Pencils. Crayons. Kleenex. Hand Sanitizer.
Just about every school supply list includes items to keep kiddos healthy.
But what else can we do as parents to protect our kids’ health?
First and foremost, is modeling healthy habits for our children.
The six pillars of Lifestyle Medicine that keep us adults healthy can also set our kids up to thrive.
Today we’ll review the six pillars and how we can use them to set our kids up for successful health habits. We’ve got 7 fun ways to boost your family’s wellness.
How Lifestyle Medicine Can Improve Your Kids’ Health
According to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Lifestyle Medicine uses evidence-based lifestyle habits to prevent, treat and often reverse chronic disease.(1)
The six areas of focus for optimal health and wellness are:
Eating more whole, plant foods
Experts agree that too much processed food is unhealthy for children. Fruits and vegetables contain lots of beneficial nutrients for growing kids. Introduce your children to a wide variety of unprocessed plant-based foods.
The American Heart Association recommends that children stay active throughout the day. Kids ages 6-17 should get about an hour of movement every day.(2)
Active kids may have:
Better heart and brain health
Less disruptive behavior in school
Better performance at school work
Healthier weight and fitness(3)
With such important benefits, it’s important as parents to develop a strategy for more active play for our children.
Good sleep habits
If you’ve ever had to make it through an afternoon shopping trip with a toddler that hasn’t had a nap yet, you know that sleep affects kids’ behavior. The same is true for kids of any age.
Kids between the ages 6-12 need about 9-12 hours of sleep. Teens need about 8-10 hours.(3)
Children will do better in school and have better overall health if they are getting enough sleep. Trust me!
School. Friends. Activities. Social media. Family relationships. Kids feel stress, too!
When you consider that stress can impact children’s development, it’s our job as parents to teach them ways to feel calmer and less anxious.
Avoidance of Risky Substances
Protecting our teens from drugs and alcohol starts by setting a good example, developing positive communication, and establishing boundaries when they are little.
Positive family relationships provide our children with a support system for their whole lives.
Listen to each other
Appreciate each other
Support each other
We want our kids to feel safe and develop self-confidence which starts by building positive family relationships.
This may seem like a long list, but the good news is there’s a lot of overlap in healthy habits.
For example, playing soccer with your little ones is great exercise and also helps them sleep better and reduce stress. Playing games with your kids will strengthen your relationships and decrease the amount of time spent playing video games and watching T.V.
We’ve got 7 ideas for you to get your family active and feeling amazing!
7 Creative Ways to Encourage Your Family to Be Healthier
1. Swap screen time with green time.
People spend a lot of time on their devices these days. Kids are no different. On average children between 8-12 spend 4-6 hours a day on their screens — teens spend up to 9 hours!(1)
Too much screen time can lead to reading less, sleep issues, less time with friends and family, lower grades, and problems with weight and self-esteem.
Try some “green time” instead — that is time outdoors! Limit your children’s screen time and encourage them to play outside. To kick this habit off, go biking with your kids after dinner each evening.
Your kids will love spending time with you and get the benefits of fresh air.
2. Plant some tomatoes.
We want our children to eat less processed food and more whole, plant foods.
Kids love growing things and are more likely to try new vegetables if they’ve grown it themselves.
You don’t need much to get started — just some pots, seeds and good quality soil.
There are lots of veggies that are easy to grow in containers:
Onions and garlic
Herbs like basil, mint, chives, oregano
You’ll enjoy learning about container-gardening along with your children and you’ll have some fresh produce to enjoy together.
3. Teach your kids Four Square
Did you play Four Square growing up? All you need is a bouncy ball, a grid of four-squares and four players. I was a champion at Four Square growing up. We spent most recesses playing this ball game.
But you don’t have to play Four Square with your kids— teach them any active game that you used to play growing up.
Here’s a list to refresh your memory or give you some new ideas: 30 Classic Outdoor Games for Kids.
4. Build a vocab list.
No, I’m not talking about the spelling list from school.
I’m talking about emotional vocabulary.
Kids experience a wide range of emotions and can often express these emotions in behavior that is less than desirable like hitting siblings or breaking their toys.
Build positive habits around feelings like describing what is happening and label the appropriate feeling.
For example: “You’re stamping your feet and frowning. You look like you’re mad.”
Instead of asking “How was your day?”
You can ask: “Tell me something that made you happy or proud today.” (2)
Sometimes we use limited vocabulary to express our own emotions and generalize by saying, “I feel upset.”
Instead of using the same words to describe feelings expand their emotional vocabulary by using a variety of words:
Having a range of words to describe feelings will help your child realize that what they may be experiencing is normal and give them a positive way to express emotions without acting out.
5. Play Crazy Eights.
Playing cards or board games is a great way to have fun together as a family and improve relationships. Some good-natured rivalry helps children to learn how to win and lose gracefully.
Plus card games can help improve memory, math and boost confidence.
If you need to refresh yourself on the rules of an old favorite or get inspired by a new game, check out this list from Today’s Parent: 10 kid-friendly card games.
6. Read bedtime stories.
This tip is all about creating an evening routine to set your little one up for a good night’s sleep.
You can include some of the following activities for your child’s bedtime routine.
Five minute speed toy clean up
Brush teeth and going to the bathroom
Talking about the day
Reading a book
Good night kiss
Doing the same things at the same time helps children know what to expect every evening and sets up healthy sleep habits.
7. Have a Pizza Party!
Better nutrition starts with introducing more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Another way to get your kids interested in trying different foods is to let them cook with you. Make it a fun, family experience. You can try different themed nights:
Breakfast for Dinner
Living Room Picnic
Letting your children participate in the cooking will encourage them to learn about healthy ingredients and try different foods.
The Main Takeaway
Building healthy lifestyles for our children is one of our most important jobs as parents. The benefits include more resilient, well adjusted children that are ready to play and learn.
Setting your child up to flourish does require some planning. Fortunately the six pillars of Lifestyle Medicine guide us to develop habits that support excellent health throughout their lives.
At Baltimore Lifestyle & Culinary Medicine we want you and your children to lead the healthiest lives possible!
We help people establish lifestyle habits that will help them live healthy, happier lives.
We’re pleased to announce that we now offer our Get Healthy program exclusively for teens.
This course was designed specifically for students in high school and college to help them set up healthy habits to get them through their studies while staying healthy and maintaining a healthy weight.
Click on our Services page to learn more.
American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids