Helping your young kids adopt a healthy lifestyle may not seem as urgent as telling them to wear bike helmets or to stay near the lifeguard at the beach, but it can be life-saving. By laying this groundwork you’re arming them for a lifetime of reduced risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in adults.
As a personal trainer, Mary Bielawski is well versed in what’s needed for a healthy lifestyle — especially the right exercise and good nutrition. She shares this information with her clients at Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness and uses it to create a way of life for her children, 6-year-old Ethan and 3-year-old Evelyn.
Bielawski suggests these strategies for helping your family stay heart healthy:
No couch potatoes: 5 tips for keeping your family on the move
- Children 6 and older need at least an hour a day of physical activity, according to Health & Human Services guidelines. School kids often need some down time, too. Let them recharge for their active time by playing with toys, reading a book or just relaxing. Limit time spent online, watching TV or playing video games.
- If your young child regularly pushes back about playing outside, give them choices. For example, offer to take them for a walk or to the park, or they can play in the yard. “Often, when my son gets back from the activity he chose he says, ‘That was fun Mom, I’m glad I went,’” says Bielawski.
- Start an enjoyable, active family tradition. Bielawski hopes to start weekly hikes in the local nature preserve for her whole family. “My kids will have fun checking out the bugs and flowers,” she says. Other parents and kids might try regular bike rides, swims or bowling.
- Build activity into your daily routines. Do a few squats or other exercises while you stir the soup or wait for the laundry to dry. Park at the farthest end of the parking lot. Take the stairs or put on some music and just dance.
- Do something good for your body while doing good for others. If your kids are old enough, volunteer as a family for something physical, such as clearing brush for a conservation project or packing boxes for disaster relief.
Carrots or cookies: 5 ways to inspire healthy eating for your family
- Involve the kids in planning their meals. Bielawski prepares two vegetables for dinner and gives the kids a choice. They can pick one of them or both.
- Plant a vegetable garden. Bielawski’s kids love to plant seeds and water the plants in their garden. “So far, I’ve been lucky,” she says. “My kids like vegetables. I think they would rather have Brussels sprouts than pizza.”
- Don’t keep junk food in the house. “I think one of the most important things I do to encourage good food choices is keeping a variety of healthy snacks on hand,” says Bielawski.
- Leading by example is foremost. “If your kids often see mom or dad grab a piece of fruit and jump on the treadmill it sends a message,” she says. “It’s a lot more effective than telling them they should eat a healthy snack and play outside when you’re on the sofa eating junk food.”
- Start with one or two small steps toward a healthier lifestyle for your family. Try to work up to making healthy food choices at least 80 percent of the time. Says Bielawski, “Having a fast food burger and a few fries once in a while won’t hurt your kids. And there’s nothing wrong with an occasional treat as long as you watch the portion size. You want to keep your expectations real.”