A Heart Healthy Lifestyle

Kids and Heart Disease: The Heart of the MatterAdopting a healthy lifestyle is the key to preventing heart disease – and the earlier healthy habits are embraced, the better.  In addition to avoiding tobacco, experts point to three key areas that should be addressed when building a foundation for a heart healthy future:
  1. Good nutrition. Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium, and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  2. Maintaining a healthy weight. Overweight and obesity are risk factors for many chronic diseases, including heart disease. Excess body fat can lead to inflammation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and elevated blood sugar.
  3. Regular physical activity. Exercise associated with weight loss can help improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Adults can benefit from just 30 minutes of increased physical activity daily. Children and adolescents should aim for 60 minutes.

At a Glance: Good Nutrition

Diet is one of the key lifestyle factors that can be controlled when it comes to reducing heart disease risk. Children, adolescents and adults alike benefit from a heart-healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables with limits on the sugar, sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol they eat. Learn more about the right foods to choose for a healthy future.

At a Glance: Overweight/Obesity

Being overweight increases risk of:

Childhood overweight and obesity is one of the most serious health issues facing families today. Ultrasound scans have shown that obese children have thicker and stiffer carotid arteries than their normal weight peers and research confirms that obesity in childhood increases the risk of obesity as an adult and can lead to heart disease and premature death in adulthood.

Creating a home environment that encourages healthy eating and daily physical activity is the first line of defense in improving your child's health and wellbeing. If you are concerned about your child's weight, please discuss additional intervention strategies with your child's healthcare provider.

What Families Can Do
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

The scientific community agrees that each one of the following can improve our children's health.

  • Eat 5 fruits and vegetables per day
  • Get 1 hour of physical activity a day (does not need to be consecutive)
  • Limit screen time to less than 2 hours a day, including computer time and video games
  • Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Eat breakfast daily
  • Switch to low-fat dairy products
  • Regularly eat family meals together
  • Limit fast food, take out, and eating out.
  • Prepare foods at home as a family
  • Eat a diet rich in calcium
  • Eat a high fiber diet
  • Breastfeed exclusively until 6 months and maintain of breastfeeding after introduction of solid food until 12 months of age

At a Glance: Physical Activity

Increasing physical activity helps:

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
Source: U.S. Health and Human Services Department

Heart DiseaseKey guidelines by group:

Children and Adolescents (6-17 years of age)

One hour or more of moderate or vigorous aerobic physical activity a day, including vigorous intensity physical activity at least three days a week. Examples of moderate intensity aerobic activities include hiking, skateboarding, bicycle riding and brisk walking. Vigorous intensity aerobic activities include bicycle riding, jumping rope, running and sports such as soccer, basketball and ice or field hockey. Children and adolescents should incorporate muscle-strengthening activities, such as rope climbing, sit-ups, and tug-of war, three days a week.  Bone-strengthening activities, such as jumping rope, running and skipping, are recommended three days a week.


Adults gain substantial health benefits from two and one half hours a week of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity. Walking briskly, water aerobics, ballroom dancing and general gardening are examples of moderate intensity aerobic activities. Vigorous intensity aerobic activities include race walking, jogging or running, swimming laps, jumping rope and hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack. Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes.  For more extensive health benefits, adults should increase their aerobic physical activity to five hours a week moderate-intensity or two and one half-hours a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. Adults should incorporate muscle strengthening activities, such as weight training, push-ups, sit-ups and carrying heavy loads or heavy gardening, at least two days a week.

Note: Prior to starting a new exercise program, individuals should check with healthcare provider to be sure that there is agreement with plan. This is especially important for those who have not being doing regular exercise

Older adults

Older adults should follow the guidelines for other adults when it is within their physical capacity. If a chronic condition prohibits their ability to follow those guidelines, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow. If they are at risk of falling, they should also do exercises that maintain or improve balance.

Women during pregnancy

Healthy women should get at least two and one half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week during pregnancy and the time after delivery, preferably spread through the week. Women who wish to continue exercise throughout their pregnancy should first discuss with their healthcare provider.

Adults with disabilities

Those who are able should get at least two and one half hours of moderate aerobic activity a week, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. They should incorporate muscle-strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups two or more days a week. When they are not able to meet the guidelines, they should engage in regular physical activity according to their abilities and should avoid inactivity.

People with heart disease and other chronic medical conditions

Adults with chronic conditions get important health benefits from regular physical activity. They should do so with the guidance of a health care provider.

For more information about the "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,"visit www.hhs.gov or www.health.gov/paguidelines.

Decrease Sedentary Behavior

Time spent sitting in front of the television, surfing the Internet or playing video games is time that takes away from daily physical activity. In addition, passive screen time can also encourage unhealthy snacking habits. Learn to turn off the tube and turn on a healthier you.

Turn It Off: Limiting Screen Time
Source: The Alliance For a Healthier Generation

Check Yourself: Know how much Screen Time you and your children are getting, and then set limits for the entire family. You'll be amazed how much extra time you "find"when you turn off the TV or computer.

Play It Down: Using Screen Time to reward or punish a child makes it seem more important than it is. Use praise, encouragement and recognition for physical activity, and make Screen Time a "non-event"in your home.

Watch at Once: If you have a VCR or DVR, you can choose a few of your kids' favorite shows, record them, and then let them watch them all at once. That way, you'll have more time during the rest of the week for activities.

Double Time: When watching TV at home, do jumping jacks, pushups, or crunches during commercial breaks. Set up a stationary bike in the TV room, and encourage kids to move through their favorite shows.

After-School Action Plan: Many kids list watching TV as their #1 after-school activity. Sometimes, they just need help coming up with other things to do. Have your kids make a "Top 10 List"of after-school activities. Just a few examples include riding bikes, shooting hoops, walking the dog, folding laundry or even helping with dinner. Post the list on the fridge, so your kids can check it when they get home.

No TV Dinners: Turn off the TV during mealtime— and take turns talking about the day.

Cut the Cord: Take the TVs and computers out of your kids' bedrooms. Children who have TVs in their rooms spend almost 1 1/2 hours more each day watching them than their peers. Plus, if your kids are in their rooms watching TV, they're removed from family time.

Work It Out: Use the TV to watch a video— whether it's dancing, tae kwon do or yoga. Put on your sweatbands and have some family fitness time.

Heart Healthy Lifestyle Key