ps 10 cover.jpg (60060 bytes)
September 1999

Youngsters Targeted:
A Healthy Lifestyle
for a Healthy Heart

AG00041_.gif (503 bytes) Back to the College's Home Page

wpe37.jpg (7943 bytes)

By Carol Scaini

A poor showing among children’s healthy living choices makes the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Heart Healthy Kids Toolbox a sound resource for teachers – and a leg up for their students’ future.

Our bodies – and particularly children’s bodies – are ticking time bombs that can self-destruct if we don’t treat them with care.

That’s the message from the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Report Card on Children’s Health that indicated that children aged six to 12 barely got a passing grade on leading healthy lifestyles. Youngsters received poor marks on daily nutrition and physical activity. Exposure to second-hand smoke at home also contributed a poor showing.

"Unless there are significant and swift changes to these crucial determinants of health, these youngsters will have formed habits that will be difficult to change, putting them at high risk for cardiovascular disease and other diseases," says Heart and Stroke Foundation medical advisor, Dr. Ruth Collins-Nakai.

Barriers to building healthy lifestyles include time, income, skills and resources. The greatest opportunity to influence behavior change is through education. As a result, the Canadian health care system and the new Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum places increased emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario is assisting educators’ efforts to promote healthy lifestyles through the Heart Healthy Kids program. The program consists of a toolbox containing grade specific lesson plans, posters and interactive materials on a wide variety of heart health-related issues. The toolbox is designed to stimulate behaviour change in the areas of the heart, physical activity, nutrition and smoking. All of these areas correspond to the Health and Physical Education curriculum. The entire program is bilingual.

The lessons are flexible, allowing the teacher to enhance, extend and integrate their health curriculum into a core program by selecting a method of instruction that best suits their students. Each lesson plan booklet offers an overview and brief outline of all grade specific heart health units, background information and answer sheets for teachers and student worksheets.

For example, a Grade 4-5 unit allows students to develop knowledge and skills about their heart through other subject areas. They study what the heart looks like and the mechanics of how it works (science and technology); increase their vocabulary by reading and responding to lessons (language arts); and listen to their hearts with a stethoscope after skipping rope (physical activity). The nutrition lesson gives students the opportunity to analyze their daily intake of food, determine the number of servings from each food group and generate alternatives to snacks by making healthy food choices for the future.

The Heart Healthy Kids program also places emphasis on reducing inactivity and increasing daily participation in light to moderate physical activity. Recent research has shown that health is improved by engaging in as little as 20-30 minutes of moderate physical activity, 3-4 times per week. A new resource called the Daily Physical Activity Guide promotes vigorous physical activity lasting 10-15 minutes daily for Kindergarten to Grade 8 children.

To provide variety and motivate interest, there is a different activity for each day of the week: Word Power, Just Map It, Cardio Funk, Deskercise and Stop & Go. A warm-up, cool down and demonstration of all activities are included in an instructional booklet and video. The activities reflect age and ability levels of participants and are flexible for student input and adaptation. The best part of all is that they have been tailored to implement in any classroom, and are consistent with the Ministry of Education expectations for the Health and Physical Education curriculum.

At Robert J. Lee Public School in Brampton, students participated in the Heart Healthy Kids program as part of their health curriculum last year. As one student said, "I never realized how much fun health class could be and how much more I now know."

The students’ development of basic knowledge regarding their health, fitness and personal well-being is witnessed during the hands-on, interactive and progressive lessons. With a sense of pride and accomplishment, students strive towards making positive healthy decisions in their own personal lives, increase their physical activity level, share the information with their families and establish heart healthy lifestyles.

A recent study found that Heart Health had an impact on the daily activity routines of participating students. On the days students tended to be inactive for whatever reason, Heart Health disrupted the pattern. Relatively active children maintained higher levels of activity engagement, while relatively inactive children became engaged at levels well beyond their daily routine.

The response from the students who took part in the study was overwhelmingly positive. One student noted that the activities "helped (their) brain work better", while another enjoyed the "break after sitting at (their) desk for a long time." In general, students and teachers in all grades studied liked the activities, valued the benefits they perceived were inherent in participation and agreed that participation enhanced their overall ability to learn and enjoy a more healthy life.

After a review of the Heart Healthy Kids program it was apparent that the program delivers effective classroom resources to Ontario’s elementary schools. It provides information, creates awareness and develops risk factor reduction skills among children and teachers. Teachers at Robert J. Lee Public School found the program to be completely self-sufficient. "One just needs to open the toolbox – lesson plans, posters and materials are included for all health topics. No additional research or running around to find the equipment that you need is required - it’s all at your fingertips!" enthused one teacher.

The Heart Healthy Kids toolbox also complements the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Jump Rope for Heart program. Jump Rope for Heart is a program that teaches students the importance of caring for their hearts at an early age through fitness, heart health education and fun. Every school that registers for the Jump Rope for Heart program receives a step-by-step event handbook, skipping skills posters, a Heart Healthy Kids Toolbox and presentation video and a class set of jump ropes.

The Jump program also provides schools with an opportunity to receive cameras, VCRs, sports equipment and other "POINTS" incentives. Jump Rope for Heart and Heart Healthy Kids are two excellent resources for fostering healthy lifestyle habits and ensuring our future is heart healthy. For your free Heart Healthy Kids toolbox, please contact your local Heart and Stroke Foundation office.

Carol Scaini is a teacher with the Peel Board of Education and an active volunteer at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario. She is currently teaching physical education to students in Grades 1 through 8 at Robert J. Lee Public School in Brampton. She can be reached by email at: