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Whether students are in school virtually or in person, establishing healthy habits and routines is important.

CHARLESTON — It’s the back to school season, but this year it won’t be the return of a normal routine. With classes happening virtually, in-person, or both, families are dealing with a lot of uncertainties. The American Heart Association has some tips to make this school year’s “new normal” a little healthier.

Get back on a sleep schedule

Healthy sleep habits can lower psychological strain, give you better self-control, and replenish self-regulatory energy. Whether classes are remote or at school, it’s important to re-establish a routine.

Limit children’s exposure to screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime, since blue light can interrupt your body’s natural sleep rhythm. In general, kids ages 6 to 12 need nine to 12 hours of sleep, while teens should get eight to 10 hours.

Keep kids active

The main worry for many parents-turned-teachers might be lost learning, but for students who stay indoors staring at monitors and screens, there could be other concerns. By losing out on the typical school day, kids may also be losing out on recess and physical education.

According to a 2020 report in the journal “Circulation,” about 60% of U.S. youth have a less-than-healthy level of cardiorespiratory fitness. However, regular physical activity has been shown to boost academic results and may help kids focus.

If you’re teaching an hour-long lesson, save a few minutes for your child to get up and move around. Adapt lessons to include action, like interacting with things around the room instead of just on paper. Ask students to physically go get a topic-relevant item from another area of the house. It also helps to make movement a family activity.

Get them involved

According to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded with the American Heart Association, American kids typically consume 35% to 50% of their daily calories while in school. With kids spending more school days at home, parents may have more control over daily lunches.

When kids help make their lunches, they’re more likely to eat that lunch! Let the kids choose which piece of fruit or what type of whole grain bread they want and let them assemble their lunch. It’s another great way to spend family time together.

Think about using the leftovers from a family favorite dinner for a next day lunch. The prepared/packaged versions of many foods sometimes have a lot of sodium, so make them homemade with little or no salt, or compare nutrition facts of similar products and choose the ones with less sodium. If the kids are home, you don’t even have to worry about how to keep it cold in a lunchbox or how to reheat it!

Avoid offering sugary drinks like sports drinks, soda, or sugar-added juices to your kids’ lunchboxes, or home meals. Water or school purchased milk are great options to reduce sugar in the diet. Let the crunchy snacks be fruit or cut veggies, not fried, fatty chips.

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke: the two leading causes of death in the world. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit heart.org or call any of its offices around the country.

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