February is American Heart Month — a time for us all to think about keeping our hearts as healthy as possible. Heart health is an important goal: according to the American Heart Association, heart disease accounts for nearly 801,000 deaths in the U.S., every year — that’s about 1 of every 3 deaths. As parents, it’s not always easy to take the time to be heart-healthy, especially when caring for a sick child. But making small changes can have a big impact on your ability to remain healthy and strong — and at your very best to care for a sick child.
Take charge of your diet
Spending time in the hospital can challenge anyone’s healthy eating habits. The cost of eating out, a lack of healthy fast-food choices and stress eating can all work against healthy intentions. But with a little planning, you can make healthier choices.
- Select fresh foods, such as a salad or fruits, whenever possible.
- Choose protein-rich foods such as yogurt, eggs, cheese or hummus to avoid drops in blood sugar levels.
- Stay hydrated by refilling a water bottle and avoiding soda.
- Stock up on easy-to-eat snacks that can stave off cravings and keep you going all day.
Find ways to de-stress
Stress — a major risk factor for heart disease — is difficult to avoid when your child is in the hospital. Exercise is a great way to stay healthy and reduce stress, yet it might feel impossible when your child is confined to a hospital bed. Look for creative ways to stay active during the hospital stay.
- Ask a friend or a volunteer to stay with your child so you can get up to walk around the unit floor.
- Set your watch to walk up and down the stairs or outside the hospital every few hours to spend some time walking each day.
- Stretch or practice yoga in your room, or join a yoga class at the Hale Family Center for Families.
Get some sleep
Sleep can be hard to come by in the hospital, but it’s an important part of keeping your heart healthy. Make the most of the few available opportunities to get quality rest.
- Work with your nurses to find out which times of the night they plan on stepping into the room, and coordinate efforts for you and your child to get uninterrupted sleep.
- Find opportunities during the daytime to get sleep. Take advantage of the quiet hour on your unit to take a short rejuvenating nap.
In the midst of a child’s illness it may be feel nearly impossible to make time for your own health. However, if you’re not healthy, it will be harder to care for your child.
- Communicate with your doctor — either by phone or email — in between appointments to address any health concerns.
- Explain your child’s condition and care requirements to your primary care provider so they can arrange an appointment that aligns with your child’s care schedule.
- If you’re not feeling well, don’t wait to get checked out. Ask friends, family and staff to help care for your child while you seek care for yourself.
Caring for your heart can be the most important thing you can do for you and your family. Take small steps every day to stay heart-healthy and don’t delay getting care if you’re not well. Your child and your family depend on it.
About the blogger: Eva Gomez, MSN, RN-BC, CPN, is a professional development specialist in Boston Children’s Clinical Education and Informatics department.