by Louis Ignarro, PhD
Moms and dads have dozens of concerns each day, ranging from their child’s performance in school to emotional development and happiness. Perhaps one of the biggest questions is: Am I doing enough to keep my child heart-healthy?
At the base of your child’s success and well-being is a healthy body. And one of the most important focuses of health—especially in children—is the heart. Here are twelve tips for helping your kids lead a heart-healthy life:
#1 Change things up
Children enjoy exploring different environments, so take your child to a local playground or indoor activity center to simply play. Being in a new, fun space encourages imagination and creativity, while giving your child the opportunity to get active and maybe even make new friends.
#2 Join in
Perhaps the greatest gifts you can give your child are your time, energy and attention. Instead of watching them play, join in. Not only will you be encouraging your kids to get and stay active, but you’ll be building your relationship, too.
#3 Sneak in healthy foods
If you have a picky eater, find ways to sneak into their meals and snacks some healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Top whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce loaded with vegetables, make a delicious whole-fruit smoothie, or melt some low-fat cheese over assorted vegetables as a side with dinner. Replace white bread with whole-grain bread and swap cookies with sweet fruits like mango or pear.
#4 Make it a competition
Most kids love competing. Some families compete by having each member wear a pedometer, and then they tally up their weekly steps to see who “won” that week. You can even have prizes for winning, such as a special (healthy) lunch out with Mom or a pass on washing the dinner dishes for a night.
#5 Sleep more
Sleep is important for memory, concentration and general wellness—and it’s also necessary for keeping the heart healthy. Stick to a schedule, even on the weekends, to help encourage healthy sleep.
Suggested sleep times1:
– Toddlers (ages 1 to 3) should get 12 to 14 hours of sleep daily
– Preschoolers (ages 3 to 5) should get 11 to 13 hours
– School-age children (ages 5 to 10) should get 10 to 11 hours
– Teens (ages 10 to 17) should get 8.5 to 9.25 hours.
#6 Supplement a healthy diet
Your child might have additional nutritional needs that aren’t being met through diet. A health care provider should be able to help determine if your child is getting all of the nutrients he or she needs. If your child is falling short, a nutritional supplement may be a good option to support a heart-healthy life.
#7 Turn it off
Television takes up too much precious time. Each minute your kids sit in front of the TV is a minute they’re not being physically active. Limit screen time to encourage your kids to get moving.
#8 Use the screen wisely
If you own a video gaming system, you can opt for games that encourage movement. Join in the fun as your child dances, skis, bowls or plays another activity-based video game.
#9 Walk or pedal
Choose activities nearby so you can commute by foot. If that’s not an option, choose family outings that involve movement. A nice greenbelt stroll is free and fun. If it’s cold in your area, bundle up and enjoy nearly empty trails or walking paths.
#10 Keep it calm
Like adults, kids can get stressed out, too. Low stress levels are important for maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle, so make sure your child isn’t overloaded. While organized activities are important, it’s also good for your child to have down time. Read a book together, go on a leisurely walk, or play outside with the family dog.
#11 Cook together
Involve your child in cooking a healthy meal, and explain what each ingredient is and why it’s going into the dinner. Let them help mix, measure and prepare a heart-healthy family meal—chances are, they’ll be more likely to eat it.
#12 Inspire by example
Whether you know it or not, your child is watching your every move, learning how to interact with the world and developing habits that could extend for a lifetime. When you lead a healthy lifestyle, you are subtly encouraging your child to do the same. As you make good choices, discuss why you’re making your decisions. They really are listening!
By helping your son or daughter develop healthy habits, you are giving the gift of lifelong vitality. Start encouraging heart-healthy habits when they’re young by working in healthy lifestyle choices—including good nutrition, regular physical activity, plenty of sleep and low stress levels. And do the same in your own life!
Written by Louis Ignarro, Ph.D. Dr. Ignarro is a member of both the Editorial and Nutrition Advisory Boards of the Herbalife Nutrition Institute and receives compensation for his endorsement of Herbalife® products.
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