February 20, 2017
Everyone spends so much time running around completing the tasks of the day that we often de-prioritize being healthy with our families, and for ourselves. Anything that is fun for the whole family creates a bonding experience that will become a healthy habit, and there are several areas of our lives that present these opportunities.
Children learn by watching other people — especially their parents. Set an early example for them by taking the time to eat healthy, exercise, and rest well. A common problem is that parents want the best for their kids, but they make different choices for themselves because it is easier. Don’t make separate meals for different members of the family, and encourage eating together. Food choices, eating behavior, and habits that we see in adults are directly related to what we were exposed as a child. Parents have the power to shape those patterns by making healthy lifestyle choices for their family and children early.
Keep Mom Healthy
Women are especially guilty of putting everyone else’s needs before their own. Sick mothers are often bringing mildly ill children in for appointments and not being seen personally because they “just don’t have the time” to get to the doctor themselves. Being the backbone of most fast-paced families, women need to pay special attention to their own diet, exercise, and sleep regimen because otherwise they won’t have the energy they both want and need to care for their families. Sleep is an especially important factor in this equation as it becomes difficult to think clearly and function at 100 percent without it. Ultimately, sleep deprivation, in the name of putting the family first, will result in reduced immune function, welcoming more illness and crippling fatigue.
Parents should agree what type of lifestyle goals they want to instill in their family while prioritizing their own health needs. Raising healthy, happy kids requires a well-planned strategy to which everyone commits. There are several ways to include everyone in healthy activities on a regular basis – take the dog for a walk after dinner, ride your bikes together (with helmets, of course!), or just play catch in the yard. Another avenue to spend time together, while instilling the values of healthy nutrition, is to start a backyard garden. This will not only be fun for everyone, but will ensure easy access to fresh vegetables. We are actually heading into a garden-planning season, so it’s a good time to visit your local garden store and get educated.
Make Good Food Choices
We eat a lot of processed foods because they are convenient, and often simple diet modifications can not only improve our general health, but prevent more serious diseases later in life. Try to shop around the outside of the grocery store aisles and eat natural foods. Make cooking healthy meals part of the family routine. There are tremendous online resources for natural recipes and ways to eat well without breaking the budget.
Prevent Childhood Obesity
The American Heart Association notes that roughly one in three American children today is overweight. This epidemic is a significant issue both nationwide and locally here in Richmond. We start looking at Body Mass Index (BMI) in children at the 2-year well-child visit. If we find that the child is trending towards overweight at an early age, we work with families to come up with a plan that addresses both nutrition and exercise, ensuring a healthy trajectory going forward. Because children naturally want to be active, most of these behaviors can be easily modified by motivated parents, reducing issues later in life.
Additional Resources Regarding Childhood and Adolescent Obesity
Weight can be an emotional issue for all involved, and children become increasingly aware of this as they get older. It is important to communicate effectively with children about healthy lifestyle choices and try to structure family activities to appropriately encourage them. Your thoughts on weight issues may be different than those of your child, and it is important to reach a common ground because everyone internalizes the issue differently.
Instilling healthy habits and maintaining them as a lifestyle is actually pretty easy and manageable when done with the proper amount of planning and commitment. A simple first step is cooking at home and eating meals as a family, leading into spending quality time in the evening after the hustle and bustle of the day is over.
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