apple-heartFebruary is American Heart Month, a national observance designated by the American Heart Association to call attention to heart disease.  One third of all American deaths are related to heart disease, with close to 630,000 Americans dying from cardio-related issues every year.

Adults are not the only ones at risk. Sadly, heart disease can strike people of any age In fact, it is estimated that 17 percent of U.S. children are obese. Obesity, coupled with a high sodium diet, places children at risk for hypertension and heart disease.

Helping kids maintain heart health is important but extremely challenging. The popularity of TV, video games and the Internet means children today are more sedentary than ever before. Research shows that only one-third of high school students get the recommended level of physical activity.  To ensure future generations of healthy adults, we must help children develop lifelong healthy eating and exercise habits now.

We all have a role in assuring children have healthy hearts. While budget cuts mean less recess and fewer physical education classes, administrators and teachers should help encourage students to be heart healthy and lead by example.  At home, parents and other family members can build outdoor playtime into the day’s activities. Being active as a family will also help children learn to appreciate that exercise can be fun. Placing limits on TV and other electronic gadget usage can also motivate kids to get off the couch.

Landscape architects and parks and recreation professionals must also do their part by evaluating existing park systems to make sure there are ample opportunities for fitness and physical activity. Additionally, manufacturers have the power to create playground equipment that is engaging for children and fosters a real desire to get outside and play.

How do you think we can best encourage today’s children to lead active, healthy lives?

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