February is Heart Month, a time when we traditionally hear many messages about adults at risk for heart disease. Now it’s time to focus this message toward kids, as medical research has shown that cardiovascular disease has its roots in childhood.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five U.S. teens have abnormal cholesterol. This means either their good cholesterol (HDL) is too low or their bad cholesterol (LDL and triglycerides) is too high. As a parent, you may not be thinking about what cholesterol means for your kids. But with the dramatic increase in childhood obesity, more and more kids are at risk. Obesity can not only cause abnormal cholesterol, it can lead to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke.
So, here are four steps you can start taking — today — to help keep your kids’ hearts healthier now and as they grow.
1. Leave Them Breathless
Did you know that children should get at least one hour or more of physical activity every day? And most of that hour should be moderate to vigorous in intensity. Any activity is good, but activities that leave them breathless are even better. The more activity kids get, especially of the “breathless” variety, the stronger their hearts will become. An increasing body of evidence points to this step as one of the most important factors for maintaining health and extending life.
2. Keep Kids Moving — Even When It’s Cold
And just because it’s cold out that doesn’t mean you and your kids can’t be active. Bundle up and get outside! You can ice skate, go sledding, take a brisk walk around your neighborhood, make a snowman, or take a hike at a local state park. If the weather is just too nasty, play inside — games like charades and Twister® get everyone up and moving. Or, play one of the dancing video games or just dance around to your favorite music. Make a game of doing chores around the house with rewards for whoever finishes the fastest.
3. Make It a Family Affair
Whatever activities you choose, doing them as a family keeps it fun and beneficial for all. That’s because:
- Exercise gives kids energy, helps with concentration, and is a natural mood lifter.
- Regular physical activity can help kids sleep better.
- Some studies suggest that kids who are physically fit perform better on standardized tests in both reading and math.
- More time spent being active helps kids to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
- Being active at a young age can help lay the groundwork for being physically active as an adult.
4. Eat (and Drink) Well, Too
Couple physical activity with healthy eating and you create an even stronger defense in protecting the heart. Every day, kids (and adults) should eat five servings of fruits and vegetables , which are naturally low in fat, calories and sodium, and provide essential vitamins, minerals and fiber.
According to the American Heart Association, a healthy diet should also include whole grains, high-fiber foods, leans meats and poultry, fish at least twice a week, and low-fat dairy products.
And it’s not just about what you eat, but what you drink, too. Replace sugary, low-nutrient beverages — like soda and sports drinks — with more nutritious options like low-fat or non-fat milk, water and 100 percent fruit juice (in moderation).
Simple changes can keep your whole family on the road to healthy living — and heart health.