A healthy heart. It’s a thing of beauty, and yet heart disease remains the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. Fortunately, there’s plenty families can do to prevent it. It’s best to start establishing healthy habits young, and when better than American Heart Month?
We’ve got a few easy kids activities and ideas for teaching your kids to care for their tickers and celebrate the health of their hearts this February and beyond.
Create a Healthy Heart Calendar. Together with your kids, think up 28 quick-and-easy heart-healthy activities – one for each day of the month. Keep them simple and fun: jumping rope for two minutes, walking the dog or helping prep a salad rich in leafy greens to serve with dinner are great places to start. Then, write them on the calendar and invite your kids to cross off the activities as they go. At the end of the month, celebrate their success with a fun, heart-healthy activity like visiting an indoor playground or pool.
Eat some chocolate. No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. A bit of the sweet, decadent stuff can actually do little hearts good. The Cleveland Clinic suggests enjoying moderate portions of chocolate a few times a week. We’ve got flavonoids to thank for this delicious recommendation: the antioxidant-rich nutrients help bodies ward off bad cholesterol and improve blood flow to the heart. But choose your chocolate bar carefully: dark, minimally-processed chocolate packs the most powerful punch.
Have a Happy Hearts dance party. Physical movement, too, does a growing heart good. When the weather’s too cold for outdoor activity, get the blood pumping with a family dance-a-thon. Dress everybody up in festive shades of red, cue a playlist of your favorite love songs, and boogie the night away. Our suggested dance tracks: “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” by Dolly Parton, “Heart of Glass” by Blondie.
Break up with sodium. Shocking amounts of salt can work their way into kids’ diets and predispose them to heart disease, among other serious ailments. (To find out more about the health risks, visit the World Action Salt website.) Together with your children, take a peek inside the pantry and root out the saltiest offenders. Then, in a quirky twist on a longstanding February tradition, write “break up” valentines to salt and toss those preservative-laden snack foods. Kids can also take the Sodium Breakup Pledge on the AHA’s website.
Take the AHA Healthy Challenge Scavenger Hunt. This fun, heart-pumping activity is a great way to keep older kids busy (and moving) when you’ve got things to take care of. This hunt will have them jumping, walking and running all around the house as they work their way through 40 funny challenges commanding them to do things like: “sit down in 3 different chairs” or “run into every room in the house and jump twice.” Cue up the computer and visit the AHA’s website to get them started.
Photos by: Erin Bernard
Erin J. Bernard is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer from Portland, Oregon. Before becoming a writer, Erin worked as a nanny and an ESL classroom teacher. She taught English at a Montessori school in Mexico and then ran an after-school language program in South Korea. Erin is the editor of the parenting guide, “Instructions Not Included: A Pediatrician’s Prescription for Raising the Best Kids on the Block,” written by Irwin H. Berkowitz, MD.