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Part II: How Can I Best Protect My Family’s Health?

The American Medical Association reports that 25% of every healthcare dollar is spent on activities linked to poor health, such as improper diet, lack of exercise, sun exposure, smoking, substance abuse and failure to use seat belts. So what can you do as a parent to decrease this statistic? Healthy habits begin in the home. Modeling healthy lifestyle choices is essential, as your children observe how you live your life. From an early age, children can be taught to eat properly, exercise regularly and practice good personal hygiene. Diet alone can make a significant difference in alertness, energy and vitality while reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Eliminating bad habits can be difficult, but not impossible. A 2009 study of habit formations concluded that a new habit can be established in as few as 18 days, though that time frame increases as habitual behaviors become more complex. When your family’s health and future is at stake, consider how to approach positive changes in your lifestyle.

  • Proper planning eases the strain of any major lifestyle change. List bad habits and develop a strategy for eliminating unhealthy behaviors. Separately, list good habits you need to establish and the steps you need to take. As a family, set goals and identify rewards; for example, for each week of cooking healthy meals and eating at home the children may choose a movie that the family enjoys together.

    Allow yourself time to accomplish these goals; many people find focusing on one change at a time to be more successful than an all-or-nothing approach. The same psychological study mentioned above reported that missing an occasional day is not detrimental to developing a new habit; slip-ups are no reason to be discouraged as long as you stay focused on long-term goals.

  • Replace temptations with healthier choices. Swap soda and juice boxes with bottled water or install an in-home water cooler. Remove junk food from your home and stock the fridge with fruits and vegetables; fresh produce is optimal, but if seasonal or financial restraints require frozen or canned produce it is still better than offering processed snacks devoid of nutrition. Cook at home; besides avoiding restaurant meals laden with salt and excess fats, it has been proven that kids who help their parents with meal preparation naturally gravitate toward diets higher in fruits and vegetables. Avoid places where you feel the need to indulge in bad habits like smoking, overeating and excessive drinking.
  • Spend time together as a family. Today’s kids are often as booked up with activities as their parents are at work. Carve out family time; mealtimes where all family members gather are ideal, and with a little planning can be achieved a few times a week. Busy teenagers and toddlers learning to navigate preschool benefit from time together, and a family meal can be a welcome relief for overly busy parents. Many people cope with stress by succumbing to the temptation of unhealthy habits, so try to alleviate this by planning outings. A quick meeting early in the week can determine family members’ availability, and plans to do something fun give everyone something to look forward to — even teenagers who are unlikely to admit it.

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