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Here's To Your Healthy Heart!Heres-To-Your-Healthy-Heart

  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Three to four class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. the primary controllable and uncontrollable factors that put one at greater risk for developing heart disease
2. how to make lifestyle choices that will encourage good cardiovascular and general health


For this lesson, you will need:
Student handouts:
Wall clock with a second hand or stopwatch
Blood pressure cup (also called a sphygmomanometer) and someone trained to take blood pressure readings (if available)
Calorie/fat content book with estimated caloric and fat contents of common foods
Supplemental books on health or human biology with information on the circulatory system, heart disease, and high blood pressure
Information on CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) (optional)


1. Explain that there are two types of risk factors for heart disease—controllable and uncontrollable. Controllable risk factors are things that one can influence, such as smoking, being overweight, eating a diet high in cholesterol, and getting little or no exercise. Uncontrollable risk factors are those that one cannot alter. These include one's age, sex, and family history of heart disease. Although you cannot alter any uncontrollable risk factors you may have, it is important that people understand that by decreasing their controllable risk factors, they lessen their overall risk of heart disease.
2. Tell the class that they will be completing a series of physical tests and questionnaires to gain some insight as to whether they are at an increased risk of some day having a heart attack. By recording their current eating and exercise habits, heart rates, blood pressure, and family history, students will be able to roughly analyze their risk for someday developing heart disease. They will also learn how to make positive decisions about their lifestyles in order to promote cardiovascular health.
3. On the first day of this lesson, hand out the following worksheets. Review the background and directions provided on each worksheet. (On the first day, be sure to review the Food/Cholesterol Record and the Exercise/Activity Record, as students will need to begin their week-long record of food and exercise.) * For one week, students will be tracking their food intake and nutritional information for each item. As homework before the initial class, ask each student to bring in at least two food packages with an intact nutrition label. In class, review the nutrition labels and what they mean. Try to locate a book that estimates nutritional information for unlabeled foods such as fruits and vegetables and food from restaurants and cafeterias. Some books even have such information on popular fast foods.
4. There is no questionnaire on smoking, since it is unlikely that students would admit to smoking. However, the risks from smoking should definitely be part of this lesson. You could emphasize that every day, approximately 3,000 teenagers begin smoking. Of these, half will become regular smokers. Study after study shows that cigarette smoking is a major factor in heart disease. Smoking increases the "stickiness" of blood; it decreases the time it takes to clot; it decreases the effectiveness of the lungs, making the heart work harder to deliver oxygenated blood to the body's cells; and some of the chemicals in smoke can damage the arteries.
5. At the end of the week, hand out copies of the final evaluation,Here's to Your Healthy Heart!Ask students to use what they've learned to complete this worksheet and to assess their own behaviors and risk factors for heart disease.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Have students focus on the anatomy and physiology of the heart and circulatory system. Find a diagram of the heart and have students label and describe the functions of the following parts: right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, left ventricle, pulmonary artery, pulmonary vein, aorta, lungs, arteries, arterioles, veins, venules, capillaries, tricuspid valve, pulmonary valve, mitral valve, aortic valve, and the sinoatrial node. Conclude the exercise by discussing heart disease and how our daily habits affect our heart. You can find extensive information on the heart and how it works at

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Discussion Questions

1. Many studies have shown a clear correlation between such activities as smoking, overeating, and lack of exercise and heart disease. Debate whether health insurance companies should be allowed to charge more for or even deny coverage to people whose lifestyles put them at a greater risk for developing heart disease.
2. Poor health habits, such as eating a fatty diet, getting little or no exercise, and smoking, often begin quite early in one's life. Discuss what schools can or should do to try to promote healthy lifestyles for their students.
3. What steps would you take if you saw someone lying on the ground clutching his or her chest and left arm? As a class, list the actions that would be most effective in saving the person.
4. Every day the heart pumps about 1,800 gallons of blood through 75,000 miles of blood vessels. List the functions that your circulatory system, made up of your heart, blood vessels, and blood, does to help keep you alive. Explain how oxygen and nutrients get delivered to the body's cells.
5. Every day nearly 3,000 teenagers start smoking. About half of these first-time smokers will become regular smokers. What attracts young people to this unhealthy habit? Analyze some of the current antismoking messages. Which ones are effective and which are not? Discuss some strategies parents, schools, and the media can take to effectively discourage young people from beginning smoking.
6. Imagine yourself in 10 to 20 years from a health perspective. What do you look like? What activities do you do? Do you have a healthy or unhealthy lifestyle? Now examine your life today from a health perspective. Discuss and then list what activities and lifestyle choices you currently engage in that may continue into your adulthood. For those unhealthy activities you may currently engage in, do you plan to change them or continue living as you do now?

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Have students write an analysis of their own heart's current and future health. They should include their results of the tests and questionnaires of this activity and make two lists—one that includes aspects of their lives that are beneficial to the health of their heart and one that includes aspects of their lives that are detrimental to the health of their heart. They should then forecast the future health of their heart, including information about their current lifestyles and what they foresee as their "grown-up" lifestyle. They may use the "Here's to Your Healthy Heart" form or merely write this on their own paper.

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Ask an Expert
Invite a doctor, nurse, or medical student to your class to discuss heart disease and prevention with your students. This would probably be most useful after your students have completed these activities and are familiar with the concepts and vocabulary.

Playing by Heart
Divide the class into small groups and have each group create a board game that rewards positive daily habits and penalizes unhealthy habits. Once they've completed the games, have groups exchange their boards and questions and play a game developed by another group. Afterward, have them discuss what they have learned.

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Suggested Readings

Your Heart: An Owner's Manual: American Heart Association's Complete Guide to Heart Health
American Heart Association, Pocket Books, 1995.
With a table of contents that seems to be straight out of an automobile owner's manual, this book has all the information you need to keep your heart running smoothly. It also includes how and why hearts have mechanical breakdowns and how the damage can be repaired. Nutrition charts, illustrated exercises, and tables of recommendations all will help keep your heart in top working order.

Smart Guide to Getting Strong and Fit
Carole Bodger, John Wiley and Sons, 1998.
The author provides good advice on how to start and maintain a healthy fitness regimen. Special emphasis is placed on cardiovascular and aerobic exercise and nutrition. Sidebars throughout the book contain definitions, charts, and on-line and snail-mail addresses for more information on specific topics.

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The Truth About Tobacco
A dynamic video featuring Patrick Reynolds, son of tobacco company founder R.J. Reynolds. An anti-smoking advocated, Reynolds uses video clips, photos and TV spots to demonstrate the impact smoking has on our health and society.

American Heart Association
Get information on warning signs, risk, treatment and prevention of heart attacks, plus an A-Z guide on heart attacks and strokes

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
This site includes information from the National Heart Attack Alert Program, as well as extensive resources on many cardiovascular problems and their prevention.

The Heart: An Online Exploration
Developed by The Franklin Institute, this fantastic site is the next best thing to a walk through the heart model at the museum. It features an inside look at the heart through action and information.

Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Division of Cardiology
This site offers an in-depth look at numerous issues related to the heart, including smoking, nutrition, exercise and understanding chest pain.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
Definition: A method of artificially providing oxygen and a heartbeat to someone who has stopped breathing or whose heart has stopped; this procedure can often provide the victim with enough oxygenated blood to keep his or her organs alive until the person recovers or gets further medical assistance.
Context: After the woman suffered a heart attack, the paramedics performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation in order to start her heart beating again.

speaker    cholesterol
Definition: A soft, waxy substance produced in the liver and found in the fats in foods from animals—meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs; used to build cell membranes, some hormones, and parts of some organs; too much cholesterol in our bloodstream can lead to heart disease.
Context: Our bodies need cholesterol to function normally, but most of what we require is manufactured in our livers.

speaker    coronary arteries
Definition: Blood vessels attached to the heart muscle that provide it with oxygenated blood.
Context: Clinging to the heart's surface are narrow blood vessels called coronary arteries, which feed the heart's own muscular walls.

speaker    electrocardiograph (ECG or EKG)
Definition: A machine that records the heart's electrical impulses; used to diagnose heart damage by detecting abnormal electrical impulses. (An electrocardiogram is the graphic display of these electric impulses.)
Context: By measuring the pattern of electricity in the heart, the electrocardiograph locates the patch of dying muscle.

speaker    hypertension
Definition: High blood pressure; occurs when the pressure of our blood circulating in our bodies is too great; pressure can damage or burst a blood vessel.
Context: Stress, being overweight, eating a salty diet, and lack of exercise can all lead to hypertension or high blood pressure. This often hidden disease makes the heart work much harder to pump blood around our bodies.

speaker    myocardial infarction (MI)
Definition: Heart attack; occurs when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked, thereby starving the heart muscle of oxygen; the resulting damage or death of the heart muscle can lead to the failure of the entire heart.
Context: The 43-year-old man who collapsed with chest pain and shortness of breath was suffering from a possible myocardial infarction.

speaker    plaque
Definition: A buildup of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin that can partially or completely block an artery.
Context: Cholesterol globules sink into the cracks of the artery wall creating a fat-filled growth called a plaque. Over the years, it bulges up and out into the artery.

speaker    ventricular fibrillation (VF)
Definition: A state when disordered electrical activity causes the ventricles of the heart to contract in a rapid and unsynchronized fashion.
Context: During ventricular fibrillation, the heart is unable to beat and pump any blood to the rest of the body.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Health
Understands essential concepts about nutrition and diet.
Understands how eating properly can help to reduce health risks (in terms of anemia, dental health, osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, malnutrition).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Health
Knows how to maintain and promote personal health.
Knows strategies and skills that are used to attain personal health goals (e.g., maintaining an exercise program, making healthy food choices).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Health
Knows essential concepts about the prevention and control of disease.
Understands how lifestyle, pathogens, family history, and other risk factors are related to the cause or prevention of disease and other health problems.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Physical Education
Understands how to monitor and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical fitness.
Knows how to differentiate the body's response to physical activities of various exercise intensities (e.g., measurement of heart rate, resting heart rate, heart rate reserve, taking pulse at rest and during exercise).

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Kirsten Rooks, former biology teacher and current freelance educator.

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