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Healthy Kids Begin With Healthy Families

smilling familyWe all want our kids to be healthy. It’s a no brainer.

But how do we define healthy? What do we focus on?

The same things we do as adults, of course. The basics of regular exercise, maintaining proper nutrition, getting enough sleep, managing our stress, and ensuring proper maintenance of the wondrous machine that is the human body.

The pressures of being income earners and parents, of being there for others and being active in the community – all these things make it challenging for us as adults to achieve truly healthy lifestyles. It seems like something always has to give.

But it bears noting up front that our kids are going to take their cue from us. If we spend too much time in front of a screen, if we eat too much junk food, if we don’t adopt good sleep habits, our kids are much more likely to A) adopt these bad behaviours, and B) react with scorn when we so clearly do not practice what we might preach.

Healthy kids therefore start with healthy parents.

It’s all about moderation. Some people might say balance, but balance implies everything in perfect harmony. We don’t know about you, but perfection is a pretty tough thing to attain.

At the end of the day, your kids, especially if they are teenagers, are individuals that we must teach to be responsible for themselves. You can lead the horse to the water, but … you know how it goes. The best we can do is model the behaviour we want them to adopt. Healthy kids begin with a healthy family, because this is a team effort. As parents, we should lead by example since it will make our lives better, too.

Sleep

A common statistic is that one in three adults don’t get enough sleep. We know kids as they mature need more sleep as their bodies change and develop. Just try dragging that teenager out of bed for school. Late nights on social media don’t help. We have talked before about how lack of sleep impacts mood, productivity, and higher brain function. For kids, it may impact brain development as well. That’s why it’s imperative for people of all ages to get enough sleep and stick to a routine, because trying to “catch up” on the weekend really doesn’t work.

Conventional medical wisdom still stands – go to bed and get up on the same schedule, even on weekends. If you need an alarm clock to wake you up, you are not getting enough. There are many ways to help you get to sleep and sleep better, from using a weighted blanket, to meditation and relaxation exercises.

Screen time

Too much device time has many negative consequences for kids’ health. Most devices emit light in the blue wavelengths. These are great in the morning to wake up your brain, not so good in the evening when you want to wind down for bedtime.

Too much time hunched over a device also leads to so-called text neck – loss of the neck’s natural curve, which we will talk more about below.

Lastly, too much device time means you are too sedentary.

Exercise

According to the World Health Organization and other sources, kids right up until they turn 18 should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, each and every day.
Most of the daily physical activity should be aerobic. Vigorous-intensity activities should be incorporated, including those that strengthen muscle and bone, at least three times per week.

As adults, the goal is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or some combination thereof.

Nutrition

Obviously, the same general guidelines apply for adults. Lay off the sweets and processed foods, the bad fats, and the sugary drinks. Emphasize fresh whole foods and whole grains. Child obesity is a serious issue in our society. We can’t afford to ignore it. The issue often is not how much a kid eats, but the kind of foods they are eating. Growing kids eat a lot and need to, but the emphasis must be on healthy choices.

Spinal health

And then we get to this. We have written before that spinal issues are not reserved for the victims of automobile accidents or bad falls, or for adults with years of bad posture at a desk to account for those neck problems. Kids have issues too, from the consequences of a bad hit in sports, to the cumulative effects of too much time hunched over that device.

Text neck, when people lose the natural curve in their neck due to too much time hunched over their smartphone or tablet, is an increasingly chronic problem among our kids. It can lead to chronic pain, recurring muscle spasms, even arthritic degeneration of discs and vertebrae that is irreversible and can lead to other health issues down the road. The evidence is plain to see in the X-rays of many of our juvenile patients.

Emotional health

This too is critical for our kids. Media reports all the time feature the mental health issues kids face as they get older. Suffice to say that as we focus on physical health, we can’t forget to think about our kids’ mental and emotional health, too.

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