It’s never too early for parents to help their kids prioritize heart health and keep their hearts in the best shape possible.
According to the American Heart Association, encouraging kids to do small things every day that keep their hearts healthy can increase their overall health and life expectancy while decreasing their risk of developing other diseases, like cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Erik Frandsen, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, breaks down a few simple ways to help your child’s heart health. He says an easy mnemonic to remember is the “5-2-1-0 Rule.”
5 servings of fruits and vegetables
Try making sure your child is eating at least five servings of fruits and veggies each day, Frandsen says. He recommends looking for a rainbow of produce while grocery shopping, such as choosing green broccoli or green beans, yellow bell peppers, red apples, etc.
2 hours of screen time or less
Limit the amount of screen time your child is consuming every day to two hours or less, Frandsen says. “We know from research that the more screen time a child consumes, the higher their body mass index or BMI is,” he says. “BMI is how your weight corresponds to your height. Higher BMI can indicate increased risks for being overweight or obese.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a child who is obese may have more immediate health risks, including risk factors for cardiovascular disease, breathing problems such as asthma and sleep apnea, joint problems, fatty liver disease, and more.
1 hour of physical activity
Children need at least one hour of physical activity each day, says Frandsen. “This can be playing on the playground. It can be at recess. It can be walking your dog”—any activity where your child is physically active.
0 sugar-sweetened beverages
Frandsen recommends children avoid sugary beverages from day to day. “This can be an easy way to cut out excess calories that are not nutritious,” he says.
Some beverages that contain high amounts of added sugar include soft drinks, fruit drinks, fruit punches, flavored milks and coffees, and sports drinks.
Frandsen says he knows it can be challenging to immediately change things in your child’s life. To ease the transition to more heart-healthy habits, he recommends choosing one practice each month for several months and focusing on that.
Make it a family endeavor, says Frandsen. “I know it’s not easy for myself or my patients to make these changes by themselves; it’s easier if the whole family is involved. These are good for your health no matter your age. What the whole family does, the children are more likely to follow.”