February is American Heart Month. Now is a great time to think about your child’s cardiovascular health. Regular exercise is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy heart.
“Your heart is a muscle you need to condition and keep well-tuned,” Peter Gaskin, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, says.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids get an hour of exercise five days a week. Although that number may seem daunting, Gaskin says that even 30 minutes of exercise a day would be great for young people.
Sarah Clauss, an advanced imaging cardiologist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., also says that the exercise can be broken up throughout the day into smaller increments. She recommends that especially for older kids, who are often more busy, scheduling exercise can help ensure they still do it.
“If they put in their schedule 30 minutes of a walk or treadmill time, it’s more likely to get done than if it is not on the schedule,” she says.
You don’t have to be an athlete or play a sport to make exercise a consistent part of your lifestyle.
“Encourage the kids to turn on some music and dance to a few songs. They can do some situps and pushups. They can jump rope in the house, run up and down stairs or run around and play in the snow,” Gaskin says. “All those things are ways of getting some regular exercise.”
Additionally, try to limit screen time and replace it with exercise that everyone in the family can do together.
“Instilling limitations on screen time as a family — and in turn embracing daily activities that encourage movement, without singling out certain individuals who might be at higher risk due to weight — is important,” Emmanuelle Favilla, an attending physician with the division of cardiology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says.