February is American Heart Month. This month is dedicated to educating Americans on the dangers of heart disease. While adults are at a higher risk of having cardiovascular conditions, kids should know about how to keep their hearts healthy as well. Fortunately, there are some simple heart-healthy activities they can participate in that will give them a head start on a lifetime of good cardiovascular health.

Healthy Heart Guidelines for Children

There are many things that contribute to heart health. For kids, the biggest factors to emphasize are diet and exercise.

Heart-Healthy Foods

What you eat is a key part of your heart health, and it’s just as important for kids. Starting healthy habits early on can also encourage them to keep up a healthy diet throughout their lives. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a pretty comprehensive guide on nutritional guidelines for kids of different ages. ChooseMyPlate can also help you plan healthy meals for kids that will encourage heart health.

Some basic rules for balanced and heart-healthy nutrition include:

  • Go lean with protein. Choose low-fat or lean cuts of meat and poultry. Vary your protein routine by choosing more fish, nuts, seeds, dried beans, and peas
  • Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red, and orange vegetables, legumes (dry beans and peas), and starchy vegetables. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Make at least half of your grains whole grains. Examples of whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, and oatmeal.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk products, as well as those that are high in calcium.

Exercise Recommendations for Kids

Exercise is a key part of being heart-healthy for both children and adults. The recommendations from the American Heart Association for children are:

  • Children 3-5 years old should be physically active and have plenty of opportunities to move throughout the day.
  • Kids 6-17 years old should get at least 60 minutes per day of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity, mostly aerobic.
    • You can break this exercise up into smaller time increments if needed. Sometimes a busy schedule might only allow for 15-20 minutes of activity at a time. That’s fine as long as you work towards a total of 60 minutes.
  • Include vigorous-intensity activity on at least 5 days per week.
  • Include muscle- and bone-strengthening activities at least 5 days a week.

Heart-Healthy Activities

Encouraging healthy habits from a young age can stick with kids and encourage them to adopt those habits as they get older. So making them aware of the importance of heart health now will help them prevent things like heart disease down the line. These heart-healthy activities include things your whole family can do!

  • Cook with kids to teach them about balanced heart-healthy meals. Find new recipes to try together.
  • Plant a garden full of vegetables and fruits that you can use in your recipes.
  • Encourage outside play! Heading to the park or playground encourages kids to climb, run, hone gross motor skills, and get some good cardiovascular exercise.
  • Have indoor dance parties
  • Make hopscotch courses with sidewalk chalk.
  • Jump rope. Kids can jump on their own or you can get a group of 3 together (you can join in too!) and alternate who turns and who jumps. Find fun rhymes to jump to or have a friendly competition to see who can get the most jumps in.
  • Try another childhood throwback: hula hooping. See who can master the skill and keep the hoop up for the longest.
  • Find kid-friendly exercise videos or online classes to follow. There are tons of fun options kids will love.
  • When the weather is right, go swimming when you get the chance.
  • Hike as a family.
  • Set up a backyard obstacle course.
  • Have family basketball games or one-on-one sessions. A game of 21 is a good way to get moving without needing to time halves or quarters.
  • Roller skate or rollerblade around the neighborhood or find a local paved path.

There are so many heart-healthy activities that kids can partake in that it’s impossible for us to name them all here. If you can think of a safe and fun activity that will get kids up and moving, try it!

Make an Appointment

The team at Carithers Pediatric Group is here to provide comprehensive care for your children at all stages of life. If you have questions about how your kids can have a healthier heart and want to contact us and make an appointment, call our Riverside office at (904) 387-6200 or our Southside office at (904) 997-0023.