Advance with MUSC Health

Family members make good fitness partners

Advance With MUSC Health
May 25, 2022
A family working out.

Looking for that health and wellness partner to join you in a mutually motivational health regimen?

If you’re a spouse, a parent, or a child, look no further than the dinner table. Your best and most reliable buddy just might be – you guessed it – your family. And, although parents are considered to be the role models, children can sometimes influence their parents.

“When families take on the commitment of wellness and fitness together, they tend to all do better,” says Janet Carter, program manager for the Heart Health Program at MUSC Children’s Health. “Family members often motivate one another.”

Carter, who is also a registered dietitian and clinical lipid specialist at MUSC Children’s Health, says most healthy and fit families tend to have similar characteristics: They follow a plant-based diet, make healthy food choices and eat most meals at home, limiting meals outside the home to less than once a week. They also exercise together or have their own athletic or sports routines and they have conversations about health and wellness.

“Parents should talk to their children about wellness in general instead of appearance or body shape or size,” she says. “That’s important because healthy choices regarding nutrition and physical activity are the foundation of wellness.”

Instilling healthy habits in children should start as early as possible, Carter says. “It’s critical to start young because the literature shows that children who have overweight or obesity tend to carry that into adulthood unless their diet and activity regimen is improved. Unfortunately, our American diet is meat-based, and we tend to plan our meals around the meat were going to have. Making changes with this routine is hard, but it’s important to make sure the majority of our intake is coming from plants versus animal products.”

For a plant-based diet Carter advises following MyPlate) the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations that 75% percent of food intake should come from vegetables, fruit and grains with the majority of those grain choices being whole grains. The other 25% should include protein from beans, peas or a lean animal source. Carter singles out the Mediterranean Diet as a healthy eating pattern proven over decades to be a healthier way to eat.

Additionally, movement is key in young children and, for curious toddlers, comes naturally. “I would say as soon as young children are starting to move, they should be playing actively. They don’t need a formal routine, and it doesn’t matter how it happens as long as they’re moving their entire body and developing large motor skills.  This can be through playground activities, chasing bubbles or jumping and dancing. Organized sports are great, but joining a team isn’t for every child. The mode of exercise isn’t as important as just being active.”

Carter says dance and exercise videos are a way to get the entire family moving. “Any time a parent participates in the healthy activities along with their child(ren), that’s a big plus. Parents can be important influencers and role models for their children.”

As children get older, family fitness activities should incorporate activities that emphasize cardiovascular exercise, such as swimming, tennis, fast walking, running or soccer. “The determinant is getting the heart and lungs working harder, to where you’re huffing and puffing,” she says. “If adults and children don’t get the physical activity to make their heart and lungs work harder, they’re not going to be as strong as they could be. Everyone must carve out the time to do it. That’s where family support and camaraderie can be a powerful motivator. And best of all, it’s quality family time.”

In addition to the 75/25% MyPlate nutritional guidelines, Carter recommends the following tips for families who want to move toward a healthier lifestyle:

Eat 5 or more fruits and vegetables a day

Limit screen time to 2 hours a day. (Studies show that excess sedentary screen time is linked with development of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.)

Engage in 1 or more hours of physical activity, such as 30 minutes of exercise and 30 minutes of activity, such as walking.

Consume 0 zero sugary drinks. Plain water is best. Artificially sweetened drinks are OK if limited.


According to CDC data released in 2021, the obesity rate among children ages 2-19 in the United States has increased at an alarming rate during the pandemic. Janet Carter manages the Heart Health Program at MUSC Children’s Health, which is a family-oriented program to help children and young adults ages 2-21 with abnormal weight or lipid disorders lower their BMI, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure and blood sugar to prevent development of chronic disease.

Heart Health emphasizes education and behavioral changes, including behavior change and motivational interviewing techniques, counseling and fitness sessions to help children and their families learn healthy behaviors and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

About 400 families are enrolled in the program. “We don’t have a graduation date; our kids can be with us a long as they feel the program is working until they turn 22,” Carter says.

“Outcomes are very good,” she says. Seventy-five percent of females and 70 percent of males had improved parameters after 7 to 10 visits.

Carter says the program, which does accept self-referrals, is essential for helping participants avoid heart disease and other chronic diseases later in life. Most participants don’t have evidence of any heart disease while in the program, but evidence exists that children begin to develop atherosclerotic plaque at an early age if they have elevated cholesterol, triglycerides and/or high blood pressure.

“Our goal is to teach them how to make healthy decisions and manage their heart health so they’ll lead long, productive, healthy lives.”

To learn more about the Heart Health Program, visit or call 843-792-4717.To schedule an appointment, call central scheduling at 843-876-0444.