Currently cardiovascular disease (CVD) kills one Australian every 12 minutes and it is estimated that 350,000 Australian’s have had a heart attack at some point in their lives.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, physical inactivity, low fruit and vegetable intake, alcohol and smoking all increase the risk of contracting heart disease. The Australian Heart Foundation state that nine in 10 adult Australians have at least one risk factor for CVD and one in four (25%) have three or more risk factors.
Many of these risk factors are lifestyle based and smoking is the single most important cause of ill health in Australia. In 2011/2012 it was also revealed that around 2/3 of adult Australians were overweight or obese.
As parents and carers it is so important that we help our children develop healthy habits for healthy hearts at an early age and one of the best ways we can do this is by making changes as a family.
Luckily there are plenty of ways to help develop healthy habits as a family and often simple and small changes can make a huge difference to our heart heath.
1. Physical activity:
Physical activity is not only important for healthy hearts but also for our overall health. School aged children need around 60 mins of moderate to vigorous exercise every day, such as swimming, running, dancing or playing soccer. Keep track of your families’ activities throughout the week and set aside time for the whole family to get together for physical activity; that could be a bush walk, or a game of footy in the park.
Children (and adults) can spend large amounts of time sitting down, approximately 5 hours a day at school and for some children even more time is spent in the car getting to school. Why not try walking or cycling to school or work a few times a week, if your school is too far away, park a km away and walk from there.
2. Healthy eating
A well balanced diet, made up of all the food groups, is an essential part of looking after your heart. At the start of the week, take some time as a family to plan a weekly menu and ask your children to help you to plan healthy meals. Not only will this give them the opportunity to develop an understanding of what makes up a healthy and balanced diet but often even fussy eaters who have helped choose and make the food themselves are more likely to eat it (even sprouts!).
The Heart Foundation recommends that children’s living environments are smoke free. We are all aware of the risks of smoking and the evidence proves the connection between smoking and passive smoking, and heart disease, lung cancer and asthma. Try to keep your child away from smoky environments. We have also suggested some ways that you can talk to your child about smoking and the associated risks.
4. Be alcohol aware
Excessive consumption of alcohol is a risk factor when it comes to CVD. Adults are recommended to limit themselves to no more than two standard glasses of alcohol a day for men, or one glass a day for women. If you would like to have discussions with your child about alcohol we have put together some tips to have those conversations.
5. Lead by example
Kids are sponges, and absorb so much of what they see around them. Help your children understand the importance of healthy lifestyles for healthy hearts by making healthy changes as a family.
Our busy lives can often mean we are always running from one thing to the next, but this can also put pressure on our hearts, remember to take time out as a family to relax and spend quality time together.
And don’t forget; making healthy changes as a family does not happen overnight. Make small changes every week and gradually introduce new activities and habits. Getting a healthy lifestyle is a journey so you don’t have to do it all at once.
At Life Education, all our modules stress the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and help children develop the skills and strategies to be able to make safe and healthy choices now and in the future.