Get healthier together!

Six ways to max out your family's well-being.

You’re probably already trying to make sure that everyone eats well and gets some exercise, but here are some do-it-together strategies the experts say will keep you and yours in the best health possible. Read them and reap.

Actively simplify

Rather than juggle multiple pickups and drop-offs for school and work, try to leave a little earlier and make the commute on foot or bike (while the weather’s still warm). Simplify everyone’s evening and weekend routines by limiting extracurricular activities to, say, one per child, and spend time together going on walks, hitting a tennis ball in the backyard or at the park and, when winter hits, skating and tobogganing. “A lot of families run around like crazy, taking their kids to a whole bunch of lessons, but the parents don’t do physical stuff themselves,” says Howie Owens, a naturopath from Bracebridge, Ont. “I see a lot of parents take their kids tobogganing and end up hanging out at the bottom of the hill, chatting. Be the parent who’s going up and down the hill.”

Don’t eat and watch

A healthy family can still watch TV. (Whew!) But tuning in over mealtimes can have a damaging effect on health. A survey of 287 children by the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas found that 50 percent of overweight kids ate their meals in front of the tube, compared with 35 percent of normal-weight kids. It’s easier to eat on autopilot while you’re watching a favourite show — everyone’s likely to eat more and keep munching until the program is over. All those commercials for chocolate bars and juicy burgers ratchet up your hunger cues too. And watching instead of talking through a meal means families miss out on a key chance to connect about the events of the day. Vancouver family physician and nutrition expert Susan Biali also worries that the TV will end up staying on all night. “The hours really add up,” she says. Once everyone’s sunk into the couch, it’s a lot harder to get motivated for an evening walk, a game of Monopoly or time with books — all of which have big impacts on everyone’s mental, intellectual and physical health.
Rebalance your diet

Consume more fibre

Get it in Whole grains like whole wheat, oatmeal, brown rice pasta, quinoa and spelt

Why It keeps yo u regular, lowers your risk of colon cancer and makes you feel fuller. Naturally contains B vitamins and magnesium, which keep the immune system healthy, and regulates your blood sugar levels

Consume more Colour Red-hued produce (or orange, yellow, green, blue, purple or white). The brighter coloured the better, and mix it up
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut — lettuce, carrots, apples and bananas, day in, and day out. But different colours signal different blends of nutrients and have been connected to reducing cancer risk and boosting immunity

Drink fewer soft drinks

Milk, water, fruit juice. If pop has become a typical afternoon snack, reach for nuts, yogurt or fruit instead

Sugary pops are no good for teeth and bones, plus they don’t fill you up. Even diet drinks have been linked to obesity — one 2005 study found people who drank them were 65 percent more likely to becomeoverweight

Leave your leaves

Turn your outdoor cleanup into a workout for the family. Give everyone a rake and have them use leaves to protect the roots of shrubs and perennials. “People are now saying ‘I don’t need that perfect, golf-course lawn,’” says Bruce Newbold, director of McMaster University’s Institute of Environment and Health in Hamilton. True, you might not get picture-perfect results by doing things naturally. But with pesticides linked to serious health problems (and banned in many municipalities), it’s best to brave a few dandelions in the name of everyone’s health.

Dynamic duos

You already try to grab some couple time with your spouse when you can. But parents and kids need one-on-one dates together too.

“If you don’t take purposeful time with each member of the family, the family could start to become disconnected,” says Sabrina Ragan of the Calgary Counselling Centre. When it’s kid time, focus on fun.

If she wants to pour out her heart, just be there to listen. “As adults, we tend to choose how we spend time with the kids. But they have their own interests,” says Ragan. If Emily wants to get out the Barbies, go for it. If Josh is into basketball, join him on the court. Over time, you’ll probably find your “thing”that you do with each of your kids.

Worship D

Fear not the sun! New evidence about the importance of vitamin D means you can soak up 20 minutes or so without sunscreen, and without guilt. “Vitamin D is one of the fundamental things that helps your body work correctly,” says Reinhold Vieth, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. It helps your bones absorb calcium and has been linked to preventing a range of illnesses including juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease and gum disease. If your family is dark-skinned, take your D doses extra seriously, as skin with more pigment absorbs less from the sun. Newer studies suggest adults need at least 1,000 IU (international units) a day to have any impact on their health, while babies and children should get.

400 IU a day. In the winter, the sun makes little or no D, but you can get it in fortified milk and in fortified orange juice and soy drinks, or as it comes naturally, in fish, liver and eggs. Since it can be hard to get enough vitamin D from food (milk has 100 IU per cup), and picky eaters might snub your D-rich dinners, consider a supplement in tablets or drops to make up the difference.

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