Keeping Your Child (And Your Family) Heart Healthy
Monday, February 15, 2016
A healthy heart begins with a healthy lifestyle, one that includes a balanced diet and plenty of physical activity. Here are a few tips to help ensure a healthy heart for childhood and beyond.
- Drinks: Today’s beverage choices are overwhelming. Walk into any supermarket, convenience store, or pharmacy and you see an array of colors, flavors, and sizes, many of which are marketed directly to kids. Many of these drinks have a lot of added sugar, including colas, fruit juices, and energy drinks. These are sources of excess and unnecessary calories, which translate quickly into extra and unwanted weight. Make your life simpler, avoid these drinks completely! For most children, water and skim milk are the perfect drink. Of course, children have different nutritional needs throughout childhood, so talk to your pediatrician about what milk is age appropriate.
- Food: Healthy food choices are incredibly important for heart health. The heart-healthiest foods include vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. In addition, dairy foods should be low-fat, and meats should be lean. Fried, fatty, and baked foods are okay once in a while, but they should not be consumed daily. Limiting portion size is also important—you want your child satisfied, not stuffed! What you eat is important, but increasing evidence that suggests when you eat and whom you eat with may be just as important. Regular meals, especially breakfast, are important in regulating metabolism, and eating together as a family may be associated with healthier weight.
- Physical activity: A body is meant to be active! That means at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. What activity is best? The answer is whatever activity you and your child enjoy. This can be brisk walks, dancing, martial arts, or organized sports. Keep the heart rate up and sweat! Your heart and body will thank you.
- Screen time: Screens are everywhere these days. With televisions, computers, tablets, mobile phones, and other electronic devices, it is hard to spend time not looking at a screen. While computer use is an increasing part of a child’s homework, all of those other screens are probably not as necessary. Challenge your child and your family to limit screen time to less than two hours daily. Better yet, turn those screens off entirely and get your body moving!
- Sleep: Good sleep habits are a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. Healthy sleep helps regulate the body’s metabolism, and increasing evidence suggests that better sleep is associated with healthier weight. Healthy sleep starts with good sleep “hygiene.” Keep regular sleep hours, even on weekends. Distractions, especially screen time, should be limited or eliminated one hour prior to bedtime. Finally, avoid eating during the three hours prior to bedtime. Good sleep helps the body rejuvenate and ensures an energetic and focused day.
For more information about cardiology services at Children’s National, call 202-476-2020 or visit ChildrensNational.org/HeartInstitute.
About the Expert
Dr. Schidlow is a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s National Health System. He practices in multiple locations, including Washington, DC, Arlington and Fredericksburg, VA, and Salisbury, MD.