Start your kids on a heart-healthy path

February 16, 2017

You're there to help your children with their homework, and you remind them to brush their teeth.

But have you helped them do something good for their hearts lately?

You may think that only grown-ups need to be concerned about having a healthy heart. But it's never too early to start establishing a heart-healthy lifestyle for your children too.

Here's why: Even though kids rarely get heart disease, the process leading to adult heart disease—the gradual buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances in arteries—can actually begin in childhood. This can put kids at future risk for a heart attack, or even a stroke, when they grow up.

And the chances of that happening increase when kids develop heart disease risk factors such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

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February is American Heart Month. Why not take the time this month to make changes that can help your kids—and the whole family—beat back heart disease? Give these suggestions a try:

Serve up good eats. Saturated fats and trans fats can raise the risk of heart disease. When shopping for your family, choose foods that are lower in saturated fat—such as lean meat and low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese—and limit foods that have trans fats—such as cookies, cakes, crackers and frozen pizza.

Also aim to serve five fruits and veggies a day, and cut back on sweetened drinks. Make sure plenty of healthy food choices are available at home.

Invite your kids into the kitchen. Let your kids help you prepare healthy meals. It's a great way to teach them about good food choices.

Encourage exercise. Kids who are 6 years and older need 60 minutes of daily activity. Make being active a family affair. Go on walks or bike rides; play sports together; or engage in fun, active games (hoops, anyone?) with your kids.

Get your children checkups. Along with assessing overall health, a doctor can check a child's weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Be sure all the adults in the family get their checkups too.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; American Heart Association; UptoDate

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