Moms and dads have dozens of concerns each day, ranging from a child’s performance in school to emotional development and happiness. Perhaps one of the biggest questions is: Am I doing enough to keep my child heart healthy?
At the base of your child’s success and well-being is a healthy body. And one of the most important focuses of health—especially in children—is the heart. Here are twelve tips for helping your kids lead a heart healthy life:
#1 Change things up
Children enjoy exploring different environments, so take your child to a local playground or indoor activity center and let him play. Being in a new, fun space encourages imagination and creativity, while giving him the opportunity to move his body and maybe even make new friends.
#2 Join in
Perhaps the greatest gift you can give your child is your time, energy and attention. Instead of watching them play, join in. Not only will you be encouraging your kids to get and stay active, but you’ll be building your relationship, too.
#3 Sneak in healthy foods
If you have a picky eater, find ways to sneak healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy into their meals and snacks. Top whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce loaded with vegetables, make a delicious whole-fruit smoothie, or melt some low-fat cheese over assorted vegetables as a side with dinner. Replace white bread with whole-grain bread, butter with olive oil or coconut oil, and cookies with sweet fruits like mango or pear.
#4 Make it a competition
Most kids love competing—after all, isn’t that what video games are based on? Some families compete by having each family member wear a pedometer, and then they tally up their weekly steps to see who “won” that week. You can even have prizes for winning, such as a special (healthy) lunch out with Mom or a pass on washing the dinner dishes for a night.
#5 Sleep more
Sleep is important for memory, concentration and general wellness, and it’s also necessary for keeping the heart healthy. Try to stick to a schedule, even on the weekends, to help encourage healthy sleep.
Toddlers (ages 1 to 3) should get 12 to 14 hours of sleep daily;
preschoolers (ages 3 to 5) should get 11 to 13 hours;
school-age children (ages 5 to 10) should get 10 to 11 hours;
teens (ages 10 to 17) should get 8.5 to 9.25 hours.
#6 Supplement a healthy diet
Many kids would benefit from a good multivitamin and a vitamin D supplement; your child might have additional nutritional needs that aren’t being met through her diet. A health care provider should be able to help determine if your child is getting all of the nutrients he or she needs. If your child isn’t, a nutritional supplement may be a good option to support heart and total health.
#7 Turn it off
I rarely watch television, and there’s a reason: It takes up too much precious time. Each minute your kids sit in front of the television is a minute they’re not being physically active. Limit screen time to encourage your kids to get moving.
#8 Use the screen wisely
I’ll amend the previous point by saying it’s nearly impossible to completely cut out screens. But, if you own a video gaming system, you can opt for games that encourage movement. Join in the fun as your child dances, skis, bowls or plays another activity-based video game.
#9 Walk or pedal
Walk or ride rather than taking the car. Pick activities nearby so you can commute by foot; if that’s not an option, choose family outings that involve movement. A nice greenbelt stroll is free and fun; if it’s cold in your area, bundle up and enjoy nearly empty trails or walking paths!
#10 Keep it calm
Like adults, kids react to their environments; and like adults, kids can get stressed out. Low stress levels are important for maintaining heart health, so make sure your child isn’t overloaded. Try not to overbook your kid’s schedule; while organized activities are important, it’s also good for your child to have down time. Read a book together, go on a leisurely walk, or play outside with the family dog. Have fun, relax and let your kids do the same.
#11 Cook together
Kids love to help out. Involve your child in cooking a healthy meal, and explain what each ingredient is and why it’s going into the dinner. Let him help mix, measure and prepare a healthy family meal—chances are, he’ll be more likely to eat it.
#12 Inspire by example
Whether you know it or not, your child is watching your every move, learning how to interact with the world and developing habits that could extend for a lifetime. When you lead a healthy lifestyle, you are subtly encouraging your child to do the same. As you make good choices, discuss why you’re making the decisions you’re making. They’re listening—really!
A healthy childhood is about more than just eating vegetables and running around outside; by helping your son or daughter develop healthy habits, you are giving the gift of lifelong vitality. Start encouraging heart health young by working in healthy lifestyle choices—good nutrition, regular physical activity, plenty of sleep and low stress levels—and do the same in your own life. Healthy, happy parents tend to have healthy, happy kids.
For more heart health advice and to join Louis Ignarro, PhD in the Heart Health Initiative, visit HeartHealthInitiative.com.
Written by Louis Ignarro, Ph.D. Dr. Ignarro is a member of both the Editorial and Nutrition Advisory Boards of the Herbalife Nutrition Institute and receives compensation for his endorsement of Herbalife® products.