Improving Heart Health for Kids: 3 Things Parents Should Know

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Although symptoms usually appear later in life, the factors that lead to the illness begin much earlier — even experiences during infancy can contribute to heart disease. Children don’t always understand the risks of heart disease, so it’s up to parents to minimize a child’s chances of getting it. While hereditary factors are impossible to change, there are lifestyle choices that make a difference in heart health for kids. Help your child live a healthy life and do what’s best for their heart.

Get Creative with Activities

An active lifestyle can improve heart health, so it’s important to get your kids moving. The trick is to give kids activities they actually want to participate in, rather than ones that make them feel like they’re doing something just to stay healthy. As children are naturally curious, consider taking them somewhere they’ve never been before like a park, playground, or swimming pool. This will encourage your children to use their imagination, as they stay active and have fun. Don’t be afraid to join in — heart health is just as important for adults as it is for children.

Make Nutrition a Priority

Like any muscle, the heart requires a balanced and healthy diet to function correctly. Unfortunately, children are often picky eaters who don’t enjoy the foods that are best for their health. One way to change unhealthy eating behaviors is to start small — slowly introduce healthy foods into a child’s diet so they don’t feel overwhelmed by a plate full of greens. You could swap whole wheat for white bread, fruit for candy, and carrots for chips. Take it one step at a time and lead by example. After all, if you’re not eating healthy, your children have a real excuse not to consume nutritious foods themselves.

Ensure a Healthy Sleep Schedule

Getting a full night’s sleep doesn’t just make a child feel better in the morning; it can help their heart in the long run. The most important part of a sleep schedule is that your kids stick to it every day of the week. This might not be so difficult on weekdays when school and homework make your child feel tired, but children sometimes want to stay up late on the weekends. Stay firm with bedtimes and eventually your children will know that going to bed at a certain hour is non-negotiable. You might feel bad making them hit the hay early, but remember that you are simply improving their heart health one night at a time. Teens require around 9 hours of sleep every night, and younger children need even more, so be sure they are getting the right amount to stay healthy.

Every kid deserves a healthy heart, so do what you can to keep things pumping smoothly. The steps you take today are sure to have a positive effect later in your child’s life. When you improve a child’s diet, exercise, or sleep schedule, you are giving them the gift of a healthier heart. Even if they don’t understand it today, they will be grateful they grow up. If you’re wondering how to get started improving your child’s heart health, check out our blog post “Benefits of Cooking for Your Kids” to tackle nutrition first. There’s nothing quite like a home-cooked meal, so make dinner more delicious and nutritious every day of the week.

How Much Sleep Does My Child Need? A Guide for Parents

Whether you’ve just brought your newborn home from the hospital, you’re dealing with the terrible twos, or are the proud parent of a ten year old, ensuring that your child gets the right amount of sleep is essential to keeping them happy and healthy. The sleep your child gets each night impacts both their mental and physical development, which means establishing regular sleep patterns is extremely important. Below, we’ll talk about how much sleep your child needs, no matter what their age, and provide some tips to helping them get enough ‘Z’s. These are general guidelines for most children, if you have any specific questions or concerns about your child, making an appointment with your provider will give you an individualized guidance and sleep strategies that work for you and your family. One size does not fit all when it comes to sleep!


Newborns (0-3 months)

At this stage of your child’s life, not only are they going to need a lot of sleep, but their sleep-wake cycles – or Circadian rhythms – have not been established. This means that your child will sleep between 10.5 and 18 hours a day at intervals of anywhere between a few minutes to several hours. Their sleep will likely appear restless, with plenty of twitching, smiling, and squirming.


Tips for Getting your Newborn to Sleep:

  • Pay attention to how your baby acts when he or she is tired, and try to put baby in his or her crib when they are tired – but not asleep – as often as possible. This will help baby learn to fall asleep on his or her own.
  • Encourage your newborn to sleep less during the day by playing with them as well as exposing them to stimulation such as light and noise. While providing a more calming environment in the evening.
  • When putting your child to sleep, lay them on their back with their faces and heads completely free of any blankets or soft items.


Infants (4-11 months)

Infancy is the stage during which sleep patterns are learned. At this age, your child will need between 9-12 hours of sleep at night, with supplemental 30 minute to 2-hour naps throughout the day. In the earlier months, your child may have some issues sleeping through the night, though 70-80 percent of children will have no problem with this by the time they reach nine months of age.

Infancy is also the time during which attachment and social development can impact sleep. Your child may express some separation anxiety, which can make bedtime more difficult. To combat this, continue to put your infant to bed when they are tired, but not asleep, which will help them to learn to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own.


Tips for Getting your Infant to Sleep:

  • Consistency is key – develop a regular bedtime schedule and routine so that your child can develop regular sleep patterns.
  • Create a comfortable, “sleep-friendly” environment free of stimulating lights and sounds.


Toddlers (1-2 years)

Toddlers can seem like unstoppable little balls of energy at times, but at this stage, your child needs between 11-14 hours of sleep per day/night. Naps become a once-a-day ritual and should occur earlier in the day to avoid a disruption in nighttime sleep. Sleep problems are common for Toddlers, including resistance at bedtime, nightmares, and nighttime wakefulness. This can be a difficult stage.


Tips for Getting your Toddler to Sleep:

  • Have an established bedtime and bedtime ritual, as well as consistency with naps.
  • If your child is having a difficult time sleeping, it is important that rules are set and enforced. If they are afraid, giving them a security blanket or stuffed animal can help them to soothe their fears and establish healthy sleep habits.


Preschoolers (3-5 years)

At this stage, your child’s imagination has the tendency to run wild, which can lead to issues ranging from general fear of the night to sleepwalking to night terrors. Your child still needs 11-13 hours of sleep, and as naps become less frequent, an established sleep schedule is essential.


Tips for Getting your Preschooler to Sleep:

  • Introduce a relaxing ritual, like reading before bed, in the room in which your child sleeps.
  • Consistency is still extremely important. Your child should sleep in the same room, and observe a set bedtime.
  • Though your child may love TV at this point, watching TV before bed, especially in their sleeping environment, is ill advised.


School-aged Children (6-13 years)

At this age, your child needs between 9-11 hours of sleep per night. Demands on your child’s time and energy are increasing, with homework, sports, friends, and more. Your child is also likely to consume more caffeine, and participate in a growing amount of “screen-time” – on computers, watching TV, on mobile devices – all things which can negatively impact your child’s sleep quality and duration.


Tips for Getting your School-aged Child to Sleep:

  • Talk to your children, and teach them about healthy sleep patterns.
  • Keep a consistent bedtime.
  • Keep computers and televisions our of your child’s room.
  • Avoid giving your children caffeine, and talk to them about caffeine consumption as they head into their teens.


Sleep can be a difficult thing for children, so help your child get the sleep they need by paying attention to bedtimes, bedtime rituals, and the amount of sleep that is appropriate for their age.