Meet a Health Hero: Cheryl Janssen

"With proper care, a healthy smile is one of our greatest assets in communicating and demonstrates confidence."

» You can vote for Cheryl here from August 22nd through September 18th.

Cheryl Janssen

Role: Founding executive director/CEO of Kids Smiles, which provides children in underserved communities in Philadelphia with preventive and restorative oral health care along with offering innovative health education programs.

What motivates you to try and make Philadelphia a healthier place?
In order for a child or any person to thrive they need to be healthy. Tooth decay is the number one chronic childhood disease and millions of children have pain that causes them to miss school, not chew properly (causing nutrition issues), have poor speech, and suffer from esteem issues due to the impact of poor oral health. Tooth decay is also linked to other health issues and children must be healthy to focus, learn, and grow. However, with proper care, a healthy smile is one of our greatest assets in communicating and demonstrates confidence. The desire to help Philadelphia one smile at a time stems from how important children are to our future.

Describe a health or fitness-related turning point in your life.
There is no particular health turning point in my life, but several life experiences that have influenced my health and fitness behaviors. I have a family history of cancer and heart disease. These two health issues certainly shape the diet I choose. My fitness regimen is related to personal interest and family. Playing sports socially has been a part of my life, but having an active family of four children, two girls and two boys, sealed the deal for staying active. Playing tennis or golf with your kids is a great way to stay connected. It is especially rewarding to get a hole-in-one with both of your sons golfing with you!

What policy would you institute to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier region?
Since the greatest impact for change can occur with children, I think there are two policies that would be beneficial for advancing better health. The first is to have 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon during which students are in motion. Even if it is simple activity, teaching kids to move is extremely important. Another policy would be to allow kids to have water bottles in school. Drinking water is essential to a healthy lifestyle and if kids could drink water throughout the day it would establish an excellent early health habit.

What’s the most important part of your health or wellness regimen?
There are three critical elements for me for a healthy lifestyle. Foremost is taking care of my spiritual/mental wellbeing by making time for my faith, family, friends and enjoying hobbies. Also, having the privilege of doing work that I love sets the stage for good health. If someone is emotionally drained or experiencing difficult times in life, it is a challenge to think about health in general. Also key are a healthy diet, walking daily, and use of free weights a couple of times a week. If I could change one thing it would be to have more time to devote to working out and sports. Of course, routine checkups and regular dental care is a high priority for me as well.

What is your number one piece of health-related advice or encouragement?
It is never too late to start a healthy lifestyle. Foremost if you smoke – quit! Second, do some basic exercise every day and drink water. Also, whenever you are making a lifestyle change, take it one day at a time. If today isn’t as you hoped, tomorrow can be!

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