HEALTH AND FITNESS: Tips for a healthy return to school | Features

HEALTH AND FITNESS: Tips for a healthy return to school | Features

This week marks the beginning of another school year for many children in our area. Students, parents and teachers are starting another year filled with opportunities for children to learn and grow through math and science, reading and writing, and art and music.

But children should also learn about good nutrition and physical activity, since both good health and good education are essential for lifelong happiness and success. In most schools, though, most kids won’t experience much meaningful education about nutrition, activity and health.

To be clear, this is not the fault of teachers or individual school leaders, who are limited in what they can do by local, state and federal requirements. These topics necessarily become “homework,” and the responsibility of parents and other caregivers. Here are a few suggestions to improve the health and wellbeing of our children and families.

Make sure everyone in the family is active every day. Physical activity is critical for good health for everyone. Importantly, it can improve your immune system, helping you fight viruses of all kinds. Beyond that, being active can help you perform better at work and school and make it easier to do things you enjoy in your leisure time. Adults should be active for a minimum of 30 minutes per day. Everything from taking the dog for a walk to a fitness class at the gym counts. For children, the goal is 60 minutes per day through PE class, sports and play. As a bonus, you can do at least some of the activity together to make activity a family event!

Make healthy eating a family project. There is a lot of confusion about what makes a healthy diet, but there are a few guidelines almost everyone agrees on. First, eat more fruits and vegetables. At a minimum, eat at least 5 servings each day, but try for twice that. Second, limit added sugars and salt. This is tricky since salt, sugar, and other sweeteners are added to most processed foods. Eating too much sugar is known to contribute to obesity, heart disease, and some cancers, so this is among the smartest nutrition moves you can make. Salt, by itself, isn’t necessarily harmful, but less salt almost always means less processed food and more “real” food. Finally, be mindful of portion sizes. Super-sized servings and second (and third) helpings are the primary reason why people gain weight over time.

Plan to eat at least one meal together each day. Most experts agree that family dinners are important for promoting good communication and healthy eating habits. Given that our days are busy with work, school and other activities, eating dinner together every night is unrealistic for many families. So, start with planning at least one family dinner at home each week. This is also a good opportunity to teach children about food and cooking, so it is even better if you prepare the meal together.

Make getting enough sleep a priority. Many American adults and children don’t get enough sleep. Many American adults and children don’t get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can affect children’s growth, development and learning. It can also have an impact on an adult’s productivity at work. The effect of chronic stress on health is well known and we should recognize a lack of sleep as a form of stress. A good goal for adults is 7-9 hours of sleep each night. School-aged children need 8-12 hours, with younger kids requiring more. As difficult as it may be, earlier bedtimes can benefit everyone in the family. Limiting screen time (TV, computer, tablet) before bed can help improve sleep, too.

Obviously, these ideas are easier read than done, especially for busy families. But moving more, eating better and getting more sleep – especially if it is done together – can help your family enjoy a happier and healthier year.