune in to KRCG 13 next Friday at 5 p.m. for our next "Family First" segment – we’ll talk with SSM Health Dietitian Denise Coots about how eating a healthy diet can help in the fight against heart disease.

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