By: Marie Williams
It’s pretty much universal knowledge that “getting healthy” is the number one New Year’s resolution. Yet, too often it’s the first thing we give up on! But let’s stop and think about how we could positively impact our kids, if we just followed through on getting healthy (and maintaining a healthy lifestyle). Here’s some quick-and-easy advice for parents who want to keep their family’s health goals on track—not only for the first two weeks of January—but all year round.
We are all familiar with the routine: after a holiday season marked by overeating and excuses, we usher in the New Year with a firm resolve to eat healthfully and live a more active life. Goals are set, and for some of us, they are met. But for many more, resolutions dissolve sometime around January 15th and we revert to a familiar inactive lifestyle, and uneven eating habits. As someone who used to drive around the parking lot of my gym for a half hour looking for a spot as close as possible to the door, believe me; I get it. At the time, it made perfect sense that after sweating on the elliptical machine for an hour I should decline the opportunity to walk a hundred yards to my car.
Then I heard a startling statistic: If certain health trends remain unchecked, this generation could be the first in American history to live shorter, sicker lives than their parents.
It was one thing to limit my own health maintenance to just three hours a week at the gym, but the idea that I might be creating a legacy of ill health for my daughter was unacceptable to me. I’m sure the same is true for the vast majority of parents. If you have been less than diligent about your health and that of your family, the new year is as good a time as any to make a course correction.
Start building these 7 healthy habits into your daily life now, and begin a legacy of good health for your kids—and generations to come.
Healthy Habit #1: Make Breakfast a Priority
You have heard this a million times, and it’s true – breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It sets the tone for how you’ll feel, and for how well your body will respond to tasks you give it. Fuel it correctly, you will be energetic and focused; give it junk and you may feel sluggish and groggy. And if weight-loss is your goal, you’ll be interested to know that by feeding your body early, you’re jump-starting the process of burning calories more efficiently throughout the day.
Healthy Habit #2: Take Movement Breaks
The benefits of an active lifestyle are numerous. You’ll look good, feel better, and lower the risk factors for many chronic illnesses like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Aim for 90 minutes of activity per day. If that sounds laughably unlikely, don’t worry, you won’t have to do it all at once. Take the fifteen-minute walk to the post office during your lunch break; send your documents to the printer at the furthest end of the office instead of the one that’s steps from your door. And to unwind at the end of the day, take a walk around the block with your partner after dinner. Bring the kids along as well. Not only are you modeling active behaviors, it’s a great time to talk about their day. If your kids have few opportunities to be active at school, in addition to the family walk, make sure you give them chores around the house that require movement.
Healthy Habit #3: Eat Often; Eat Well
If you’re like me, you sometimes feel smug and pious when you forgo meals. Well, don’t. Even if you want to lose weight, it does more harm than good. The surest way to retain weight, ironically, is to convince your body that you’re trying to starve it – by depriving it of calories. By eating frequent, small meals, you “train” your body to burn calories efficiently because they are regularly replenished. Make your snacks healthy ones like fruit, cheese, nuts and other high-protein options and you won’t even have a three o’clock slump let alone need that jumbo-sized coffee to push past it.
- Need inspiration? Try these healthy snack ideas.
- Need focus? Download this shopping list to help you on your next trip to the grocery store.
Healthy Habit #4: Make Water your First Choice
Just about every flavor we enjoy has been reduced to liquid form, which is a great convenience sometimes. But there are also big drawbacks. The calories we consume in fruit juices and other flavored drinks contribute to overweight and obesity, especially in children, and can cause tooth decay as well. If you make water your default beverage you’ll steer clear of the alternating energy highs and lows that come from drinking concentrated sugars, and you’ll avoid drinking extra calories. And we all know this, but it bears repeating: for general health, water energizes us, helps fight infection and carries oxygen throughout the body.
Healthy Habit #5: Substitute Meat with Fish Twice a Week
For some families, meat is an important part of their diet. Lean meats are a good source of protein, zinc, B12 and iron and the chief source of these nutrients in the American diet. To cut back on the risk of high cholesterol and to assist in nervous system development for infants and children, add omega-3s by eating darker fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring. All are beneficial for the heart and brain and some are even thought to lower the risk of certain cancers.
Healthy Habit #6: Make Dessert the Exception, Not the Rule
Treats like cakes, cookies, and other high-calorie desserts should be the exception, not the rule. Rather than giving them to your family after meals as a matter of course, these foods should be reserved for special occasions. If your kids need to be weaned from the idea of an after-dinner treat, try serving baked apples, a fruit salad, or frozen fruit bars in the short-term, and in the longer-term eliminate them as an expected part of everyday meals altogether.
Healthy Habit #7: Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals
Make sure your healthy eating and active living goals are S.M.A.R.T.
Instead of setting a general goal to “get healthier in the new year”, you should clearly spell out mini-goals like “eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal every day”, “walk twice around the block every evening after dinner” or “try a new sport every month.”
The bottom line is this: long lasting New Year’s changes are rarely as dramatic as the fireworks show. Follow all these steps at once if you can, or you can slowly incorporate them one at a time. Keep a chart for you and your family to map your progress; when these changes become habitual, you’ll find you no longer need it. But one thing is certain, if you manage to do them all, by next year your health will be less of a concern and your biggest resolution will be to finally clean out that hall closet.
1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 10 Tips for Healthy Meals.
4. ParentFurther.com, Frequent Questions and Concerns about Kids’ Sports and Fitness.
5. ParentFurther.com, Health and Nutrition Everyday Steps.
6. Image via Korean Resource Center on Flick’r.