As a doctor, I see a lot of people who are living with chronic conditions that are a result, at least in part, to an unhealthy lifestyle.
So, my patients and I focus a lot of our effort on changing behaviors and making healthier choices. As we all know, changing behavior is really hard work – and made all the harder because a lot of the unhealthy behaviors that play a part in the development of chronic conditions start in childhood. By the time an adult is in my office, we’re usually working to change behaviors that come from a lifetime’s worth of habits.
Seeing my patients work so hard to change bad habits is a powerful reminder to me, as a parent, of how important it is for me to help my two children create healthy habits. What they’re learning now can go a long way to protect them from health problems when they grow up. And it’s made me look at some of my own unhealthy habits (learned in childhood) to think about the changes I need to make – for all our sakes.
Here are 4 healthy habits that I want to encourage in my kids now (and adopt myself), to help prevent health problems in the future.
Sleep: Growing up, I never had a set bedtime. I was a night owl that had to be forced awake every morning. This meant skipping breakfast and being sleep derived for a much of my life.
What I’m doing: My kids have a nightly bedtime routine and a morning wake-up routine that includes breakfast. This routine also helps me wind down at night and wake up ready to start my day with a healthy breakfast of my own.
Sugar: Candy, soda, chocolate, juice….. you name it, I probably lived off of it as a kid.
What I’m doing: At 4 and 6, my kids are already having a hard time with this one! Once they get their hands on something sweet, they spend the next week greeting me with the question, “Are we having candy today?” So, we try to keep candy, soda, juice out of the house. I’ve found that the kids can usually be distracted with a juicy apple and grapes, which are always on hand. And we’ve taken to freezing blueberries, which satisfies their sweet tooth with a healthy fruit option.
Physical Activity: This is the hardest one for me. I’ve never really had planned exercise as part of my day.
What I’m doing: The kids are the ones leading the change here. I’m just following their lead as they hop, skip, and jump from soccer practice to dance class to make sure I get my 30 minutes a day.
Positivity: Having a positive mindset can help build resilience and protect against conditions like depression and anxiety. And I’ve noticed that as I’ve worked to change my other health habits, negative thought patterns have made things much harder.
What I’m doing: Teaching my kids the importance of trying to find the positive way of thinking about a situation is helping me to retrain my mindset as well. We end our days talking about one thing that made us happy that day and one thing that we are excited about for the next.