It’s never too early to start forming heart healthy habits.
A peer reviewed paper in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that the heart healthy habits we practice – or don’t – as adults have their basis in the environments we live in as children. Since many of the nutritional habits we keep into adulthood are formed by the time we turn three, it’s important to start teaching good eating and exercise habits at an early age
“Habits like making half your plate fruits and vegetables, drinking more water than sugary drinks, and proper portion sizes are developed early in life and get harder to change as we get older. If parents lay the proper foundation for these habits early in life, children will have an easier time maintaining these habits into adulthood,” says Dr. Matthew Smiley, a pediatrician and medical director of the Healthy Active Living Program at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
Diet, like exercise, is a modifiable risk factor for developing heart disease, so altering your diet can lessen your risk for heart disease in some cases. To make sure kids develop a heart healthy diet from the beginning, be sure to lower their intake of sugar, saturated fats, and empty calories like those found in chips, donuts, and cookies.
Being a role model for kids is the best way parents can help their children develop good eating habits and an active lifestyle. Children often adopt a similar lifestyle to their parents, so Dr. Smiley says if you want your children to eat healthy and be active, you must practice the same habits.
When helping kids develop healthy habits, Dr. Smiley tells parents that they are in control of the 3 P’s – planning, preparing and providing.
“Parents are responsible for planning, preparing, and providing healthy meals and snacks at home as well as planning activities, preparing their child to get ready for activities, and providing opportunities to be active,” says Dr. Smiley.
Children also responsibility in developing healthy habits. Dr. Smiley suggests they be responsible for the 3 C’s – choosing, choosing, and choosing.
“Children can choose whether to eat what’s been provided and how much to eat from what’s been provided,” says Dr. Smiley. “They can also choose to engage in an activity or not. They may not always engage and that’s okay. Provide them with choices and alternatives to demonstrate how fun being active can be.”
Quick Tips for Creating Heart Healthy Habits:
- Practice mindful eating – don’t eat too fast or when distracted, bored, or stressed.
- Eat meals together as a family.
- Remove screens and distractions from the dinner table.
- Make physical activity fun! Turn a walk around the block into a bike or scooter ride or time how fast your child can run from stop sign to stop sign.