A healthy heart begins with a healthy lifestyle, one that includes a balanced diet and plenty of physical activity. Here are a few tips to help ensure a healthy heart for childhood and beyond.

  1. Avoid sugary drinks
    Today’s beverage choices can be overwhelming. Walk into any supermarket, convenience store or pharmacy and you see an array of colors, flavors and sizes, many of which are marketed directly to kids. Many of these drinks, including sodas, fruit juices, and energy drinks, have a lot of added sugar. These are sources of excess and unnecessary calories, which quickly translate into extra and unwanted weight.     

    To make your life simpler, avoid these drinks completely! For most children, water and skim milk are the perfect drinks. Of course, kids have different nutritional needs throughout childhood, so talk to your pediatrician about what milk is age-appropriate.

  2. Make healthy food choices
    Healthy food choices are incredibly important for heart health. The heart-healthiest foods include vegetables, fruits and whole grains. In addition, dairy foods should be low-fat, and meats should be lean. Fried, fatty and baked foods are okay once in a while, but they should not be consumed daily. Limiting portion size is also important — you want your child satisfied, not stuffed!     

    What you eat is important, but increasing evidence that suggests when you eat and whom you eat with may be just as crucial. Regular meals, especially breakfast, are essential for regulating metabolism, and eating together as a family may be associated with healthier weight. 

  3. Engage in physical activity
    A body is meant to be active! That means at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.      

    What activity is best? The answer is whatever activity you and your child enjoy. This can be brisk walks, dancing, martial arts or organized sports. Keep the heart rate up and sweat! Your heart and body will thank you.

  4. Limit screen time
    Screens are everywhere these days. With televisions, computers, tablets, mobile phones and other electronic devices, it is hard to spend time not looking at a screen. While computer use is an increasing part of a child’s homework, all of those other screens are probably not as necessary.     

    Challenge your child and your family to limit screen time to less than two hours a day. Better yet, turn those screens off entirely and get your body moving!

  5. Improve your sleep hygiene
    Good sleep habits are a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. Healthy sleep helps to regulate the body’s metabolism, and increasing evidence suggests that better sleep is associated with healthier weight.     

    Healthy sleep starts with good sleep hygiene. Keep regular sleep hours, even on weekends. Distractions, especially screen time, should be limited or eliminated one hour prior to bedtime. Finally, avoid eating during the three hours prior to bedtime. Good sleep helps the body rejuvenate and ensures an energetic and focused day.    

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Schidlow David Schidlow, MD, is a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s National. He practices in multiple locations, including Washington, DC, Arlington and Fredericksburg, VA, and Salisbury, MD.

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