How heart health can be a family sport
Many people don’t realize just how critical it is for you to take care of your heart beginning at a very young age. Teaching children the importance of heart health can build a foundation for a lifetime of good health and benefit the entire family.
Making time for physical activity is key. Regular movement is important not only for your heart health but also your overall health, mental health and well-being. It may feel like your family can’t fit physical activity into its routine, but creating this time in our day helps alleviate stress and provide the necessary break to recharge.
Moving more also improves sleep, which is important for good health. Children should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily, and adults should have at least 30 minutes a day five or more days a week — following their health care professional’s individualized recommendation. Staying active with your child is a great way to get everyone moving and motivate one another, which creates a healthy habit. Once the habit is created, physical activity won’t feel like a burden or chore.
Remember to have reasonable expectations. You can’t become discouraged if your family misses a day of exercise. There are always opportunities to move more and sit less throughout the day:
- Consider parking further away in parking lots or taking the stairs.
- Limit screen time – go for a family walk instead. In bad weather, try malls or park district indoor tracks. And don’t forget your dog – pets need and enjoy exercise, too!
- Make activity fun. Explore the outdoors by hiking or going on a bike ride with your child.
- Find activities you enjoy and share them with your child. Rekindle activities from your youth or try something new together.
- Create family chore time and clean your home together.
- Have a dance party.
Nutrition is a key component to heart health. Involve your whole family in weekly meal planning. Create an outline for healthy meals and snacks. This will allow your children to put down their screens and help in the kitchen. Preparing meals together helps eliminate reaching for processed foods, which aren’t heart healthy and contain high amounts of sodium. Prioritize sitting down together as a family for meals. Start with at least one meal a week. The American Heart Association (AHA) promotes an initiative called Together Tuesdays to promote this effort. The AHA is an amazing resource for everyone. They offer tips for eating healthy, staying active and self-care.
Remember that exercising and eating healthy are team sports. Get the whole family on board and support one another.
Don’t forget to discuss the dangers of smoking and vaping with your children and the lifelong importance of avoiding these activities.
Creating new healthy habits and exercise routines may feel daunting. Always remember that every new journey begins with a single step, and just keep on stepping to promote heart health.
Set a good example and learn more about your risk for heart disease by taking a free online quiz.
About the Author
Dr. Joan Hoffman is a pediatric cardiologist at Advocate Children's Hospital.