Heart Health Facts for Kids

Prevention of heart disease should begin during childhood. While most cardiovascular diseases do not develop until later in life, it is essential to establish heart-healthy habits as a child. As the number of American children struggling with obesity increases and young people spend more time with primarily sedentary activities, such as playing video games and watching television, the American Heart Association is urging parents to encourage--and model--heart-healthy behavior from infancy through adulthood.

  1. A Look at Your Heart

    • A healthy heart, which is about the same size as a pear, is divided into two sides with a total of four chambers. The left and right sides of the heart each consist of a ventricle (bottom) and an atrium (top) and are separated by a wall of muscle called the septum separates. Your heart is located beneath your ribs and between your lungs on the left side of your body. Heart disease may alter the size or color of the heart, and some heart defects can be easily seen using ultrasound or other imaging scans.

    How It Works

    • The heart walls are made of strong muscle that contract and relax to pump blood throughout the body. In children, the average heart pumps, or beats, about 90 times a minute. With each beat, blood is expelled from the atrium into the ventricle on each side of the heart, and small valves between the atrium and ventricle open and close to control circulation.

      Oxygenated blood moves from the lungs into the left side of the heart, and then circulates through the body via arteries and capillaries. Once the blood has circled through the body, it returns to the right side of the heart, where it is sent back to the lungs for oxygenation. Circulating blood also carries nutrients throughout the body and collects waste for deposit in the liver, kidneys and lungs, where it is removed from the body.

    Exercise

    • The human heart requires care to function properly. Daily exercise ensures the heart muscle remains strong and is able to pump blood efficiently. The Nemours Foundation recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of activity every day to maintain heart health. Exercise must be rigorous to be effective, and can include activities such as playing basketball, dancing, jumping rope, or running. The American Heart Association recommends limiting computer and television time, as these activities increase snacking and promote a sedentary lifestyle, which can lead to obesity and heart disease.

    Diet

    • A healthy diet is essential to maintain heart health throughout childhood and adulthood. A diet low in trans fats and saturated fat help keep arteries from becoming blocked by fat and cholesterol accumulation, and five or more servings per day of fruits and vegetables ensures the body obtains the vitamins and minerals necessary to keep the heart pumping efficiently. Parents can encourage good dietary habits by being positive role models for their children.

    Heart Strain

    • Because the heart is a muscle, it is vulnerable to being overworked and overstimulated. Alcohol, drugs and tobacco products strain the heart, which may cause it to beat erratically or stop completely. Prolonged stress and sleep deprivation also cause heart strain, as does dehydration and a variety of other medical conditions.

    Heart Defects

    • About 36,000 children are born each year with a heart defect, according to the American Heart Association. Most of these congenital heart abnormalities can be corrected surgically. In some children, the heart may appear normal at birth, but an abnormal heartbeat, or murmur, may be detected during a routine pediatric examination. Most heart murmurs are benign and are not a symptom of a serious problem. However, in some cases, a heart murmur may indicate the presence of a hole between two sections of the heart.

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