February is heart health month, and Friday February 5th is “Go Red for Women Day,” which is a day that the American Heart Association specifically dedicates to heart disease in women. Did you know that:
- Heart disease causes 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every minute.
- 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
- Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease, and the gap between men and women’s survival continues to widen.
- The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women vs. men and are often misunderstood.
- While 1 in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease.
Many things can put you at risk for these problems. Unfortunately, the simple fact of being a woman increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. But while you can’t change things like age and family history, the good news is that even modest changes to your diet and lifestyle can improve your heart health and lower your risk by as much as 80 percent. These changes should start in childhood, and if you have a family risk of heart disease and have a daughter, these are key strategies to help yourself now and to prevent heart disease in your children. So what is one thing you can do right now to help yourself and your children to have a healthy heart?
- 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.
- Include vigorous-intensity activity on at least 3 days per week.
- Include muscle- and bone-strengthening (weight-bearing) activities on at least 3 days per week.
- Increase amount and intensity gradually over time.
Some examples of beneficial activities for children:
- Brisk walking (at least 2.5 miles per hour) and hiking uphill
- Jumping rope
- Swimming laps
- Heavy yardwork
- Cycling 10 miles per hour
Children are naturally active. As they grow into adolescents, they tend to become less active. This is especially true for girls, who may need even more support and encouragement to stay active. Don’t be surprised or disappointed if your kids’ interests shift or they lose interest in activities they used to love. Help them find other activities they can enjoy instead of becoming inactive.
Here are some tips that may help:
- Be a role model for an active lifestyle. Start moving more yourself and find ways to be active together as a family.
- Physical activity should be fun for children and adolescents. Encourage kids to keep trying activities to discover the ones they like and will stick with. Don’t use physical activity as a punishment.
- Reduce or limit sedentary screen time, including watching television, playing video games, and using a digital device. Don’t use the TV or a device as a babysitter.
- Provide kids with opportunities to be active. Give them active toys and games, like bikes, skateboards, roller skates, scooters, jump ropes, balls, and sports equipment.
- Support their participation in sports, dance, and other active recreation like swimming, biking, and running. Get familiar with community facilities near you, like pools, recreation centers, bike paths, and skate parks.
- When safe, let them walk or bike to places instead of always driving them in the car. For example, you could walk or bike to school or the bus stop together.
- If your child is very inactive now, start slowly. Increase the amount and intensity of activity gradually each week or so. This may help them avoid discomfort or injury and adjust to a more active lifestyle without becoming discouraged.
- Praise, rewards, and encouragement help kids to stay active.
The main thing is to get your children to move more, with more intensity, and sit less! Inactive children are likely to become inactive adults.
It has been shown that just helping your child create a healthy habit of regular exercise will increase life expectancy and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease as an adult. Physical activity produces overall physical, psychological, and social benefits, including:
- Lower risk of heart disease and stroke
- controlling weight, which decreases obesity and related chronic health problems
- reducing blood pressure
- better bone health and balance
- raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- reducing the risk of diabetes and some kinds of cancer
- improved psychological well-being, including gaining more self-confidence and higher self-esteem
- fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety
- better sleep, including improvements in insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea
- Improved cognition, memory, attention, and processing speed, which means better school performance
- So what are you waiting for? Let’s get moving!
This has been adapted from the American Heart Association Website. For more information, go to: