The Right Start for Their Heart: Teaching Kids Heart-Healthy Habits

By Sarah Pryor February 13, 2020

February is American Heart Month so it’s the perfect time to take stock of your family’s cardiovascular health. Heart healthy habits can start at a young age, Dr. Nandita Singh, a pediatrician with Atrium Health Levine Children’s Providence Pediatrics has some great tips that are easy for families to integrate into their daily lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. It’s so prevalent, nearly one person dies every 37 seconds from heart disease. The good news is, many instances of heart disease are preventable with healthy eating and exercise habits. Those habits can (and should!) start in childhood. As parents, we can help our children work toward avoiding cardiovascular disease and other heart-taxing health problems like high cholesterol and diabetes. “Healthy habits are important to start young because it carries on into adulthood,” says  Dr. Nandita Singh. Two simple ways to keep your family’s cardiovascular health in check are eating right and staying active.

Eat Right
Dr. Singh suggests stocking the pantry with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and high-fiber foods. In the fridge, keep a gallon of low-fat milk.
Think your child’s too picky for heart-healthy foods? You may just need to get creative. Pick a food you know your child likes, like eggs, meatballs or soup, and sneak some veggies in it, Dr. Singh said. When eating out, stay away from fast food and other high-fat menu options, and attempt to avoid processed food altogether. Dr. Singh also said to avoid soda, high-sugar juices and junk food like cookies and chips. One more suggestion for mealtime: stay at the table as a family. “Avoid eating in front of a television (because) sometimes you do not realize how much you consume when you are busy watching a TV show,” Dr. Singh says.

Get Active
Pick a fun activity that gets your heart pumping, and do it as a family. Dr. Singh suggests riding bikes and swimming together, or simply taking a walk around the neighborhood.
And as if you needed another reason to cut back on screen time, the American Heart Association says the influx of smartphones, tablets and televisions are creating a sedentary lifestyle for kids — possibly making them more susceptible to heart disease later in life. The bottom line is families can work together to improve their cardiovascular health for a longer, healthier life together. “Usually healthy habits are successful when families do diets and exercising together,” Dr. Singh says.

Need an easy way to remember these tips? It's as easy as this! 

5210 + 9

5 servings of fruits and veggies a day.

2 hours or less of screen time

1 hour or more of exercise per day

0 sugary drinks. 

9 hours or more of sleep 

Want more ideas and guidance? Talk to your doctor about other ways to stay heart-healthy as a family.

Dr. Nandita Singh, a pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children's Providence Pediatrics, went to Ross University and has been practicing for six years. She’s married with a 2-year-old child and enjoys walking and traveling with her family in her spare time.

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