Our bodies and particularly childrens bodies
are ticking time bombs that can self-destruct if we dont treat them with
Thats the message from the Heart and Stroke Foundations Report Card on
Childrens 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
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 Ontarios 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 - its all at your fingertips!"
enthused one teacher.
JUMP ROPE FOR HEART
The Heart Healthy Kids toolbox also complements the Heart and Stroke
Foundations 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: firstname.lastname@example.org