GRAND RAPIDS (Aug. 24, 2023) – As summer slowly fades into fall, it’s back-to-school time and that means back to better heart healthy habits for parents and kiddos. It’s the perfect time to refocus on making better health choices with the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8.
Life’s Essential 8 are the key measures for improving and maintaining cardiovascular health. Better cardiovascular health helps lower the risk for heart disease, stroke and other major health problems. The Association reminds parents and kiddos to eat a healthy diet, get moving, avoid smoking and vaping, get 7 to 9 hours of sleep on school nights, maintain a healthy body weight, and know your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose numbers no matter your age.
Federal guidelines recommend children and teens ages 6 to 17 get at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity a day, including more intense activities at least three times a week.
Healthy eating is also important for growing kids. Once the busy school year starts, many may skip breakfast in the morning. And, if the family doesn’t have a scheduled mealtime, they may grab unhealthy snacks on the go after school and munch on junk food while engaging in screen time in the evenings.
This fall, all pre-K to 12th-grade students in Michigan are going back to school with no-cost breakfast and lunch thanks to funding in the state budget approved this summer.
“Expanding access to school meals allows more students to realize their nutritional and educational potential,” said Collin McDonough, government relations director for the American Heart Association, Michigan. “And it helps strengthen school nutrition budgets by increasing participation in breakfast and lunch programs and eliminating unpaid meal charges.”
The American Heart Association, in partnership with No Kid Hungry Michigan and the School Nutrition Association of Michigan, formed the Michigan School Meals coalition to address the urgent need for Michigan to act on this issue.
“Providing no-cost, healthy foods means we are giving our students the tools they need to succeed inside and outside the classroom,” said Kim Baron, director of school health services for Grand Rapids Public Schools.
Back to school also means the chaos that comes with after-school activities and managing schedules and routines. In the midst of carpools and soccer cleats, taking time to plan healthy family meals can often be overwhelming. But with the right plan in place, eating healthy can be easy and fun for the whole family!
The American Heart Association recommends healthy children follow a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy sources of protein. Each meal should include at least one fruit or vegetable and should include foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars.
Sleep can significantly impact a child’s health, too. Adequate sleep promotes healing, improves brain function and reduces the risk for chronic diseases. Children require more sleep than adults, with recommendations for kids including:
- 10-16 hours for ages 5 and younger, including naps;
- 9-12 hours for ages 6-12;
- and 8-10 hours for ages 13-18.
The American Heart Association suggests a few additional tips for helping keep kids heart-healthy this school year:
- Schedule family time for physical activity. Weather permitting, go outdoors for a walk, a hike or even just some backyard games. Indoor activities can incorporate active screentime, like playing a dance-off or interactive sports video game.
- Plan a weekly menu and prep your meals. Encourage kids to help with meal planning and even grocery shopping. Make sure you have on hand foods they will eat that are also healthy for them. Taking the time to prepare for the week ahead – even cutting up fruits and veggies for healthy snacks – can help improve overall diets.
- Simplify your family’s schedule. In today’s society we’re expected to do it all. But this type of non-stop lifestyle isn’t sustainable or healthy. Try prioritizing your activities and see what you can do without, so you’ll have more time for the things that matter. You can also work on ways to manage stress.
- Set a regular bedtime – and wake-up time. Develop bedtime routines to wind down after a busy day. While it may be unrealistic to expect older kids to turn in early, have them to turn off their phones and other devices prior to bedtime. Encourage them to develop their own rituals for a good night’s sleep – and trying to catch up on the weekends doesn’t count.
- Live by example. Be a role model for healthy behaviors. It doesn’t mean you have to change everything at once, set goals and take baby steps. Teaching your kids about heart health now will help them live longer, healthier lives for their own future.
If you’re looking for more ways to be healthy at home, the American Heart Association offers school programs to bring expanded curriculum resources to classrooms. These programs are rooted in proven science which has shown that kids who are regularly active have a better chance of a healthy adulthood. The Kids Heart Challenge for elementary schools offers physical activations to get students’ hearts pumping such as jumping rope, practicing basketball skills, dancing or completing an obstacle course. The American Heart Challenge is a complementary program tailored to middle and high school students.
Parents and schools in Michigan who are interested in bringing the American Heart Association’s in-school programs to their children should visit www.heart.org/getstarted.
- AHA health infographic: Kids Physical and Mental Health Infographic
- AHA health infographic: 25 Ways To Get Moving At Home
- AHA health information: Dietary Recommendations for Health Children
- AHA health information: 3 Tips for Better Sleep Infographic
- AHA health information: Together Tuesday
- AHA health information: NFL Play 60
About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health, and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, X , or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.