Since 1924, the American Heart Association has been fighting heart disease and stroke and helping people to live longer, healthier lives. Our local AHA shares ways that you can stay healthy, get involved and help raise awareness right here in NEPA.
Tips for Helping Kids Keep Their Hearts Healthy
As kids head back to the classrooms, it’s important to recognize how young people spend their free time could impact their heart health. Too much screen time and unhealthy on-the-go eating habits could make for some hard lessons in poor heart health in the future.
In a recent study, researchers reported that most children and adolescents in the U.S. scored poorly for overall cardiovascular health. Less than 30% of kids ages 2 to 19 met high healthy heart standards according to American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8 metrics that define levels of heart health based on diet, physical activity, cigarette smoking, body mass index, total cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose and quality of sleep. The study showed that heart health decreased considerably as kids got older, with high cardiovascular health reported: 56% of two-to-five-year-olds, 33% of six-to 11-year-olds, and 14% of 12-to-19 year-olds.
Overall, kids were experiencing higher body mass index, increased blood pressure and eating less nutritious foods, all risk factors for poor heart health. Obesity, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, continues to be a major public health threat for children in all age groups, and, according to the American Heart Association’s 2023 Heart and Stroke Statistical Update has nearly quadrupled from about 5% in the 1970s to 14.5% in 2020. At the same time, school aged children are surrounded by entertainment from video games on their smartphones to shows on television. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they spend between six and nine hours in front of screens each day, reducing time being physically active.
Federal guidelines recommend children and teens ages 6 to 17 get at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity a day, including more intense activities at least three times a week.
Healthy eating is also important for growing kids. Once the busy school year starts, many may skip breakfast in the morning and if the family doesn’t have a scheduled mealtime, they may be grabbing unhealthy snacks on the go after school and munching on junk food while engaging in that screen time in the evenings.
Even sleep can significantly impact a child’s health. Adequate sleep promotes healing, improves brain function and reduces the risk for chronic diseases. Children require more sleep than adults, with recommendations for kids:
- 10-16 hours for ages 5 and younger, including naps
- 9-12 hours for ages 6-12
- 8-10 hours for ages 13-18
The American Heart Association suggests a few tips for helping keep kids heart-healthy:
- Schedule family time for physical activity. Weather permitting, go outdoors for a walk, a hike or even just some backyard games. Indoor activities can actually incorporate active screentime, like playing a dance-off or interactive sports video game.
- Plan a weekly menu and prep your meals. Encourage kids to help with meal planning and even grocery shopping. Make sure you have on hand foods they will eat that are also healthy for them. Taking the time to prepare for the week ahead – even cutting up fruits and veggies for healthy snacks – can help improve overall diets.
- Simplify your family’s schedule. In today’s society we’re expected to do it all. But this type of non-stop lifestyle isn’t sustainable or healthy. Try prioritizing your activities and see what you can do without so you’ll have more time for the things that matter. You can also work on ways to manage stress.
- Set a regular bed time – and wake-up time. Develop bedtime routines to wind down after a busy day. While it may be unrealistic to expect older kids to turn in early, have them to turn off their phones and other devices prior to bedtime. Encourage them to develop their own rituals for a good night’s sleep – and trying to catch up on the weekends doesn’t count.
- Live by example. Be a role model for healthy behaviors. It doesn’t mean you have to change-up everything at once, set goals and take baby steps. Teaching your kids about heart health now will help them live longer, healthier lives for their own future.
Learn more about the importance of heart health at heart.org.