Let’s continue to talk about “Heart Healthy Month” and turn attention to an exercise plan? Heart health is really based on genetics, diet and lastly exercise. (For adults and my teen patients as well, need to add smoking and drinking to the discussion).
While I start talking about healthy eating during infancy the discussion about exercise comes a bit later. If you have a toddler you know they “exercise”.....all day long, and never stop except to sleep! But as our children get older, once again it is up to the parents to model behavior, including exercise.
I regularly ask, “how much time does your child play outside?” (I know it is much harder in winter months), “what does your child do for exercise outside of school?” and “do you exercise as a family?’”. Once a child is older, say 5 or so, I include them in the questioning as well as they are a wealth of information. I ask them “if they ride a bike”....they love to tell me about taking off their training wheels. Then I ask “who they ride with and where do they go?”. I also ask about bike helmets, you would be amazed at how many children tell me that they wear a helmet, but their parents don’t! (HINT HINT to parents).
I find that most children under the age of 10 or so do get a fair amount of exercise, but as they get older many have stopped playing sports outside of school and have chosen to spend more time being sedentary. They are not just watching TV, but have found other interests like music, art, drama, chess and even computer programming. All of that is great, but children still need exercise and many schools have cut PE programs especially once you get to middle school and high school. This means that parents once again may have to encourage exercise, for the whole family. Walking the dog, family bike rides, tennis matches, front yard kickball or badminton. Get the family exercising together....they may not even realize.
The hardest group I have to encourage to exercise are my teens who are just not athletes (I can sympathize). We all have our talents, but for some sports are not it. I find myself asking my teenage patients, how much exercise they get and so many say, “None”. Many say, “walking between classes” is all of their exercise, and the idea of walking to school is long gone for most. Many of my teens start to gain weight after puberty and have to be reminded that we all stop growing....so you can’t keep gaining weight. Exercise has to be done on a regular basis...again it is about lifestyle.
So, heart health and exercise should be a focus for families year round, see if you can get your family moving as we head into spring!