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On the list of the greatest gifts you could give your kids, a healthy heart would be near the top. After all, heart disease is the nation’s No. 1 killer.
“Even though kids rarely get heart disease, the process leading to adult heart disease—the gradual buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances in arteries—can actually begin in childhood,” says Ward Blair, MD, with Kettering Physician Network Primary Care at the Springboro Health Center. “This can put kids at future risk for a heart attack or stroke when they grow up.”
The chances of that happening increase when kids develop heart disease risk factors such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
February is American Heart Month. Why not take the time this month to make changes that can help your kids — and the whole family — beat back heart disease? Dr. Blair recommends these tips to make heart health a family affair:
Check in with a doctor. Ask your children’s doctor if they should be screened with blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol or body mass index (BMI) tests. These offer clues about heart disease risk. Be sure all the adults in the family get their checkups, too.
Emphasize healthy eating. Make fast food the exception, not the rule. Cook heart-friendly foods at home. Eat real foods — avoid sugary beverages and processed foods.
Increase fruits and vegetables. Aim to serve five fruits and vegetables a day. They help with weight and blood pressure control.
Live by example. Kids pay attention to what you eat — as well as how much you exercise and whether you engage in habits like smoking that are unhealthy for the heart.
Make a menu change. Yank saturated fat, excess sodium and added sugar from your menu when possible.
Don’t insist on a clean plate. Allow your children to stop eating when full.
Add active toys to the toy box. Think a jump rope, soccer ball or inline skates—with the recommended safety gear.
Cheer your children on. Find a sport or active pursuit your children enjoy, like swimming, dancing or scouting. Then provide opportunities for your kids to participate.
Prioritize play. Fit at least one hour of physical activity into your children’s daily schedule. It could be active playtime or something more organized — anything to get your kids moving.
Plan some family fun. Make being active a family affair. Ask everyone to set aside time during the week and on weekends for fun family fitness. You might all go for a bike ride or play sports together, for example.
Issue family fitness challenges. For instance, see who can do the most sit-ups during a TV commercial.
Restrict screen time. Set limits for each child to balance media use with other healthy behaviors.