Heart disease is not just for grandpa anymore. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), heart disease can originate in childhood. In a recently concluded study, the NIH discovered many of the conditions that lead to heart disease, including high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries, can begin as early as age five.
In addition to physical changes, the study also identified several key environmental factors. These include poor diet, lack of exercise, and tobacco use, all of which can result in high blood pressure and obesity at any age. It is common knowledge that children consciously and unconsciously mimic their parents. Therefore, raising heart healthy children means choosing a heart healthy lifestyle.
The best way of encouraging children to adopt your healthy lifestyle is to empower them with knowledge. Children are eager to learn the truth as it pertains to their bodies and lives. Teaching them how the heart and circulatory system function is a great place to start. Use age appropriate explanations to describe the effect nutritious food, quality water, and regular exercise have on heart health. In addition, find simple and loving ways to explain some of the common causes of heart disease.
Teaching Heart Healthy Habits
Exercise: According to the Department of Health and Human Services, all children over the age of two should get at least sixty minutes of exercise daily. Most children can easily meet this minimum with a little help from their parents. Start by encouraging them to participate in a variety of activities. Childhood is a time of exploration, and daily exercise is a way to determine interests. Outdoor play introduces children to the wonders of nature while organized sports teach them the value of teamwork. Likewise, dancing can ignite a passion while gymnastics encourages agility and flexibility. Any activity your children choose puts them one step closer to a heart healthy lifestyle.
Nutrition: One of the most effective ways to teach children good eating habits is to get them involved in the process. Start by taking them to the grocery store. Let them help you pick out food for the family. As you fill the cart together, explain why you choose some foods over others. For instance, you may tell your five year old that blueberries are good for you. If your child is older, however, you might use this opportunity to explain the role antioxidants play in good health.
Next, involve your children in the cooking. The kitchen is a fantastic hands-on learning environment. Allow children to chop, measure, and peel. Let them wash, beat, and boil. Buy them a kid-friendly cookbook and put them in charge of a dish or a meal. When they play chef, you get the chance to talk about what foods are good for us and why.
Water: When it comes to heart health, there is no substitute for pure water. Water helps improve circulation and rid the body of toxins. Therefore, it is important that your children drink plenty of water. Serve water at meals and be sure to send a water bottle to school and sporting events. In addition, limit the amount of fruit juice and sodas your children drink. If they must drink juice, make sure it is 100% natural. Also, if at all possible avoid serving your children soft drinks. They are full of unhealthy chemicals and empty calories, neither of which makes a positive contribution to their heart health.
Breathing: Deep breathing delivers more oxygen to cells throughout the body. This helps keep the heart healthy and improves circulation. Proper breathing also helps children reduce stress, which has been linked to heart disease. Showing your children how to use breathing to regulate stress is a powerful and heart healthy tool they can use now and for a long time into the future. Visit www.fullwavebreathing.com for instructions and deep breathing exercises.
By teaching your children these four heart healthy habits, you are empowering them with knowledge. You are teaching them that a healthy heart depends on good choices and that good choices make for a healthy lifestyle.
Dr. Thomas O. Goode is co-founder of the Academy for Coaching Parents International, LLC. He is also co-founder of Inspired Living International and the International Breath Institute. In addition, Goode is an inspirational speaker and author of numerous books, including The Healthy Heart Book-Holistic Prevention and Treatment of Heart Disease and Stroke. www.acpi.biz – The Academy of Coaching Parents International