11 tips for healthy living

The number of overweight people in the United States, including children, has increased more than 30 percent in the last 30 years, and activity levels are down considerably while screen time is up. What can you do as a parent to help your family and your children get fit and healthy and stay that way throughout the school year?

Unfortunately, the days are gone when parents can simply tell children to “go outside and play,” Instead, even during beautiful summer weather, children want to be in front of screens (TV, computer, handheld devices) and frequently snacking, habits that undermine a healthy lifestyle. Pokémon GO may appear to be keeping your child active, but don’t be deceived. Those walking while tracking Pokémon GO often move at a snail’s pace.

Those who are physically active feel the benefits, and they are more likely to continue the positive and healthy trend.

Parents can be great role models. Here are some things you can do:

1. First and foremost, parents are the ultimate role models for being fit and eating healthy. So, limit your own TV and screen time, increase physical activity and eat the right foods.

2. Remove TVs and computers from your children’s bedroom. They may object at first, yet over time they will unconsciously sense the benefits of less screen time and feel more connected to the world around them.

3. Consider practicing the concept of being mindful. Mindfulness is being aware in the present and helps break unconscious habits such as snacking and using screens incessantly (constantly checking email or Facebook). For example, you and your children can ask yourselves, “Do I really want this food?” instead of thoughtlessly eating because that is what you typically do.

4. Make physical activity a family priority. Try starting with 10 minutes daily, working towards 30 minutes of activity each day. For example, dance to loud music that your children love or walk to the store to run errands. Consider organizing a group game or sport at a local gym. Take your children swimming at the YMCA.

5. Attempt to enroll children in activities in your community, but if they are resistant, it’s best not to force them initially. Instead, focus on doing physical activities with your child with the goal of having them want to participate in a sport or physical activity with same-age peers during the school year. If you start increasing their activities now, you can reach that goal by the time school and town sports begin in mid-September.

6. Pursue outdoor family activities such as walking on the beach or swimming in the ocean, going for nature hikes or exploring at the local Audubon sanctuary. Studies indicate that time spent outside increases mental health dramatically.

7. Avoid sugary drinks and instead introduce a water-drinking challenge to see who can drink the most water each day.

8. Focus on what you should be eating, not what you should avoid eating. Do not eliminate sweets completely, but use healthy fruit and yogurt recipes to satisfy sweet cravings. Focus on eating fruits, vegetables, healthy grains and proteins, and engage your children in finding interesting new recipes to try.

9. Studies indicate that sleep is tied to weight maintenance. Especially during the summer there is no reason that your children can’t get 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night, during nighttime hours. The teen preference for sleeping from 2 a.m. to 2 p.m. is not an effective way to gain rest, so insist on regular nighttime hours.

10. Avoid weighing in on the scale too frequently, as this adds an evaluative component and emphasizes losing weight, rather than being healthy.

11. Finally, expect some initial resistance. However, within a week of implementing consistent activity, good nutrition and behavior changes (limited screens, mindfulness, sleep), you and your children will experience noticeable benefits.

As role models, parents have the greatest influence over children’s healthy habits. If engaging your children directly appears too overwhelming given all your other daily stresses, then start with a healthy lifestyle program for just you. Over time, your healthy lifestyle will have a significant impact on your children and they will want to join you.

A new reference for parents is Fit Kids for Life: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy Children, written by Brandon McIntosh with Chrisoula Kiriazis M.D. (paperback, available through Amazon.com).

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