There are two keys to living a healthy lifestyle: diet and exercise. Exercise along with a balanced diet provides the foundation for a healthy, active life.
Diet and exercise can make a huge difference in things like your energy level, your resistance to illness and disease, and even your mental stability. And the same is true for children. One of the most important things parents can do is encourage healthy habits in their children early on in life. And if this is something that you have struggled with in the past, it's not too late to start now. Here are seven fantastic ways to encourage healthy habits in your family.
• Fun activities. There are tons of activities in which your child can participate to keep them active. Help your child find a sport or after-school club in which they might be interested. And if you are looking for something a little more exciting, try a 5k or local fun run to get your family up and moving. The more they enjoy the activity, the more likely they are too continue it. Get the entire family involved. It is a great bonding experience.
• Provide active toys. Children should have easy access to active toys. Active toys are toys that promote exercise and physical movement in order to play with them. Examples are balls, bikes, jump ropes — basically anything that gets kids up and moving. In addition to providing these toys, it is important to also provide the opportunity to play with them. Play a family game of dodgeball or take a nice bike ride around the neighborhood while the weather is nice.
• Role model. It's no secret — leading by example is the best way to teach those around you new habits or skills, and children are absolutely no exception. Children who regularly see their parents enjoying sports and exercise are much more likely to follow in the same footsteps. You don't have to be perfect all the time, but if kids see you trying to eat right and getting your exercise, they will notice. You'll send a message that taking care of your health is important.
• Reading food labels. Learning to read food labels is extremely important to understanding what you put in your body. Teach your children how to read labels properly and give them the chance to give their opinions as to what they believe is a good food choice. The whole family will learn what's good for their health and be more conscious of what they eat. It's a habit that helps change behavior for a lifetime.
• Turn off technology. At this point, who isn't on tech overload? Children are especially susceptible to this. That's not to say that all technology is bad because it certainly is not. But there is definitely such a thing as too much of a good thing. It can be hard to pull your family away from the TV, the computer/tablet screen, the smartphones, the video games, the iPads, and all of the other gadgets that have become a part of everyday life. But getting your family out of their seats and out into the world around them helps them become more self-aware. Communicating in person with other people develops social skills that can't be learned online.
• Cook healthier alternatives. This is probably my favorite of all the suggestions. Why? Because it is so much fun to experiment in the kitchen. Just about every single dish that your family enjoys can be made into a healthier version that's just as tasty as the original. Start with a few of your favorite recipes and begin by substituting some of the ingredients for healthier options. For example, you can substitute cheeses for their low-fat counterparts, butter for olive oil, mashed banana for eggs, or low-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. The possibilities are endless and you'll be amazed at all of the new and improved recipes that you will create.
• Drink more water. Water is the world's most perfect drink. It hydrates, cleanses toxins, and happens to be quite refreshing after a great workout. Not to mention that it's common knowledge that the over-consumption of sweetened drinks and sodas has been linked to increased rates of obesity in children. Send your children to school and sports practices with a refillable water bottle and encourage them to use it throughout the day.
Sticking to a healthy lifestyle is hard work but providing your child with practical ways to stay healthy can serve them well throughout their life. There will be days when you'll want to give up but the end result will be so worth it. And your family might even thank you for it!
Danielle Moser is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.