YMCA MEND Program Helps Kids Get Heart-Healthy Start

February is American Heart Month, and as a leading voice on improving the nation’s health, the YMCA of Austin urges everyone in the community to take steps to make sure they are heart healthy so they can lead longer, healthier lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the nation’s number one killer, responsible for 1 in 4 deaths each year in the United States. The Y offers community-based healthy living and chronic disease prevention initiatives that support people in changing their lifestyles, encourage organizations and communities to adopt behaviors that promote healthy living and promote the public’s health through advocacy.

Healthy habits start in childhood. And that’s why the YMCA of Austin was the first YMCA in the country to offer MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do It!), a free childhood obesity intervention program for children and their parents.

Through generous grants from the St. David’s Foundation, the YMCA will be offering programs at six different locations this year free of charge, including several YMCA of Austin branches and other community sites such as schools.

Each program lasts 10 weeks and meets twice per week. Children and families who attend the MEND Program learn important skills and knowledge to help them manage their weight and feel fitter, healthier, and happier for the rest of their lives. MEND combines 3 key elements of safe, effective weight management and sustained lifestyle change:

1. Healthy eating
2. Regular physical activity
3. Behavior change.

To participate in MEND, children must be ages 7-13, overweight or obese, and may not be suffering from diabetes or debilitating asthma. Physician consent must be granted before program participation. One parent must be able to participate with their child in each session. To learn more about the program and to register, all 512-236-9622, email programservices@austinymca.org, or visit http://www.austinymca.org/programs/mind-exercise-nutrition-do-it-mend.
In addition to programs and services like MEND in Austin, the Y offers the following tips on how to live heart healthy.

Get Physical: Being physically active every day is fun and can improve the function of your heart. Plan and schedule opportunities for active play; for example, include a brisk 10-minute trip around the block after meals or a 10-minute walking break during the day. If your family enjoys active video games, select versions that require moving the body’s large muscle groups while playing.

Take a Snooze: Lack of sleep has been associated with elevated cholesterol and blood pressure. Adults need at least seven, but no more than nine hours of sleep at night to aid with the prevention of heart disease. Children need 10-12 hours of sleep per night. Develop bedtime routines for the whole family to assist with falling asleep faster and staying asleep.

Shape Up Those Recipes: Makeover your family’s favorite recipes by reducing the amount of salt and saturated fat and substituting a lower fat food without sacrificing tastes. For example, use low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream and skip the seasoning packet and use pepper and olive oil instead. Read food labels to learn more about what is in the package, select foods that have less than 1,000 mg of sodium per serving.

Feeling the Pressure: According to the American Heart Association, lowering or maintaining normal blood pressure can greatly reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. Nearly 1 in 3 adults (about 78 million people) has high blood pressure and more than half of them don’t have it under control. Start self-monitoring your blood pressure and know the numbers. Discuss the results with you doctor.

Play Together: Spending time together as a family is a great way to reduce stress, which is important to heart health. Make homemade valentines for your children’s classmates or build a snow fort together in the yard or the park.

The YMCA of Austin offers eight branches in Travis, Hays and Bastrop Counties as well as swim lessons, summer day camp, youth sports leagues, afterschool child care and other programs. To learn more, call 730-YMCA (9622) or visit