You probably know that heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans. But did you know that the habits needed to promote good heart health are best built during childhood?
“Healthy lifestyle habits that are cultivated early in life are more likely to stick around when a child becomes an adult,” says Eric Sievers, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon with West Tennessee Medical Group. “Teaching your kids healthy habits, such as being physically active and making nutritious food choices, is an important part of protecting their heart health—both now and in the future.”
Kids often learn best by seeing healthy habits modeled by adults in their lives. Making heart-healthy habits a part of your family’s routine can help promote good heart health for the entire family. Read on as we talk through the “big three” heart-healthy habits worth investing in for your family.
3 Heart Health Habits to Build as a Family
There are lots of habits that can help protect your heart. But there are three that stand out as relatively easy for each family member to implement:
Make Physical Activity Part of Daily Life
You probably already know that regular exercise is important. But do you know how much you should be getting? What about how much physical activity your kids need?
To keep your heart healthy and strong, experts recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of strenuous physical activity each week.
Because they’re growing and developing, kids need even more activity—the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
What is “moderate” activity, though? Technically, it’s any activity that gets you moving fast enough to burn three to six times more energy per minute than when you’re sitting. Brisk walking, biking and even dancing all fit the bill.
There are two ways you can help cultivate exercise as a habit in your children. The first is to model the behavior. When they see you prioritizing your health and getting regular exercise, they will be more likely to do the same.
The second is to make physical activity part of your family time. The three moderate activities we listed above are all great ways to get the whole family up and moving! Add in an occasional hike or a game of pickup basketball for variety and movement.
Fill Up a Healthy Plate
Our mindset about eating is often formulated early in life. If we hear about grownups “cheating” on their diets by indulging a sweet tooth, that’s often something we’ll model as adults.
Help your children create a healthy mindset toward eating instead. Teach the basics of healthy eating and make them a regular part of your routine—but also emphasize that there’s no need to punish yourself for occasionally indulging.
Healthy eating basics can help ensure you’re promoting good heart health as a family.
Involve your kids in choosing what the family eats and preparing those foods. Talk about the components of a healthy meal, including fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. As a family, prepare recipes and learn how to flavor foods with healthful additives like spices rather than salt or calorie-filled sauces.
Don’t label foods as “good” or “bad.” Instead, talk through portion sizes and the importance of moderation. Even foods that are considered unhealthy can typically be enjoyed occasionally in moderation.
Build a Sleep Routine
Sleep is tricky. Most Americans do not get enough quality sleep, and we’re constantly searching for ways to get more! Persistently not getting enough sleep is linked with diminished heart health.
This happens for a variety of reasons—from too much time spent with electronic devices to poor sleep habits to underlying sleep conditions. Some 50 to 70 million Americans, in fact, have a sleep disorder of some type.
In many cases, though, you can promote healthier sleep by building strong sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene represents the habits around where, when and how you sleep.
To promote healthy sleep for the entire family, ensure that bedrooms are kept cool and dark. It’s best if electronic devices are kept outside the bedroom, but their use should be curtailed an hour or two before bedtime in any case.
Create a routine that helps you (and your kids) wind down to sleep. This may include taking a warm bath, reading a book or even praying as a family.
Finally, set and maintain a bedtime and wake time that stays pretty much consistent every day of the week, including on the weekends. This helps your body come to naturally know when to wake up and when to fall asleep.
Choose a bedtime that allows each family member to get the recommended amount of sleep. For adults, that’s between seven and nine hours, and the amount needed for kids varies by age.
Another healthy habit that can help you protect your heart health? Having regular checkups. Find a provider here.