By: Dr. Gene Roehlkepartain
We all want our children to grow up healthy, and we know it is important that they eat nutritious foods and get exercise. Yet mothers, fathers, and other parenting adults often struggle to help their kids develop healthy habits. May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, making it the perfect opportunity to start some new health and fitness traditions with your family.
Ideas for Getting Started
1. Be a healthy role model. Our children and teens learn a great deal from our health habits—what we eat, what kind of exercise we get, and the lifestyle we live. Instead of just expecting our teens to eat healthy and be active, parents’ own habits either reinforce or undermine those positive messages.
2. Support kids’ involvement in sports and other physical activities. Make it a priority to encourage your child to participate in athletics or other physical activities. This may involve providing transportation or offering to be a volunteer coach or program leader. Talk with your child about what he or she enjoys about the activities as a way of showing support and staying more connected to what matters to her or him.
3. Set routines for cooking, eating, and physical activities. The most common reason people say they don’t get exercise or eat healthy is that they get too busy. It can help to have a standard routine for when you shop for groceries, take walks, and cook and eat meals together. If you cannot exercise or eat together every day, decide as a family when you will all commit each week to doing these activities together.
4. Have healthy food available. Children and teens tend to eat what is around the house. If there are high-calorie snacks, desserts, and meals, they are most likely to eat those when they are hungry. If those foods and drinks are not readily available, they are much more likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods.
5. Have family meals together. Family meals are not only enjoyable and important for maintaining a caring, connected family, but they also help develop and reinforce good health habits and protect against unhealthy dieting or eating disorders (Neumark-Sztainer et al, 2010). Teens from families that eat together regularly tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, and they tend to consume fewer high-calorie soft drinks. Turn off the television, cell phones, and other electronics, and keep the atmosphere at meal times positive and friendly so that children and teens relax and value the positive time together as a family.
[Related: Why are Family Dinners Important?]
6. Do physical activities together. Some families are already very active with sports and other types of exercise. But many are not. Find simple ways your family can get exercise together on a regular basis. You might:
- Take a daily walk together or sometimes walk or bike instead of driving or using public transportation to get around your community.
- Do yard work together, if you have a house, or work together in a community garden (which can provide both exercise and healthy, fresh vegetables).
- Participate together in the President’s Challenge as a way to get started with getting more exercise.
- Do volunteer work in your community that involves physical activity.
- Make physical activity part of your vacation plans.
- Join a team or a recreation center that encourages families to spend time together.
7. Limit screen time. Researchers (Lindsay et al., 2006) see consistently strong relationships between levels of physical activity in children and teens and their use of screens—televisions, computers, smart phones, tablets, video games, and other electronics. Some ways to encourage healthy technology boundaries include setting daily limits on screen time for all family members, keeping computers, phones, and televisions out of teens’ bedrooms (particularly at night when they should be sleeping, not texting), and not using electronics during meal times or when doing homework. Encourage physical activity when they are not using electronics.
8. Be adventuresome. Eating well and getting physical activity do not have to be difficult or drudgery. Go hiking or walking in places where you have never been before so that you can explore new sights. Try a new, healthy recipe each week—something that you cook together as a family. Go to a farmer’s market to learn about and try fruits and vegetables that you haven’t had before. If you are able, take a cooking class with your child, or join with other families for regular hikes, walks, games, or other physical activities.
Tell us: What health and fitness traditions have you started in your family?________________________________________________________________________
Lindsay, A. C., Sussner, K. M., Kim, J. & Gortmaker, S. (2006). The role of parents in preventing childhood obesity. The Future of Children, 16(1), 169-186.
Neumark-Sztainer, D., Larson, N. I., Fulkerson, J. A., Eisenberg, M. E., & Story, M. (2010). Family meals and adolescents: What have we learned from Project EAT (Eating Among Teens)? Public Health Nutrition, 13(7), 1113–1121. DOI: 10.1017/S1368980010000169
Photo Credit: vanhookc on Flickr.