Active Fit: Encouraging heart-healthy habits in children – The Newark Advocate

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Heart disease refers to several types of conditions that can damage the heart, such as coronary artery disease, heart failure, and arrhythmia. Most children are born with a healthy heart; however, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States among adults.

Although genetics, environment, and infections can affect heart health, lifestyle choices can greatly impact the chances of a child developing a heart condition in adulthood. Encouraging children to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and manage stress can create habits that will benefit their heart health for a lifetime.

A heart-healthy diet focuses on consuming nutrient-dense foods that promote proper growth and development. Children who are exposed to healthy foods at younger ages are more likely to follow a healthy diet as adults. Implementing the following simple guidelines can help children make better food choices:

  • Serve a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. Each meal should have at least one fruit or vegetable.
  • Bake, broil, or grill foods instead of frying to reduce the amount of fat in a child’s diet.
  • Choose low-fat meats, such as chicken, fish, turkey, and lean pork and beef. Limit high-fat meats, such as sausage, bacon, hot dogs, salami, and bologna.
  • Use fruit as dessert in place of high-fat desserts, such as ice cream, cakes, and cookies.
  • Limit the use of butter, margarine, oil, salad dressing, mayonnaise, and other condiments and sauces that can add extra fat.
  • Use low-fat or fat-free dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and sour cream.

Additionally, provide regular meal and snack times that involve social interaction and demonstrate healthy eating behaviors. Make dinner a family activity, involving children in the planning and preparing of meals. Go to the grocery store together and provide opportunities for children to practice selecting healthy foods.

Along with a balanced diet, children should engage in regular physical activity for improved heart health. The heart is a muscle and needs exercise to stay strong. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend 60 minutes of daily physical activity for children and teenagers. Participating in sports and free play are excellent ways to promote exercise. Active chores, such as washing the car, raking leaves, and mowing grass also help increase physical activity and strengthen the heart.

Excessive screen time leads to a sedentary lifestyle. Set a limit on the amount of television, computer, and video game usage.  Instead of watching a movie together, families can take hikes, ride bikes, or play a yard game. Family activities are a terrific way to get exercise, bond with children, and reduce stress.

Chronic stress causes inflammation in the body that can lead to heart disease. Teaching children how to manage stress can help prevent complications as they get older. Regular exercise, spending time with family and friends, and proper sleep are essential in reducing stress. Promoting a positive attitude and practicing gratitude cultivates an environment for children to build confidence and manage anxiety when it arises.

Other ways to reduce the risk of heart disease for children include avoiding cigarette smoke and maintaining regular visits with a healthcare provider. Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals that are harmful to a child’s health. Parents should not allow smoking in the home or car, and should avoid places where people smoke. If a parent or caregiver smokes, consider quitting.

The Licking Memorial Hospital Tobacco Cessation Program, Quit for Your Health, is designed to help individuals stop smoking. The LMH Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialists use evidence-based techniques to assist participants with developing a plan to become tobacco-free. To learn more about the program, call 220-564-7848.

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