From Forsyth Medical Center
It’s a challenge for all of us—finding the time and energy to make healthy meals and exercise a part of our everyday routines. But for families with children, those unhealthy habits can become lifelong habits, leading to chronic health problems ranging from obesity to heart disease to stroke.
“One of the biggest problems when it comes to children’s heart health is that there has been a significant decrease in focus on physical activity for kids recently,” says David Bohle, MD, an interventional cardiologist with Winston-Salem Cardiology Associates. “Not as many take physical education in school, and we aren’t pushing them to be physically active. We’ve created a society of sedentary children who play video games instead of going out and riding their bikes.”
Just as problematic, Dr. Bohle says, is the average American child’s diet, which often includes high levels of trans fats and carbohydrates. These are found in foods like French fries, which are a staple of many households because fast food is a cheap, easy—but unhealthy—way to feed a busy family. As a result, more children are developing obesity and diabetes and showing signs of cardiovascular disease, problems that usually only appeared in adults 30 years ago.
According to Dr. Bohle, the answer to the problem is a heart-healthy lifestyle that begins with getting active.
“It’s paramount to get kids active, whether through school or the YMCA or a church sports league,” Dr. Bohle says. “The trick is to make exercise fun. If you’re a family in which the parents work full time, try going for a family walk around the neighborhood for 45 minutes in the evenings.”
And there are plenty of other low-cost, convenient ways to stay active, even during the winter months.
- Adopt a dog. Getting your children in the habit of taking a dog for its daily walks will have health benefits for them—and the dog!
- Get an exercise machine for your home. You don’t have to invest hundreds of dollars in a new machine. Visit thrift stores for great deals on used machines.
- Play — whether it’s jumping rope or joining a church basketball league. Just use your imagination—and do it together.
But exercise is only part of the heart-healthy equation. Just as importantly, parents must look at the family diet and make changes that can lower everyone’s disease risk.
“Parents have to set a good example by eating a heart-healthy diet themselves,” Dr. Bohle says. “That means making the choice to minimize the amount of high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods in your diet, such as white bread, butter, and fatty meats and cheeses.”
Instead, opt for plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy.
The hardest part about starting a new heart-healthy routine is breaking old habits that often center on hectic family schedules. But even small changes can make a big difference.
One easy change that Dr. Bohle recommends is to go through your kitchen cabinets and throw out anything with high-fructose corn syrup in it. Many foods may not seem “sugary,” but they may still have hidden sugar, which, consumed regularly, can raise the whole family’s risk for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
These foods include:
- Breakfast cereals
- Frozen waffles
- White breads
- Flavored yogurt
- Canned vegetables
- Condiments such as ketchup and salad dressing
- Bottled juices
“It’s not always easy to make changes in your lifestyle,” Dr. Bohle says. “But by focusing on making healthy living a fun family affair, you help your kids form habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.”
Winston-Salem Cardiology Associates, a practice affiliated with Novant Health and Forsyth Medical Center, has a dedicated pediatric cardiologist on staff to help parents lower their children’s risk for cardiovascular disease. For more information, call (336) 277-2000.
Forsyth Medical Center, along with Wake Forest Baptist Health, provides certified athletic trainers for WS/FCS high schools. The school system thanks the medical centers for their generous contributions.