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Experts Corner

Children's Health

Five Secrets for Happy and Healthy Hearts
By Tara Kompare, Pharm.D.

When it comes down to it, we all want one thing in life: To be happy. And, it is when we achieve this state of mental bliss that our bodies tend to follow suit. You see with each chuckle and grin, our hearts pump stronger and our bodies become energized, setting the stage for joyful and healthful years to come.

So, in appreciation of Valentine’s Day, I felt it appropriate to divulge five secrets to help keep your kids' hearts (and yours!) both happy and healthy:

Secret 1: Love and laugh—-a lot. Life is too short to be dull and boring. Live it up—responsibly of course. Sing with your kids. Dance with your kids. And hug them often. Also remember to laugh at every opportunity. Not only is laughter good for the soul, it has also been found to be good for the heart since it increases blood flow and decreases stress. For me, a day without laughter is like a day without air—totally depleting.

Secret 2: Eat right, most of the time. If you are one of my regular readers, then you know I am a chocoholic. So, I would never tell you to skip a daily dose of chocolate or anything like that. What I do believe in, however, is healthy eating habits. Lots of lean protein like chicken and fish, fresh vegetables and fruits, whole-grain breads and pastas, and skim milk and yogurt are all wise, heart-healthy choices for the family.

Secret 3: Get moving. Whether your child is one-year-old or thirteen-years-old, she needs to stay active. Since most schools today lack daily PE classes, it is up to parents to take control of their child’s health at home by providing engaging activities for them to participate in. Mini trampolines are great for rainy days while bike races are fun for sunny ones. Whatever you choose, try to exercise at least four times weekly for 30 minutes or more.

Secret 4: Rest. Children require more sleep than adults. Toddlers and preschoolers should receive approximately 12 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period while school aged children (5-12 years-old) need an average of 10 hours a night. Without enough sleep, kids may experience behavioral problems and trouble concentrating in school. Sleep is also essential for regulating our immune systems, metabolic processes, and memory function, all of which play an important role in keeping our bodies and minds healthy.

Secret 5: Receive regular check-ups. Our children not only inherit daddy’s big blue eyes and mommy’s auburn hair but they also receive our not-so-good genes like those that predispose them to high cholesterol and heart disease. It is a good idea to ask your child’s pediatrician to schedule yearly cholesterol checks for your kids especially if you have a family history of high cholesterol. With proper prevention strategies, you can help minimize your child’s risk of developing cardiovascular problems later in life.

There is no doubt that in the next couple of weeks, every where you turn you will be bombarded with hearts. Heart-shaped candies, balloons, and even diamonds are likely to lure you to the nearest checkout counter. Of course, the most important hearts of all are not visible to the naked eye but found inside that little person tugging at your shirttail right now--forcing you to get up off the couch and make them a snack. Luckily, with enough tender love and care, these are the hearts that will be forever yours . . .

P.S.S. (Parent Sanity Saver): You can still utilize the convenience of fast-food restaurants without having to sacrifice the health of your family. Instead of fries, go for apples. And, for dessert, try yogurt instead of ice cream or cookies.

About the Author:
Tara Kompare, Pharm.D. is a doctor of pharmacy and mother of two amazing little girls. Her book, The Colic Chronicles (Da Capo Lifelong) is scheduled for release in Summer 2008. You can visit her website at www.themedicinemom.com. She encourages reader feedback and questions.

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