This lesson helps young people understand how their hearts work and why it is important to keep them healthy. The youth may participate in any of the five activities that teach how the heart delivers oxygen-rich blood to every part of the body.
Before facilitating this lesson, you may want to review the following information about the heart. These facts can be shared with young people during your discussions.
Your heart is a muscle that pumps oxygen-rich blood to your body and brings oxygen-poor blood back to your heart and lungs. Your blood travels through several miles of blood vessels. The cells in your body need the oxygen to survive.
Your heart is located near the middle of your chest, slightly to the left. This tough muscle is about the size of an adult fist, and it weighs about one pound. The average human heart beats 72 beats per minute.
We work to keep our hearts healthy to help avoid these serious and relatively common health problems:
- Heart disease – Fatty deposits can form and harden in the arteries of your heart. This material, or plaque, narrows the arteries in a process called atherosclerosis, which can restrict blood flow to your heart. The more plaque in your arteries, the greater your risk for a heart attack.
- High blood pressure – Blood pressure is the amount of pressure within the walls of arteries. Many factors can cause high blood pressure including having too much salt. High blood pressure puts stress on your blood vessel walls. There are usually no signs or symptoms. The silent condition can lead to:
- heart attack
- heart failure
- kidney disease.
- Stroke – A stroke happens when blood and oxygen flow to the brain is stopped or interrupted. This happens because of a ruptured or blocked blood vessel. A stroke is similar to a heart attack and just as serious.
- Heart attack – Heart attack happens when an artery becomes blocked with plaque or a clot. When blood cannot flow to the heart, damage or death to the heart muscle may occur.
- Sudden cardiac arrest – This is a sudden loss of heart function caused by an abnormal heart rhythm. Heart and breathing stop. Death can occur without immediate help. Sudden cardiac arrest is sometimes referred to as a “massive heart attack.” Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, anywhere at anytime.
Provide young people with information on the human heart.
According to the American Heart Association, the normal human heart is a strong, muscular pump a little larger than a fist. Each day an average heart “beats” (expands and contracts) 100,000 times and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen. In a 70-year lifetime, an average human heart beats more than 2.5 billion times.
Now let’s take a closer look at our hearts and how they are connected to our overall health and physical fitness. The more oxygen your body gets the more energy you will have.
Ask the young people to take slow deep breaths to help their bodies build up a supply of oxygen. Does it feel different when they pay attention to their breathing? The higher a person’s heart rate the greater the demand for oxygen. In other words, as your heart rate goes up so does the need for more oxygen. We breathe harder, pulling more air into our system which eventually goes into our bloodstream.
Here are five heart health activities:
- Have the young people each make a fist and squeeze their bicep (upper-arm) muscle, then relax. Now have the young people flex their quadriceps (thigh muscle), then relax. Next, tell the young people to flex their “heart.” Pause while the young people realize they can’t voluntarily move their heart. The heart is a muscle but not one we can flex when we tell ourselves to do so. Therefore, we need exercise to get the heart muscle to flex and get a good workout.
- Have the young people lay their forearms on their desktops, palm up. Have them gently make a fist then release the fist fully and rhythmically, as many times as they can for one minute. As you are timing the minute, observe how the young people react. Is the exercise getting hard? Are some young people pacing themselves? Did some quit before the minute was up? Review what you observed with the youth. Tell them that even though they may be getting tired after just one minute of opening and closing their fist, their heart needs to pump all day long, everyday without taking a break. Explain that when the heart is filling with blood, it is like the hand when it is open, and when the heart is pumping blood to the rest of the body, it is like the hand squeezing into the fist. This is why it’s important for us to get exercise because it strengthens muscles in our body including the heart muscle. The stronger the heart, the easier the pumping.
- Refer young people to the Healthy Heart word find worksheet. Allow five minutes to complete the word find. Next review the “everyday heart health tips” listed on the handout. Write the young people’s heart health ideas in an area where they can see the full list. Encourage youth to write their heart health tips in the space provided on the handout.
- Pass out one activity chart per young person. Read the instructions aloud. They are to take the activity chart home and track their physical activity for one week. The goal is to get 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Note – They will receive bonus minutes if a family member is physically active with them.
- What’s your heart rate?
- Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats each minute. This amount will increase with activity.
- To check your heart rate, place your index (pointer) finger and middle finger on the side of your neck (carotid artery). Count the number of beats for 60 seconds. You can also count for 30 seconds and then multiply by 2.
- The number counted is your heart rate or how many beats per minute your heart is currently beating.
- Your heartbeat can also be felt by placing your hand over your heart or by placing two fingers (excluding thumb) on the inside of their wrist. Young people can do this before and after physical activity to get an idea of the speed at which their heart beats in comparison to their physical activity level.
Continuing the Conversation
Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in English or Spanish so that families can continue discussing heart health at home.
Additional Instructor Resources