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8 Heart-Healthy Activities to do with Your Grandkids

Posted by Dr. Matt Hand on Feb 22, 2022 12:49:18 PM

grandkids and grandparents gardening

You might have heard people say that our 60s are the new 40s.

Thanks to our modern healthcare system, there is some truth to that. We live longer lives, which leads to more time with our families—including grandchildren. But living a longer life doesn’t necessarily mean living a healthier life, and heart health is essential for doing both.

Today, it’s common to have two working parents who lean on grandparents for childcare. This relationship can be a win-win for everyone: parents get a break, a special bond develops between grandparents and grandchildren, and seniors experience the health-supportive effects of caring for their grandkids, which usually involves more physical activity, affection, and community.

For grandparents to maximize their time with grandchildren, it’s critical to be healthy! Targeting heart health is especially crucial since heart problems are the leading cause of death in the US (one in four, to be exact).[1]

Through optimizing heart health, both grandparents and grandchildren benefit and improve multiple aspects of wellbeing in the short and long term.

As a quick primer, here are a few heart-healthy activities that grandparents can do with their grandchildren:

  1. Walking
  2. Swimming (playing in the pool)
  3. Gardening
  4. Cooking (and shopping for food)

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Key Heart-Healthy Strategies for Seniors

New data about how to be healthy continues to emerge, and the most prominent recurring factors in the research are nutrition, movement, and stress reduction. As grandparents adopt healthier habits around these factors, their grandchildren naturally mimic and learn a healthy lifestyle, as well.

A recent study found that more plant-based diets—similar to the Mediterranean or anti-inflammatory diet—can significantly improve longevity even when started at an older age.[2] This eating style typically involves getting a myriad of phytonutrients from various colorful vegetables, lowering starch intake, enjoying heart-healthy fats like olive oil and omega-3 fats, and avoiding processed foods with refined sugar and flour.

Exercise is also vital for heart health, but finding the correct type of movement always plays a significant role. Caring for grandchildren is an excellent way to stay active. Still, grandparents can increase stamina and decrease their risk of injury by including weight-bearing types of exercise like weightlifting, pilates, water aerobics, and gentle yoga to improve muscle tone and bone strength. Exercises to improve balance and coordination are also essential for injury prevention, even if it’s just standing on one leg for several minutes throughout the day. Aerobic exercise greatly improves heart outcomes and can be used for stress reduction.[3]

We now know that stress plays a huge role in heart health for both men and women. Men, in particular, tend to be even more vulnerable to the effects of stress, leaving them more prone to unhealthy blood pressure. Thankfully, quality time and activities with grandkids can naturally facilitate more joy and less stress.

8 Heart Healthy Activities for Grandparents and Grandkids

The following activities encourage exercise, stress reduction, healthy eating, and connection—all foundational for heart health in kids and adults.

Walking

The simple act of taking a walk is often underestimated for its massive health benefits. It’s also free and accessible to all ages and fitness levels. Walking burns calories stabilizes blood sugar, supports joint health, boosts immune function, improves mood, and might extend your life.[4]

Research shows that walking at least 30 minutes per day, five days a week, can reduce your risk for serious heart problems by almost 20 percent.[5]

Gardening

Planting and maintaining a garden is a wonderful activity for grandparents and grandkids to enjoy together. Gardening brings you closer to the earth and is shown to support mental and emotional wellbeing and reduce stress.[6] For children, learning to garden is an excellent way to learn about plants and foster a relationship with nature.

Shopping and Cooking

Taking your grandkids to shop for and cook healthy foods is a perfect way to learn about foods that support heart health, as well as wholesome cooking techniques.

Biking

Depending on the age of your grandchildren, biking can be an excellent way to improve cardiovascular fitness, joint mobility, muscle, and bone strength, and maintain a healthy weight.

Swimming

Swimming is a low-impact aerobic activity that can be an excellent fit for seniors, and children love it. Swimming is shown to improve heart health and cardiovascular endurance, increase flexibility, improve muscle tone, and boost mental health. Becoming comfortable and competent in the water is also essential for children as they get older.[7]

Dancing

An impromptu dance party with grandchildren is sure to bring a smile to everyone’s face. Dancing is an excellent way to enjoy movement while getting a good workout. Studies show that moderate-intensity dancing is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular problems.[8]

Reading

While it won’t get you up and moving, reading with your grandchildren promotes stress reduction, connection, and early learning. Reading to children is crucial for cognitive and language development, creativity, attention and focus, vocabulary acquisition, and even emotional health.

Volunteering

Volunteering with a local organization offers profound emotional rewards for all ages. Whether it’s a local soup kitchen, school, senior center, or other volunteer opportunities, volunteerism is associated with better mental and physical health outcomes in older adults.[9] It also promotes gratitude and a spirit of generosity in children.

Related content: take the healthy aging quiz

Takeaway

The special bond between grandparents and grandkids is a helpful tool to support heart health and wellness at all ages. While there are many ways to optimize this bond for everyone in the family, it’s also important for grandparents to set limits and make time for self-care without their grandchildren. Caring for grandkids can be stressful, so taking the necessary steps to support your health alone is essential for your own wellbeing.

But once you strike that perfect balance, you and your grandkids will be sure to enjoy a happy, heart-healthy life for many years to come.

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[1] https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

[2] British Journal of Nutrition , Volume 120 , Issue 8 , 28 October 2018 , pp. 841 - 854

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114518002179

[3] Nystoriak, M. A., & Bhatnagar, A. (2018). Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise. Frontiers in cardiovascular medicine, 5, 135. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcvm.2018.00135

[4] https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/12/761

[5] Zheng H, Orsini N, Amin J, Wolk A, Nguyen VT, Ehrlich F. Quantifying the dose-response of walking in reducing coronary heart disease risk: meta-analysis. Eur J Epidemiol. 2009;24(4):181-92. doi: 10.1007/s10654-009-9328-9. Epub 2009 Mar 22. PMID: 19306107.

[6] Thompson R. (2018). Gardening for health: a regular dose of gardening. Clinical medicine (London, England), 18(3), 201–205. https://doi.org/10.7861/clinmedicine.18-3-201

[7] https://blogs.bmj.com/bjsm/2017/06/23/major-new-study-health-benefits-swimming-released/

[8] Merom D, Ding D, Stamatakis E. Dancing Participation and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality: A Pooled Analysis of 11 Population-Based British Cohorts. Am J Prev Med. 2016 Jun;50(6):756-760. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2016.01.004. Epub 2016 Mar 1. PMID: 26944521.

[9] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953615302495

 

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