February is upon us and as Valentine’s Day approaches, hearts are popping up everywhere — stores, schools, shopping malls, and offices. But this is also the month to turn our attention to our real hearts — the ones that pump our blood — and making sure they stay healthy.
February was declared American Heart Health Month in 2009 in an effort to raise awareness around the national problem of heart disease and high blood pressure. Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States, and 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure.
Doctors agree that regular physical activity, along with a healthy diet, is one of the most effective ways of preventing heart disease, and those active habits begin in childhood. A team of researchers at University of California, Riverside found in a 2015 study that kids who exercise early in life are more likely to exercise as adults … and reap the heart-healthy benefits.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children get at least one hour of physical activity every single day. And what better place to enjoy that activity than a playground?
Your playground offers the children of your school, church, or neighborhood a safe, controlled environment that engages their imaginations while they enjoy the thrill of being physically active. It’s also a natural gathering place where families come together … and we all know that being active is more fun when you do it with a friend.
So what can you do to encourage heart-healthy habits in your community? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Send out a flyer to raise awareness of American Heart Health Month and encourage families to make one commitment that will help them be more active, like taking daily family walks.
- Host a “healthy hearts” event at your playground featuring health screenings, healthy food tastings, workshops on heart health, and fun activities for the kids like flag football and dance-a-thons.
- If you have a newsletter, devote your February issue to American Heart Health Month and share healthy recipes and family activity ideas.
- Create a “course” that takes kids through your playground and includes cardio activities between equipment stations, such as jumping jacks or jogging in place.
- Start a group of families who meet at your playground once a week — maybe Saturday or Sunday mornings — and suggest activities for both kids and parents to get their hearts pumping while they enjoy the camaraderie.
Wishing you and your community a heart-healthy February!