From an interview with
Dr. David Steflik
McLeod Pediatric Cardiology
Nearly one in five children ages 6 to 19 has obesity. Obesity and high blood pressure are risk factors for early development of cardiovascular disease, including strokes and heart attacks. The best thing we can do is establish a heart-healthy lifestyle as early as possible. The eating and exercise habits developed by age six are likely to be that person’s lifestyle in adulthood.
The main components of a heart-healthy lifestyle are:
Eating Healthy Starts at Home
It’s important for parents to remember that a heart-healthy lifestyle won’t work for a child unless the entire family is involved. For example, research has shown that just eating together as a family can improve children’s nutritional health. Although the researchers don’t know for sure why family meals are so effective, they note that homemade meals are typically lower calorie. Plus, eating together lets adults model good behavior and intervene when behaviors threaten to become bad habits.
When grocery shopping for your family, remember the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Make healthy eating easy by shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, where fresh foods are located. These are generally healthier than the processed foods you’ll find in the center aisles. Because the items in the outside perimeter are fresh, you can better control the fat and sodium intake in your family’s diet.
Children generally choose foods that are familiar, easily available and ready to be eaten. Encourage your child or teen to eat more fruits and vegetables by making them just as convenient as sugary snacks. You could place baby carrots in small bags on an easily accessible shelf in the refrigerator, for example. Meanwhile, limit eating out. Eating out is not only expensive, but can also be unhealthy.
Move Movement = Better Cardiovascular Health
By practicing healthy habits, you can affect your child’s future habits. It’s true that children who exercise are healthier as adults and that early-life exercise increases the likelihood of exercising later in life. By creating a routine, you will teach your children to establish healthy habits to carry them well into their adulthood.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, regular physical activity can help children and adolescents improve cardiorespiratory fitness, build strong bones and muscles, control weight, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and reduce the risk of developing health conditions such as heart disease.
Kids watch what we do and are easily influenced by those actions. If they see you doing something, they’re more likely to take an interest as well. This is especially true in health and fitness. Watch what words you use and the way you respond to physical activity. If you treat it like a chore, it’s likely they will grow to do the same. Incorporating healthy habits into your lifestyle, in full view of your children, is the best way to encourage them to create healthy habits of their own.
To learn more, speak with a pediatrician near you.