The start of a new school year often means the start of new routines. Learning the names of teachers, organizing lunch supplies, scheduling extracurricular activities – parents of school-aged children have a lot on their minds. With all of these extra demands, it’s important that family routines include options that support healthy active living.
One challenge for busy families is finding time for everything, and that includes physical fitness – especially for parents.
Parents need physical activity just as much as kids, says Dr. Stephanie Langley, a family doctor in North Sydney, Cape Breton and the mother of four girls.
“The goal is 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week,” says Dr. Langley. “That can be broken down in any way that fits the family schedule.”
That might mean making physical fitness a family outing by picking activities the whole family can do together, such as hiking, cycling, skating, wall-climbing or swimming.
Parents can volunteer with a child’s sports team for opportunities to be active alongside them, or fit in time for their own workout while the kids are at practice instead of sitting on the sidelines.
Be creative about exercise. That can range from living room dance parties to turning household chores into action-oriented games.
“By modelling physical activity, we are molding that as a future behaviour for our children,” Dr. Langley says.
Another way parents can pass on healthy-living skills to their kids is by having them help make their school lunches and family meals. Start by setting up their reusable lunch containers where they can easily retrieve them, and then move to more complex tasks appropriate for their age and ability: rinsing water bottles, washing fruit, slicing cheese and so on.
“Teaching your kids to be involved in meal preparation is both a fun activity and sets them up for a lifelong skill set,” says Dr. Langley.
Parents can model healthy choices with their own packed meals by foregoing pre-packaged convenience foods, which are often high in sodium, calories or fat.
The new Canada Food Guide is a great resource for meal planning tips for all ages and meal settings, including school lunches.
Healthy active living also includes quality downtime, something many of us are lacking. In addition to getting enough aerobic exercise during the day, Dr. Langley also recommends limiting screen time to help improve both quantity and quality of sleep. She recommends a maximum of two hours per day and that everyone –including parents – puts away screens of any sort before bed.
“Not getting enough sleep is linked with many chronic diseases and conditions,” explains Dr. Langley, including depression, obesity, heart disease and diabetes. The Centre for Disease Control offers guidelines on the recommended amount of sleep for all ages.
Here’s to a healthy active “new” year!
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