Healthy Hearts For Kids

Heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death for Americans. Although your family’s health history is one contributing factor to heart disease, parents may be the key to their children’s future heart health in a variety of ways. The percentage of overweight children in the United States is growing at an alarming rate, with one out of three kids now considered overweight or obese. Many kids are spending less time exercising and more time in front of the TV, computer or video-game console. And today’s busy families have fewer free moments to prepare nutritious, home-cooked meals. Preventing kids from becoming overweight means adapting the way your family eats and exercises, and how you spend time together.

Fitness in childhood lays the foundation for a healthy life. In addition to helping prevent heart disease, exercise helps to reduce stress, which is a big factor in emotional health. One of the best ways to get kids to be more active is to limit the amount of time spent in sedentary activities, especially watching TV or playing video games. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under the age of 2 years watch no TV at all and that screen time should be limited to no more than one to two hours of quality programming a day for kids 2 years and older.

Helping children lead healthy lifestyles begins with parents who lead by example. Encourage your child to exercise for 20 to 40 minutes a day. Even better, make exercise a family activity. You’ll improve your entire family’s health and strengthen your family ties.

When most adults think about exercise, they imagine working out in the gym on a treadmill or lifting weights. But for kids, exercise means playing and being physically active. Kids exercise when they have gym class at school, soccer practice or dance class. They’re also exercising when they’re at recess, riding bikes or playing tag. Everyone can benefit from regular exercise. Kids who are active will:

Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit sleep better and are better able to handle physical and emotional challenges — from running to catch a bus to studying for a test. A balanced fitness session includes stretching exercises that help to improve flexibility, allowing muscles and joints to bend and move easily through their full range of motion. At least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as playing soccer to help build up cardiovascular endurance; and strengthening exercises like push-ups, stomach crunches, pull-ups, and other exercises help tone and strengthen muscles. Kids also incorporate strength activities in their play when they climb, do a handstand or wrestle. Make sure your child takes at least five minutes of cool-down time after exercising.

Exercise is only half of the equation. A healthy diet also plays a role in heart health. Whether you have a toddler or a teen, here are five of the best strategies to improve nutrition and encourage smart eating habits:

  1. Have regular family meals. 
  2. Serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks. 
  3. Be a role model by eating healthy yourself. 
  4. Strive for five servings a day of fruits and vegetables.
  5. Involve kids in the process. 

It’s not easy to follow the steps above when everyone is juggling busy schedules and convenience foods are so readily available. Here are some simple tips to incorporate into your family’s diet:

Remember, advice about low-fat foods doesn’t apply to babies! Infants have far different nutritional needs than children do. Do not limit an infant’s fat intake.

Being overweight taxes the heart. It’s linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and the development of diabetes. If your child is overweight, work with his/her physician to develop a weight-control program that combines good nutrition with healthful exercise. Akron Children’s Hospital offers programs to help children achieve their weight goals and improve their overall fitness. For details or to register, call the Sports Medicine Center at 330-543-2120 or toll-free, 1-800-262-0333, ext. 32120 or Akron Children’s Mahoning Valley Preventative Cardiology at 330-629-6085.

The pressures your children face aren’t that different from your own. Learning to deal with stress is one of the tasks of childhood. Most parents have the skills to deal with their child’s stress. The time to seek professional attention is when any change in behavior persists, when stress is causing serious anxiety, or when the behavior is causing significant problems in functioning at school or at home. Kids who don’t learn how to handle stress may develop inappropriate and even dangerous habits: too much TV, overeating, smoking, misbehaving, even abusing alcohol and drugs. Demonstrate healthy outlets for stress, such as exercise and make sure they get enough rest and are eating right.

It’s a fact: Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, and can cause cancer, blood pressure problems and heart and lung disease. Nicotine is an addictive substance. Despite the well-publicized dangers of smoking, kids as young as 10 are trying it. Kids may try smoking for any number of reasons – because their friends are doing it, to look cool, to act older or to rebel against their parents. Let your kids know that there’s nothing cool about smoking. But most of all, set a good example. If you smoke, quit. It’s not simple and it may take a few attempts and the extra help of a program or support group. But your kids will be encouraged as they see you overcome your addiction to tobacco. 

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