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Thursday, February 20, 2020

10 Heart-Healthy Habits for the Whole Family

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10 Heart-Healthy Habits for the Whole Family

February is American Heart Month, which has got me thinking about how I can help my family be more heart-healthy. If you want your children to grow up to make heart-healthy lifestyle choices, the most effective way is to start while they are young and model the behaviors you want them to have. No child is going to want carrot sticks if you're eating fries, and no child is going to prioritize exercise if their parents rarely leave the sofa. So in honor of American Heart Month, guide your family into adopting these heart-healthy habits, which can improve your cardiac health and set your children up to continue a healthy lifestyle when they are adults.


1. Get Moving

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Incorporate regular movement into your family's routine. Take nightly walks, climb playground equipment together, go for family bike rides, or just grab a ball and invent a family game. Even grabbing a leash and taking the dog out for a quick stroll is a great way to start incorporating movement into everyone's daily schedule. Anything that encourages your whole family to get moving together is a good option.


2. Simplify Your Family's Schedule

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When my family's schedule is hectic, I know I start to make less healthy choices. Hitting up the drive-through for dinner, skipping a nightly walk so I can collapse on the sofa, and handing the kids devices instead of interacting with them are all easy go-tos when time is limited. Instead of using these coping mechanisms, work to simplify your schedule as much as possible. Limiting after-school sports and activities to one per kid is an easy to way to help free up your evenings for dinners together and a little after-dinner exercise.


3. Limit Screen Time

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Research shows that children with large amounts of screen time are heavier and less happy than their peers with limited screen time. Sitting in front of a screen also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Limit use of phones, tablets, computers, and TV to two hours a day or less.


4. Schedule Checkups

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Regular checkups are essential for everyone's health. Let your children see you schedule and attend your checkups, and make sure they're getting routine physicals as well. Children who play sports will also need a sports physical before the start of the season. I'm sure you've read the horror stories of seemingly healthy young athletes who experience sudden cardiac death; it's rare in healthy teens, but regular physicals may help identify any potential issues before they cause your kids harm.


5. Go to the Grocery Store Together

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We've all been tempted to get groceries alone, knowing that we'll be in and out of the store faster without the kids in tow. But regular family trips to the grocery store model how to make healthy food choices. Your children will see which parts of the grocery store to focus on and which to skip. They'll also get to see you reading labels and making decisions accordingly. Talk through your decision-making with your kids, and let them make some age-appropriate choices while you're there.


6. Keep Your Kitchen Healthy

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While you're at the grocery store, pick up plenty of healthy snacks. Keeping your kitchen stocked with kid-friendly, healthy options like string cheese, hummus, fruit, yogurt, and sliced vegetables can help ensure that your kids reach for healthy snacks and carry this eating habit into adulthood.


7. If Everyone Eats, Everyone Cooks

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Some parents are blessed with children who despise sugary treats, love veggies, and would never dream of burying everything they eat in ketchup. My kids aren't that perfect, and I bet yours aren't, either! But one way to get everyone on board with healthier eating habits is to let everyone take part in the process. Let the kids help you pick out recipes and plan meals, create the grocery list, and (most importantly) cook the food. Kids are more likely to eat food they've helped cook!


8. Monitor Salt Intake

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Keep an eye on your kids' (and your) salt intake. Try using more dried spices instead of salt when you're cooking. And check the labels of all prepared food, because some unexpected family staples can be high in sodium.


9. Give Up Sugary Drinks

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The culprit here isn't just soda: You'll need to cut back on juice and energy drinks, too, because they're all full of sugar. Breaking an ingrained soda habit can be hard even for an adult, so it's important not to let this bad habit take root in your child. Learning to reach for water is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle.


10. Be Realistic

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I'd love to be the mom who meal-preps green smoothies every week, always has a healthy snack in her bag, and never thrusts a device into her child's hand to get a moment of peace. Unfortunately, I'll never be perfect. Nobody's perfect, and that's OK. Making small changes over time can still make a massive difference in your child's health and your own. Strive for attainable goals, and forgive yourself when you occasionally give in to your bad instincts.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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