February is Heart Health Awareness month — Valentine’s Day makes so much sense. Because February is a short month and your heart is so important, we figured we’d take the opportunity to discuss your child’s heart health now, so you are better prepared to participate come February. Many people don’t think of children when they think of heart disease, but the habits we form as youngsters are what set the pace for our perception of wellness and overall health that is difficult to change over a lifespan. Here are some things you can do to promote heart health in your children.
Kids don’t hear you when you say “do as I say, not as I do.” They learn by example, they are always watching, and they want to be just like you — yes, you. To instill healthy habits in your children, they must be routine and the expected normal. Most importantly, the behaviors you want to see in your children should be emulated from you. Eating healthy, getting exercise, reading, and sleeping well are all habits that are picked up by watching you.
It doesn’t matter what kind of screen your child is exposed to throughout the day — iPad, television, cell-phone — turn them off. Engage with each other and discuss your days over dinner; make the dinner table a cell-phone free zone. Turn off the television and encourage your children to read a book to engage in imaginative play. Screen time limits physical activity, which when made a habit, leads to a sedentary lifestyle and de-emphasizes exercise.
Healthy eating habits should be established when children are young. Instead of sugary snacks, kids should learn to enjoy fruit. Saturated fats and processed sugar should be avoided or limited. Vegetables should be enjoyed at every meal. A glass of milk or water are better alternatives to mealtime drinks than juice. Children should never be required to “clean your plate,” as this causes them to learn to eat to excess, which is a major risk factor for obesity, which is the leading cause of heart disease. Foods should be low in cholesterol and sodium, which both negatively impact heart health.
Although some factors that contribute to heart disease are directly related to habits and lifestyle, some factors are inherited. Knowing your family’s heart history can help you understand what your child is more at risk for so you can do everything in your power to mitigate the consequences. If you or your partner’s family has a history has a diagnosis of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease; or have had a stroke or heart attack, your child is already at an increased risk for heart disease and heart health must be aggressively pursued.
Physical activity or exercise is paramount to heart health. Regular cardiovascular activities help to maintain a healthy weight and support heart health. For children, regular play such as jumping on a trampoline, rollerblading, or playing tag, are all good, easy examples of fun physical activity. Everyone should engage in at least 30 minutes of physical exercise a day. The best way to get your kid active is by getting active with them!
For a fun family activity that will get everyone’s hearts pumping — and put a smile on faces — plan an outing to Rebounderz Trampoline Park in Grand Rapids. Jumping on a trampoline is the equivalent of running for 30 minutes! Come have fun while you improve your whole family’s heart health!