February is American Heart Month, and amid a pandemic winter it is important now more than ever for parents to be aware of their child’s health and ways to keep them active and healthy – heart health included.
From a young age, children develop habits they carry throughout life. These habits are often formed by watching their parents and guardians, their role models. Habits such as eating healthy and staying active are highly influential to a child’s heart health.
If parents participate in activities with the child and encourage a healthy lifestyle, toddlers likely will be enthusiastic about modeling those behaviors.
When emphasizing a healthy diet, remember it can be a slow process. If your toddler tends to be a picky eater, don’t force certain foods. Instead, understand you may need to try multiple times before toddlers become interested in eating broccoli or carrots. Being on a diet does not mean the goal is to lose weight. Rather, the goal is to have a heart healthy diet.
Exercise comes in many different forms, especially at a young age. Exploration is what being a toddler is all about. Going on walks in the park or around the neighborhood is an excellent way for parents and children to stay active while also having fun. Exercise should never feel like a chore. Rather, make exercise fun and enjoyable to encourage your toddler to think that staying active is exciting.
As children get older and become more familiar with a school routine, they often still want to spend time with parents. If, as a parent, you enjoy a morning jog around the neighborhood or an hour of yoga, invite your child to participate with you.
Packed lunches are a great way to ensure your child is eating a healthy and well-rounded meal even when away from home. Salty snacks and sugary juices are often the culprits behind unhealthy eating. Encourage healthy side dishes, such as baked zucchini tots or roasted vegetables. Children are still young enough to be picky eaters, but breaking that habit is a great way to ensure a heart-healthy diet through adolescence.
As always, children are much more likely to engage in activities they enjoy. As organized sports may become more popular and prevalent in your child’s life, make sure you know what the community and school offer. Parents who are aware of opportunities for an active lifestyle can better encourage their children to participate. By keeping them active, parents can also ensure their child’s heart is staying active as well.
As children grow older and more independent, healthy habits are put to the test. The choices children make as teenagers often shape the choices they will make as adults.
Involving your teens in culinary heart-healthy habits is a great way to influence their eating habits as an adult. Teach them how to cook and include them in your trips to the grocery store. Putting your teen in charge of little things like dinner and groceries can encourage a healthier diet. Just as with toddlers and elementary-age kids, make sure unhealthy food options are simply not available because they are not in the house. Making “junk” food harder to access can encourage healthier snack options.
Activities your child has been involved with since a young age are likely to stick around. Athletes are already engaged in active lifestyles as they condition and train for organized sports. Encourage your children to do what they want to do as far as activity goes. It is also not only the parent’s responsibility to encourage active extracurriculars, but the pediatrician’s responsibility as well. Not only are parents role models for their children, but pediatricians are too. As your child grows and matures, the pediatrician’s job is to monitor heart health and encourage a heart- healthy lifestyle for their patients and parents alike.
All for One
To continue to encourage and support healthy choices, it is important that parents also are engaged and living heart-healthy lifestyles. Staying heart healthy is an integrated way of living, where the entire family is involved in making food and active lifestyle choices that are healthy for everyone involved.