Get healthy together

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Frosty weather might inspire you to whip up hot cocoa and snuggle under a fleece blanket, but it's the perfect time for your family to make healthy lifestyle changes.

That means moving more and eating healthier.

"Lead by example," said Shelley Campbell, area group fitness manager for Lifestyle Family Fitness. "When (children) know it's something that's important to Mom and Dad, it's something that they're going to want to do as well."

Adding physical activity to your day can take a little creativity, and little-if any-cash. Campbell said her children love yoga; she gives the poses animal names for added fun. She also suggests setting up obstacle courses in the house (i.e., climb up the steps and slide down them).

Lauren Todd, a middle school physical education teacher at the Columbus School for Girls, said jump ropes and hula hoops are inexpensive pieces of equipment for families to use. Challenge one other, she said, and make a game out of it.

"Teach your kids to dance," said Laura Rooney, executive director of community health and wellness for the YMCA of Central Ohio. "Put on music from their generation. Teach your kids dance moves and then let the tables turn. Let your kids teach you their dance moves." If your family is watching television, use the commercial break to do household chores or exercises like jumping jacks, Rooney said.

Parents may not realize how much activity their children are (or aren't) getting. "Most kids don't get enough, especially if they're in school during the day," Todd said. Physical activity guidelines for children and adults were released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last October. The guidelines say that children and adolescents should get an hour or more of moderate or vigorous aerobic physical activity each day. Adults should get 2.5 hours of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity, or half of that if it's vigorous physical activity, per week.

Sound like a lot? Instead of shooting for an hour-long activity, Rooney suggests trying to get several 10-minute activities in throughout the day. To stay on track all year, create an activity calendar and pencil in activity time just as you would other daily activities, Rooney said. Set goals and use non-food rewards to celebrate accomplishments. "People who write down and record their activity sustain their activity over long periods of time," Rooney said.

Individuals can track their activities through FitQuest, a program started in 2005 by Westerville's parks and recreation department. It allows participants to record their physical activity online and earn virtual "miles." Mike Herron, fitness/wellness manager for Westerville's parks and recreation department, said that when it comes to getting active as a family, "Let kids be kids and (parents should) participate in some of the activities that (kids) participate in."

Activity, however, is just part of the equation when it comes to getting healthier. Eating well is also vital. For many children, access to food is limited to what parents purchase, according to Dr. Amy Sternstein, coordinator of the Ounce of Prevention program at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition. Dr. Sternstein offers these tips: eat breakfast every day, limit portion sizes, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, limit sugary beverages, and encourage family meals.

Choose lean meats and plant-based proteins over fattier cuts of meat, said Lori Mooney, a registered and licensed dietitian, also with the hospital's Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition. Opt for whole grain carbohydrates like brown rice and whole grain bread instead of potato chips or white rice. "Some people say it's so expensive to eat healthy, but not really," Mooney said. "Use things such as eggs as protein. You can have various dishes made with eggs several times a week."

Mooney offered these other tips: Buy day-old bread, then freeze it and take it out as it's needed. Stock up on sale items and buy in bulk if it's affordable. Buy fruits and vegetables, whether they're fresh, frozen or canned.

It's hard to make sure everyone's eating healthy on a regular basis, especially when you're busy, but Campbell has a solution. "Don't bring things in the house you don't want them to eat." And plan ahead. Pull out your recipes while you're compiling a grocery list, Mooney said.

Bottom line: make getting healthy a habit.

Online Resources

These websites were recommended by the fitness and nutrition experts consulted for this story:

Liz Pecek Seufer lives in Canal Winchester with her husband and two children. She writes about health, parenting and general interest topics for local and regional magazines.