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5 Heart-Healthy Habits to Teach Your Children

Learning heart-healthy habits is crucial. 

And, children learn habits best when those around them model good, healthy behaviors. It is more difficult to change a bad habit years later than it is to establish good ones from the beginning.

Children learn unconsciously more than they do consciously. It is not enough simply to tell them what habits they need to have. Instead, teach them good habits by living them daily.

Families are busier than ever,  with more intense time commitments for schoolwork, extracurricular activities and jobs than they may have once had. Family meals are less common and readymade foods provide a quick fix for dinner in a lot of households (mine included)!

Now Is the Time to Start

With that in mind, parents need to be aware of the effects these changes have on our children's dietary habits as they grow toward adulthood. We live longer than we used to — we have to live with our hearts, joints and brains for longer periods of time. It is important that we treat them well! 

Here are five habits to live by in your home:

1. Practice moderation with eating and meals.

Control portion size rather than specific foods. Everybody has a diet, whether you are on a specific diet or not. Choose yours appropriately, knowing you are setting an example. Balance matters. Certain dishes that taste good but are not considered healthy are okay in small amounts. Find healthy, filling options for when you and your children are hungry. Foods with a lot of water and  fiber are good choices: broth-based soups, raw vegetables and fat-free ranch dressing or whole fruit. 

Be intentional when choosing treat foods for the whole family. Avoid empty calories: soda, fruit juice and sugary sports beverages are some of the worst offenders. You also can  reduce calories without completely changing your food choices. For example use skim or 1% milk instead of whole milk and substitute plain or Greek yogurt for sour cream.

2. Create order from chaos.

When you are busy, it is very easy to take the shortest path instead of the one that’s needed most. Organizing your family’s eating habits and daily lives can help tame the chaos and set expectations that your children can follow. Take time to establish systems that will lead to healthier results: Start to prepare and plan meals on the weekends when you have more time. Prepare meals ahead of time using your slow cooker if that works for your family. 

3. Exercise matters.

Encourage fitness for the long-term health of your whole family. Whether you are heavy, average or underweight, everybody benefits from regular exercise. If you are sedentary as a child, you will likely be sedentary as an adult. Exercise helps in ways we don’t always fully understand, not just in terms of weight and exercise capacity, but also when it comes to heart health, brain function and your immune system.

4. Be mindful of what goes into your body.

Excess calories and processed foods are bad for children. Be aware of what you’re providing for your family’s meals and strive to follow a balanced diet.

5. Healthy sleep = Healthy brain.

In general, toddlers need about 12 hours of sleep a night while teenagers require 8-9. The right amount of sleep helps the brain repair itself, process memories and rejuvenate. Establish regular bedtimes so your children don’t miss out on the sleep they need. Getting enough sleep and avoiding disrupted sleep from lights, noises and electronics are important for keeping all  bodies in your family healthy.

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