A new year is often accompanied by many healthy resolutions. This year, we are striving for total health and fitness for the whole family. From nutrition and fitness, to screen time and sleep habits… Here are some ways to keep your family fit, healthy and harmonious in 2020.
Eat Nutritious Foods Together
Steer Clear of Sugar
Sugar is everywhere. It’s in things like sauces, breads, pastas, sweets, and fizzy drinks. It hides under a variety of names: fructose, glucose, maltose, lactose, sucrose, corn syrup, dextrose, corn sweetener, raw sugar, molasses…
On average 17% of what children consume each day is sugar. Adults in the UK are consuming almost three times the recommended amount. It shouldn’t take up more than 5% of your daily calories. In fact, According to the American Heart Association (AHA), eating foods that are high in sugar during childhood is linked to a host of health concerns. These range from obesity and heart disease to high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
The sugar RDI for adults is no more than 30g. Children, ages 7-10, should have no more than 24g. Between 4-6 years old should have no more than 19g. And Children 2 years and younger shouldn’t consume added sugar at all.
Check nutrition labels for the amount of added sugar in what you’re eating. Opt for water and milk instead of sugary drinks. Make dessert a delicious bowl of cut up fruit rather than cakes and sweets.
Keep Away from Processed Foods
According to the latest information from Public Health Nutrition, UK, half of the foods in UK households are considered ‘ultra-processed’. These are things like breakfast cereals, sausages and reconstituted meat products, pre-packaged meals, and industrialised breads.
Studies show that once food has been processed, it affects the bio-availability of the nutrients. This means your body is less able to obtain essential nutrients from the food as it passes through the small intestine. Too many ultra-processed foods can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and certain cancers.
Avoid giving your family packaged foods with more than five ingredients, as they are likely to be ultra-processed. Anything that is ‘fresh’ but has a curiously long shelf life it also a no-go. Finally, steer clear of any unrecognisable ingredients, as well as anything high in fat, sugar, and salt.
Refined flour is used to make breads, pastas, cookies, cakes, crackers, breakfast cereals, pizza crust, doughnuts, and a lot more. Unfortunately, refined flour has very little nutritional benefit.
The refining process removes most of the dietary fibre, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and vitamin E; leaving behind lots of starch. The high starch content can lead to major blood sugar swings. Over time, this can contribute to cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. It is also bad for your digestion.
Foods made with refined flour don’t keep you feeling full for very long. Fortunately, there are a number of more nutritious alternatives. Try wild rice, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, gluten-free oats, nut flours, and seed flours. These alternatives have a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals, fibre, healthy fats, and proteins.
One of the best things you can do for the health of your whole family is to opt for organic produce and meats. The harsh chemicals used in traditional farming have been linked to a number of long-term health issues.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, both chronic and acute pesticide exposure can lead to chronic illness. Many of these pesticides have been linked to higher instances of ADHD, attention disorders, and autism spectrum disorders. The chemicals inhibit neurochemicals that are closely linked to ADHD. Plus, children are more susceptible to the potentially toxic effects of these pesticides.
As adults, however, we are not necessarily immune. Plus, as we age, the liver and kidneys become less effective at removing pesticides from the body. In large quantities, this can be linked to cancers and other chronic diseases. Fortunately, by feeding your family organic foods, you’re limiting their pesticide intake by up to 70%.
Talk to Your Kids About Nutrition
Part of building healthy, life-long habits is awareness. Help your children to understand why different foods are important and what nutrients their bodies need. Talk to them about the benefits of different foods as you eat them. To make this information more accessible to kids, try talking in colour: “Red food gives you a strong heart”; “Green food helps you fight off sickness”; “White food gives you energy.”
Feeding Therapist, Alisha Grogan, suggests avoiding words like ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’. These subjective terms can demonise certain foods, over-complicating your child’s relationship with food as a whole. Instead try referring to foods as ‘sometimes’ foods or ‘everyday’ foods.
We all know that exercise is an important part of any healthy lifestyle. However, instead of making it feel like a chore, carve out time to be active as a family. Go for a walk, spend some time splashing around in the pool, kick around the football, or play a game of tag.
The rule of thumb is that adults should get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic physical exercise every week. Children should be getting 60 minute daily. Children 2 to 5 years old should play actively several times a day.
Keep it interesting by including some variety in your activities. Sign up for a road race together. Set small collective goals that you can work together to achieve. Or, if you’re a family who likes a little competition, try using fitness trackers to set little challenges for each other.
Whatever you do, do it together. It’s not only a great way to include physical activity in your family’s day-to-day, but also a great way to bond. Plus, family-based fitness has a greater chance of building life-long habits.
Limit Screen Time
Screens are everywhere. As an adult, it’s hard to get away from all the computers, TVs, phones, and tablets. They can also seem to be a convenient distraction for children. However, somewhat frighteningly, the average child spends seven hours a day looking at a screen.
Too much screen time has been linked to behavioural problems, poor sleep, obesity, loss of social skills, and even a tendency for violence. Especially for younger children, it can have a negative effect on a child’s development.
The NHS officially recommends that children under age 2 should not have screen time, and that children ages 3-4 should have a maximum of one hour per day.
It is important to note that not all screen time is considered equal. Especially with the plethora of educational apps, games, and shows available, high-quality screen time can support learning and development. However, passive screen time shouldn’t replace active engagement with parents. Spending active screen time with your child allows you to provide context (where needed); see what your child is learning; and help them apply their new knowledge in real life.
Screen time limits are important for adults too. A 2017 study found that adults who spent more than six hours in front of a screen were at a higher risk of depression. It has also been shown to affect sleep, cause eye strain and headaches, and even contribute to obesity and heart disease. While screens can be hard to get away from, especially for anyone whose job is computer-centered, it’s important to self-regulate. It’s also important to set a healthy example for your kids.
Try to limit screen time by creating a ‘screen free zone’ in your home or structuring ‘screen free’ time. Instead, try playing a board game together or getting some exercise as a family.
Get Enough Sleep
Neuroscientist Matthew Walker calls sleep a ‘superpower’. He’s not wrong. In fact, sleep is fundamental for more of our body’s functions than we give it credit for. It impacts our memory, our immune system, our mood, even food cravings.
Children who consistently get enough sleep are able to concentrate for longer; they’re better problem solvers; they learn better; they are more creative; and they form and maintain better relationships. Without enough sleep they are more forgetful, they struggle to learn new information, they have increased stress levels, they’re more irritable and more impulsive.
Unsurprisingly, the effects of too little sleep are not limited to children––as many adults know all too well.
Doctors recommend that babies get anywhere from 14-18 hours of sleep daily. School aged children should be getting 10-13 hours. Teenages need 8-11 hours every night, and adults need 7-9 hours.
To help get a better night’s sleep, both adults and children should go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Even after a bad night’s sleep. Even on weekends. Keep the bedroom temperature cool. Dim the lights an hour before bed.
For adults, avoid caffeine after 1pm and alcohol in the evening.
Avoid screens in the two to three hours before bed. Most screens emit blue wavelengths (blue light), which affects our ability to sleep. Blue light is naturally produced in our environment during the day. It suppresses melatonin, our bodies sleep chemical, and keeps us awake.
Lead by Example. A healthy mindset is key.
Building healthy habits as a family starts with you. If you want your kids to eat healthy foods, stay active, and get enough sleep, it’s important to lead by example. The behaviour children observe in their parents is how they learn to behave. These observations can literally impact your child’s brain development. So, building a solid foundation for healthy habits is essential. Spend active time together as a family. Learn about proper nutrition. Establish a proper sleep routine. It will not only benefit you and your family now, but are healthy habits your children can take into adulthood.