By Alexa Bigwarfe

It’s important for parents to remember that we have to teach our children how to live heart healthy lives. According to statistics, currently 23% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 are classified as “obese” in the United States. Children are also consuming incredibly high rates of sodium on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s even coming from the snacks parents thought were the healthy choice.

Why do extra sugar and sodium matter? Higher sodium levels than the recommended daily amount increases the risks for high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk factor for hypertension, heart attack and stroke later in life. The over consumption also leads to increased risk of obesity. Obesity leads to potential heart problems. Additionally, after a 15-year study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), researchers concluded that those whose sugar intake was 25% or more of their daily caloric intake were two times more likely to die from heart disease as those with low sugar intake.

Research shows that healthy and active parents raise healthy and active children.

Tips for a Heart Healthy Family

Hide the exercise. It may not seem appealing to think about “working out” for an hour. However, you can find creative ways to “hide” the exercise in your daily activities. The American Heart Association recommends an hour of vigorous exercise each day for healthy children ages 2 and older. That may seem intimidating, but there are many ways to “hide” exercise in your daily routine. A few simple ways are to play active games, like tag, catch, or even jump roping. Instead of watching television, have them conduct a scavenger hunt or have a dance party. Go to the local playground or take a family walk. The kids can also exercise by helping with chores around the house. Gardening and yard activities are also a great way to keep the kids active and help them learn.

Reduce salt and sugar by swapping out prepackaged snacks with homemade snacks. This may mean ditching even the premade toddler meals and snacks, unfortunately. According to the CDC, there is too much salt or sugar in most of the prepackaged meals and snacks for toddlers. The study revealed that 72% of the toddler meals, which include macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, vegetables, juices, and so forth, were 1.5 times higher than the 210mg per serving maximum amount. Many of the dried fruit snacks contain about double the amount of recommended sugar intake per serving. Some of the snacks and cereals included added sugar, like glucose, high fructose corn syrup, and dextrose. The recommended serving of sugar is no more than 3 to 4 teaspoons each day, yet the American Heart Association conducted a study that concluded the average toddler consumes about 12 teaspoons of sugar each day. Limit juices and candy whenever possible. Healthy snacks include fruits, vegetables, nuts, cheeses, yogurt, and so forth. Try making homemade trail mixes in large quantities and storing in individual bags. Air popped popcorn, carrots and celery or other veggies with hummus, egg slices, and fruit smoothies are also great snacks.

Make sure to eat heart healthy foods. Deeply colored, non-starchy fruits and vegetables are a great way to keep your blood pressure in check and your weight down. If you opt for desserts after dinner, make it fruit. Some fun desserts for kids that are primarily fruit include bananas dipped in yogurt and frozen, bananas and almond butter, baked apples with cinnamon, berries and cream, fruit salad, and more. Fruits and vegetables have the added bonus of fiber, which helps to lower blood cholesterol. Try to eat fish twice a week. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish may help lower your risk of coronary artery disease. If your children balk at the idea of fish, try making Mahi Mahi. It is a very mild flavored, non-fishy tasting fish.

Reduce stress by eliminating unnecessary activities. Stress is a key factor in heart health and has even been shown to negatively affect your entire system. If your family is on the go non-stop, consider re-evaluating your activities and only keeping the priorities. One way to determine if something can be scratched from the schedule: if the thought of doing this activity or going to the event fills you with dread, maybe you don’t really need to do it. Eliminating the excess¬†will free up time for less stressful and healthier activities; like exercise and family time.

Children follow the example set by their parents, so the most important action parents can take to have a heart-healthy child is to model the behavior for them.

Alexa Bigwarfe is a freelance writer and mother to three children. She writes mainly about children’s health topics.




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