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Start your kids on a heart-healthy path

Health and Wellness, Health Alert, Kids' Health

You're there to help your children with their homework, and you remind them to brush their teeth.

But have you helped them do something good for their hearts lately?

Heart health is important for kids too

You may think that only grown-ups need to be concerned about having a healthy heart. But it's never too early to start establishing a heart-healthy lifestyle for your children too.

Here's why: Even though kids rarely get heart disease, the process leading to adult heart disease—the gradual buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances in arteries—can actually begin in childhood. This can put kids at future risk for a heart attack, or even a stroke when they grow up.

And the chances of that happening increase when kids develop heart disease risk factors such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Share the heart love with kids

February is American Heart Month. Why not take the time this month to make changes that can help your kids—and the whole family—beat back heart disease?

While encouraging health, it’s important to stay positive with kids. “I like to involve the kids in the discussion by telling them they will run faster and be able to keep up with their peers,” says Debra Johnson, a family nurse practitioner at Adventist Health’s Gresham Station office.

Easy adds for heart-healthy kids

Encouraging heart-healthy habits doesn’t have to be hard on you or your kids. Give these suggestions a try:

Serve up good eats. Saturated fats and trans fats can raise the risk of heart disease. When shopping for your family, choose foods that are lower in saturated fat—such as lean meat and low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese—and limit foods that have transfats like cookies, cakes, crackers and frozen pizza.

Also aim to serve five fruits and veggies a day, and cut back on sweetened drinks. Make sure plenty of healthy food choices are available at home.

Invite your kids into the kitchen. Let your kids help you prepare healthy meals. It's a great way to teach them about good food choices.

“My son loved helping in the kitchen. It inspired him to take care of his heart by learning about a heart-healthy diet” Johnson explains. “Now he's working for the Forest Service and loves being able to hike in the wilderness because his heart is healthy.”

Encourage exercise. Kids who are 6 years and older need 60 minutes of daily activity. Make being active a family affair. Go on walks or bike rides; play sports together; or engage in fun, active games (hoops, anyone?) with your kids.

Get your children checkups. Along with assessing overall health, a doctor can check a child's weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Be sure all the adults in the family get their checkups too.