When you make physical activity and healthy eating part of your family’s routine, you are not only having an immediate impact on the people you love, you are establishing a tradition of activity and consciousness about food that can be carried forth for generations into the future.
Years ago, manual labor and unprocessed foods supplied the physical activity and nutrients to keep most people fit. Exhaustion came from hours in the fields, on the factory floor, or feeding the family. Today, many people feel tired because they are eating poorly, and sedentary lifestyles never generate the energizing endorphins that result from healthy physical activity. Here is some useful advice for making fitness part of your family’s routine:
1. When it comes to food, focus on both the emotional and physical benefits of eating well. Dr. Lachin Hajhosseini, MD, is a family practitioner with ThedaCare Physicians-Appleton North inside Encircle Health. “Food and how we share it with others is not just an issue of weight and calories. It influences emotional, mental and heart health, too,” she said. Try these tips:
- Eat meals together, particularly the evening meal. Sit-down meals are more likely to include multiple food groups, be cooked at home, and encourage supportive discussions. Work to make these get-togethers pleasant. Mealtime is not a time for lectures or disagreement.
- Take young people grocery shopping with you and help them to make healthy choices, and tell them the reasoning behind the better choice. Children also love shopping at farmers’ markets and learn to associate food with the people, farms and animals that produce it.
- Try your hand at growing your own food. Start small with a row of beans along the house, or a cherry tomato plant in a pot, and expand from there. Nothing is more satisfying that picking the vegetables you grow and serving them to appreciative family members. Children are also more likely to eat vegetables that they grow themselves.
- Cook together. Have young people choose recipes and shop for the ingredients. Learn to use measuring cups, peel vegetables, and set the table. Youth without adequate exposure to food prep basics sets up young adults to eat many more processed and take-out foods.
- Supply the demand. Once you have generated interest in eating well, keep healthy snacks, fresh fruit and real cheese stocked at home within easy reach. You’ll be feeding their enthusiasm.
- Start a tradition of family walks after meals. The time together will be a treasured part of your family’s memories, neighborhood connections, and fit lifestyle.
2. Build physical activity into your way of life. Dr. Hajhosseini says it does not have to be a choice between being physically active and spending time with one’s family. “Why not do it together? You will establish this healthy behavior as the norm in your children’s lives.”
- Vacuuming, sweeping, mowing the lawn, and pulling weeds all burn significant calories and pump up a person’s pulse.
- Celebrate special days like birthdays, the last day of school, or visits from cousins with celebratory bike rides, swimming pool dates, hikes, dance parties or kite-flying excursions.
- Start a friendly competition. Equip family members with a pedometer and design a virtual race across the state, country or to grandma’s house on a map. Track each person’s progress with pushpins on the map and see who “wins.”
- Keep the backyard fixed up for fun. Keep the volleyball net up. Hang a swing. Encourage young and old to explore nature, climb trees (safely) and get plenty of fresh air.
3. Improve your snooze. Dr. Hajhosseini emphasizes that consistent sleep patterns are most important. “Proper sleep is the best way to start the day with good physical and mental health, ready for a productive day,” she said.
- Sleep is a time when our body rests, rejuvenates, and regulates hormone levels that affect many important systems in our bodies. Serious health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety, depression, obesity, strokes and heart attacks can be linked to poor sleep.
- Infants and toddlers require nine to 10 hours of sleep a day, plus two to three hours of naps. School-age children need nine to 11 hours per day, and adults need seven to eight hours.
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine to ensure that everyone gets the rest that they need.
4. Be a fitness role model
- Limit your children’s screen time to two hours per day or less, and yours, too.
- Invite young people along on your daily jogs or walks and sign up for a 5K together. You’ll find the time together very enriching, physically and emotionally.
- Toddlers can ride along in a jogging stroller and learn that outside exercise time with mom or dad is lots of fun, especially with a stop at the park.
- Sign up for a parent/child fitness class at the YMCA, or take time to teach your children what you learned at your own class.
Need help to find a doctor who has a focus on fitness and your overall wellness? Lachin Hajhosseini, MD, a family practitioner at ThedaCare Physicians-North Appleton inside Encircle Health, is accepting new patients. Contact her office at directly at (920) 738-4600. Or call ThedaCare On Call at (920) 830-6877 or go to www.thedacare.org and click on “Find a Doctor.”