February is American Heart Month, and we want to take some time to focus on how parents can promote their children’s heart health.
When it comes to raising healthy children, efforts should start at home, with parents and other immediate family members that have so much impact on kids during their formative years. The efforts extend into the community, where school officials, coaches, and so on help mold the youth into healthy, responsible adults. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, and when we work together everybody wins.
Keep reading for some tips you can implement at home to help your children create heart-healthy habits.=
Making Time for Healthy Habits
The first step is to make time to incorporate healthy habits. And while it seems like there already aren’t enough hours in the day, the secret is that you don’t have to find more time—you replace time spent on not-so-healthy habits with time spent on better-for-you ones. Try these ideas:
Schedule TV and Other Types of Screen Time
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than two years old have no screen time and older kids have one to two hours of screen time per day with high-quality content. But children now spend an average of 7 hours per day in front of the TV, iPad, laptop, and/or gaming system.
One way to cut back is to schedule screen time. Try these:
- Make a list of the family’s must-see programs—these are the ones you can watch together or separately, but do keep the list to a minimum.
- Turn the TV only on a few minutes prior to the start of the shows, and turn it off immediately after. No channel surfing, no mindless watching.
- Schedule a game night or award “time tickets” to allow your kids to get their video game fix without spending endless hours glued to the screen and controllers.
Track Your Meals
How often do you stop at the drive-through on your way to or from activities? You may not realize just how often you grab dinner to go or reach for processed convenience items unless you keep track for a couple of weeks.
The problem is that most of these items contain overly processed simple carbohydrates (such as sugar and flour) and oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (like sunflower, soybean, and corn oil)—huge culprits of inflammation. While the debate of whether inflammation or cholesterol is the direct cause of heart disease is still in progress, it is certainly a big cardiovascular health risk factor.
- Curb fast food eating, and learn how to make better choices when hitting the drive thru window.
- Making healthy meals at home is easier than you think. For example, heart-healthy meals can be slow-cooked in a crockpot so they are ready when you are, you can make homemade freezer meals that just need to be popped in the oven.
- Replace certain ingredients in your pantry. Rather than all-purpose white flour, go with 100% whole wheat baking flour and flour products. Instead of butter, shortening, and margarine, try extra-virgin olive oil, which features heart-healthy fatty acids. Instead of canned or jarred fruits, choose fresh or frozen. Instead of sugary sodas and juices, try mixing 100% juice with water—even a splash makes for a refreshing treat.
Track Your Time
Being constantly on the go is stressful for you and your children. Extra-curricular activities are a good thing for children, but as they say, you can have too much of a good thing. A recent NPR story highlighted the new levels of stress children and teens are experiencing today have a negative impact on health. As too much continual stress has been identified as one of the causes of heart disease, it’s imperative that families come together and decide where to cut back on obligations and commitments.
While stress management techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing, and meditation, are great, healthy activities for everyone to practice, learning where to cut back and focus energy where it really counts is the first step.
Getting More Active at Home
After creating room in your lifestyle for healthy habits, fill it with fun activities at home! Why zone out or complain about boredom when there are so many valuable and fun activities you can do at home?
Become a Clean Machine
Getting everyone involved in household tasks and chores makes the work easier, faster, and healthier. And you can even make housework more fun!
- Put sticky notes on everything that needs attention: Dust me, pick me up, sweep me, clean me, etc. Then race around the house to see which family member can acquire the most sticky notes and get the job done properly.
- Put some tunes on the stereo and limit each household task to a certain number of tracks—3 for washing the dishes, 2 for scrubbing the bathtub, 4 for dusting the living room, etc. Get your toes tapping and the house clean all at the same time.
Go Green in the Garden
Backyard agriculture is all the rage these days, as we have rediscovered the joys and benefits of growing our own food. Gardening is also a great way to get, and stay, active. Those seeds and plants need planting, watering, weeding, and tending to. The fruits of your labor need to be harvested and prepared for storage and meals. Branching out to incorporate backyard chickens, rabbits, or other small livestock creates another dimension to your activity (and learning) time.
Besides the boost in physical activity, growing your own food is often healthier, cheaper, and more fulfilling than relying on the grocery store.
Take a hike
Or walk the dog, visit the neighborhood park or playground, play some hoops, go for a swim, set up the net and have a rousing game of volleyball in the backyard, and so on. Just get outside and get moving! Turning a lazy Saturday, Sunday, or weekday evening into a fun activity builds heart health, good habits, and memories, all of which can last a lifetime.
Doing What You Can
The easiest and most effective way to develop healthier habits as a family is by taking it one step at a time. No one said you had to do it all at once or all by the end of the month. Just start. Do what you can, when you can. Grow from there. When built upon and sustained over time, these habits will evolve into a full-blown heart-healthy lifestyle that will last you and your children a lifetime.