Five Tips for a Healthier Today
National Child Health Day, on October 7 this year, is a great day to make a few, easy changes that can help kids get healthier and stay that way. Our community health expert, Lisa Chamberlain, MD, MPH, medical director of our Pediatric Advocacy Program and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Stanford School of Medicine, offers five tips for healthy choices you can make today, or any day, to support your family’s best health:
1. Take a walk together
“Walking is the easiest way to get lasting health benefits,” says Chamberlain. “Even a short walk around the block gets your circulation going, gives you a breath of fresh air, and offers a little shared time for you and your child to talk—which is incredibly important to your child’s overall wellbeing.” If your kids are up for it, add some skipping for fun, or make it a bike-ride instead.
2. Trade screen time for face-to-face time
Limiting screen time (computer, hand-held device, and television total) to an hour or less per day is essential to fighting obesity and building good health. But when it’s time to shut down the screen, it’s good to offer alternatives. “Have a plan ready, and offer your kids choices they enjoy,” suggests Chamberlain. “And don’t hesitate to get personally involved. Encourage them to play a board game with you, join you for a visit to the playground, or play with a favorite toy together. It’s also fine to let them figure it out on their own. Boredom is where creativity begins.”
3. Read a book together
For little kids, few things are as delightful as having a parent or caregiver snuggle in to read a book aloud to them. “Establishing reading time together has a profound impact on children’s health and future learning abilities,” says Chamberlain. “It also tells them they’re important, and that it’s meaningful to spend time together.” As kids get older, reading side by side continues to be beneficial, and is a great way to relax together.
4. Serve veggies first at mealtime
Think of it as an experiment: Before dinner, set out a plate of any sliced, raw, carrot sticks, cucumbers, jicama, zucchini, red bell peppers, sugar snap peas or green beans—and maybe some hummus for dipping—and see how many disappear. “Kids are often hungry before mealtime, so it’s a great time to offer the healthiest snacks,” says Chamberlain. “They also develop a taste for what they eat first when they’re hungry, so be sure to use that opportunity.”
5. Skip the soda
If there’s one item in your child’s diet to eliminate, it’s sugared soda. “Every 12-ounce can of soda has about 40 grams of sugar,” says Chamberlain. “That’s about a dozen sugar cubes.” Being ready with a tasty alternative is important. “Offer your kids bubbly water mixed with a splash of juice or a squeeze of fresh citrus. Teach them how to make their own bubbly lemonade and they’ll enjoy it even more.”
Making a healthier day for kids may take a little planning, but can also be spontaneous. “Be sure to keep it fun and encouraging,” say Chamberlain. “The more kids associate healthy choices with feeling good, the more likely they are to make those choices again and again.” And, since kids learn so much about choices from their parents, the more involved you are the better. Here’s to your health—on National Child Health Day, and everyday.