It is never too earlyor lateto teach children to make healthy lifestyle choices. With childhood obesity on the rise, it’s more important than ever for parents to make exercise and good nutrition part of everyday family life.
How can you get your little couch potatoes off the sofa and on the road to good health? The answer may be as easy as ABC. Start with these baby steps, get the kids involved in the choices, and make healthy eating and movement part of the entire family’s routine:
“A” is for Activities. Plan and organize activities that fit your family’s skill and age levels, then make these activities a priority. “Two of the biggest contributors to a sedentary lifestyle are the television and the computer,” says Dr. Gerald Berenson, a cardiologist and researcher at Tulane University Medical Center in New Orleans who helped create The FitKids System, a behavioral modification program designed to help children lose weight.
Parents should limit the amount of time that children spend plopped in front of a screen. Instead of turning on the TV, take a walk, go on a hike, ride bikes, throw a Frisbee or walk the dog. “All of these are simple, enjoyable activities that help reverse the trend our society faces toward a harmful sedentary lifestyle,” Berenson says.
“B” is for Building. Remind children that they’re building habits for a lifetimeeven if they don’t see results right away. Recognize efforts as small as five minutes of jumping jacks. “The beauty of the small changes approach is that you can find ways to be physically active throughout the day,” says Dr. James O. Hill, professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Colorado-Denver and co-founder of the America on the Move Foundation.
Make small changes, such as playing on the playground after school or walking the dog each evening. If your kids love playing ball, encourage them to join organized sports. And don’t underestimate the power of a pickup game to keep children and grown-ups interacting in a healthy manner.
“C” is for Counting. “Children are motivated by incentives and evidence of progress,” Berenson says. “Parents should try helping children make it count by setting individual or family goals and tracking their progress.”
Pedometers record the number of steps you take and provide an easy way to show how every step counts. Get a pedometer for each family member. Compete to see who takes the most steps in the day, or chart your progress on a map of imaginary hiking trips to Disney World, to grandma’s or even across the country.
“D” is for Day trips. Family game nights or movie nights build togetherness, but they also lead to sedentary habits. Make your “together time” healthy for your body as well as your relationship by planning physically active day trips. For instance, visiting a zoo or walking through a historic battlefield allow for both movement and conversation. Volunteering for a community service event, such as a walkathon, beach cleanup or food drive, can help the family feel goodbody and soul.
“E” is for Eating. Your kids probably won’t automatically choose brown rice over french fries, so you need to encourage them to make healthy choices. “The most powerful way parents can help children make good nutritional choices is to be role models and make good choices themselves,” Hill says. Cutting the family’s sugar and fat intake is a good start, so forgo sodas and chips and dip, and reach for sliced apples or baby carrots in the eveningand make sure your kids see you doing it.
To make healthy eating fun, challenge your kids to “eat a rainbow.” Serve snacks of different colors, such as red peppers, orange carrots, yellow bananas and purple plums, to introduce your children to a variety of delicious, healthful foods.
“F” is for Fun. This may be the most important aspect of all. Make exercise fun by choosing different locations for activities and planning a variety of games and challenges.
If you implement these changes slowly and continue to make healthy choices, your family will reap the benefits: good eating habits, fit bodies and the joy of good health.