Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Encouraging Health and Wellness with Children

Some years ago many American states launched campaigns to raise awareness about childhood obesity. Campaigns plastered obese children on billboards and even TV commercials. These were labeled as harsh for some, yet essential. There is a clear link that obesity in children results in lifelong health challenges. We must act today to support tomorrow's generations by encouraging our children and all children to live active and healthy lives.

As a child, I ate plenty of wonderfully home-cooked meals that included about a pound of tortillas and the greasiest of dishes. I also ate way more fast-food than I'm willing to admit. I wasn't an active child and most adults in my world didn't spend time exercising. I wouldn't say I was obese and in fact I got through high school and college eating just as poorly and feeling fine. I never ate breakfast and fruits and veggies just weren't the norm. This led to becoming conflicted as an adult. Suddenly, I looked in the mirror and realized that years of eating whatever, whenever had taken its toll. And worse, I was clearly addicted to fast-food and needed to completely change my views.

After a lot of hard work and dedication, I lost close to 60 lbs.,  but this took a good thirty years of my life. What an injustice. And to think so many never get their weight under control. We are heavy as we grow up, become heavier through the years, and either accept it or change it. I chose to change and now I've also chosen to change my children's lives too.

How to encourage healthy and active lifestyles for all families:

Make Exercise Typical - My children witness both parents actively exercising, are asked to partake in family exercise (yoga/running/hiking) and know that exercise is a part of everyday life. Even if children aren't inclined to be active. A parent's example works wonders. Don't guilt them into it, simply model this commitment to exercise.

Encourage Healthy Eating -  We cook healthy meals often. We also make sure to pack healthful meals for our son's lunch and he never skips breakfast. If this isn't usual for your family, keep things simple by ordering apple slices instead of fries. This can be a challenge and often is with my kids who frequently request cheeseburgers and pizza. Simply continue to offer new items. My son fell in love with shrimp this year and there's so many healthy and easy recipes using shrimp.

Identify Active Hobbies - Our son participants in an array of after school programs that translate into an exercise routine (soccer, tennis, basketball, and baseball have all been a part of this year's activities). I understand that organized sports isn't affordable for all. But these activities can all be organized at home with usually nothing more than some sporting equipment! Encourage your children to find hobbies that are both enjoyable and active activities.  This way exercise is simply a by-product of something they already love (i.e. skateboarding, hiking, swimming, etc).

Don't Beat Yourself Up - Maybe all of the above is a challenge for your family. Maybe you are battling your own weight issues and have since childhood. I get that. I still buy more happy meals for my kids than I should. So I buy spinach and almond milk and still end up with candy and cookies in my kitchen.  My children's grandparents are those same parents that wanted to fatten me up as a child with cheesy casseroles and fresh pastries. Even still, I've taken baby-steps with my kids. Last year these same kiddos wouldn't come near a salad and now they're raving about Cobb Salad night. Take it slow, but do it and create a healthy and active family unit for everyone's sake!

These are simple steps and though they may seem too simple - ask yourself just how active and healthy your children's lifestyles are? Will their habits around food and exercise help or hinder them tomorrow? Share your opinion by commenting below...

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