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Friday, March 2, 2018

5 Ways That Children Can Keep Their Heart Healthy

Photo by ErstwhileHuman (Flickr)

At a recent well-child checkup, our pediatrician ordered a cholesterol test for my daughter. I was a little surprised, but he told me that up to 20 percent of children have high lipid levels, a heart disease risk factor. By checking her heart health now, he can help to reduce her risk of developing heart disease later in life. While we wait for the test results, he also suggested five things my daughter and all kids can do to keep their hearts healthy now and into the future.

Engage in Physical Activity Daily

Kids should move their bodies for at least 60 minutes each day. Physical activity keeps their hearts healthy, and exercise builds bones and muscles while improving self-esteem, mood, and sleep.

My girls love to run, jump, and climb at our local park and engage in free play every day. Additionally, the doctor suggested family walks, strength training, and aerobic activities like jumping rope to help my girls meet their daily physical activity goal.

Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet

The right diet supports a healthy heart. Ideally, our children need a balanced diet that includes a variety of colorful foods that are low in salt, sugar, saturated fats, and trans fats.

With dietary suggestions from our doctor, my girls decided to check their diet and see what changes they can make to improve their heart health. First, they will start reading nutrition fact labels. This can help them avoid foods with added sodium and sugar. Then, they plan to follow the recommended serving sizes and limit portions. Finally, they want to load up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, all foods that support heart health.

Stay Hydrated

Adequate hydration improves almost all of the body's functions, including the heart's ability to pump blood properly. While kids often prefer to drink soda or juice, the pediatrician recommends water as the healthiest way to stay hydrated.

Every day, kids should drink at least eight ounces of water per year of age and up to 64 ounces after age eight. For example, your 3-year-old should drink 24 ounces of water. To stay hydrated, my girls will carry a water bottle everywhere they go, we plan to drink water with each meal, and they decided to consume soda or juice only on special occasions like birthday parties.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Gaining or losing weight affects how hard the heart works. That's why it's important to equip our kids with tools they can use to maintain a healthy weight and protect their hearts now and for the rest of their lives.

One clue to whether your child is underweight or overweight is their body mass index (BMI). Create a diet and exercise routine that supports a healthy weight gain or weight loss. For example, we plan to prepare healthy meals and have fun moving together each day as my girls achieve and maintain a heart-healthy weight.

Reduce Tobacco Exposure

Exposure to tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, regular cigarettes, and electronic cigarettes, and secondhand smoke damages almost every organ in the body, including the heart. In addition to harmful and dangerous toxins and chemicals, tobacco products contain nicotine, a substance that's highly addictive.

We must reduce our kids' exposure to tobacco products and avoid smoking around our kids and require grandparents, friends, and other caregivers to do the same. Our pediatrician also suggested that I talk to my girls about the dangers of smoking and using tobacco products. As parents and caregivers, we can equip our kids with the confidence they need to say no to peer pressure and not start smoking.

Heart health is important for kids. I'm grateful our doctor recommended these five ways that my girls can keep their hearts healthy now and into the future. What other heart-health tips do you and your kids recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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