Don’t Take a Vacation from Healthy Habits.What comes to mind when we hear the word summer? No school. No homework. More time to spend with family and friends — relaxing, enjoying the sun and just having fun.
Vacation sounds so good. We all need a break from work and school. But summer’s not the time to take a break from good, healthy habits. During the school year it’s often easier to maintain healthy eating, regular physical activity and consistent sleep but, frequently, that changes when school is not in session.
Establishing a regular routine is the foundation for the long-term health and well-being of your family. Eating, Activity and Sleeping to Enjoy (EASE) life are crucial, so EASE into summer with these tips for a season of health.
Healthy Eating: Five+ fruits and vegetables a day keep the doctor away
Fruits and vegetables are refreshing, thirst-quenching, and they help to keep you hydrated, without excess calories.
Summer is an ideal time to try new fruits and vegetables. Find out what’s in season in your area by checking out the produce at your grocer or local farmer’s market. Seasonal fruits and veggies will be more economical, too.
Consider watermelon, berries, grapes, peaches and plums — all portable and great to take on vacation or to the beach. Try corn on the cob, zucchini, yellow squash and tomatoes, which you can prepare quickly and enjoy even when they’re cold. Have you ever had a fruit or vegetable kabob? Yum!
Fruits and vegetables are also a good source of fiber, especially the skins. Just remember to clean the skin and slice thinly so young children can chew easily and enjoy. In addition to fruits and vegetables, other sources of fiber that kids often like include whole-grain tortillas, crackers or pasta. Whole-grain cereals can be mixed with fruit and yogurt for a refreshing treat.
Adding more fiber to your children’s diet on a regular basis will help them grow into healthy adults. Fiber contributes to a healthy digestive system by helping to move stool through the digestive tract, and clears toxins such as carcinogens. It also helps to lower blood cholesterol levels, stabilize blood sugar and lower blood pressure. All of this leads to a healthy heart.
Remember to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), including sodas and juices. The recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is zero SSBs. If you are looking for a refreshing beverage during the summer, try chilling water and adding some fresh fruit slices, or squeezing a lemon, lime or orange in a pitcher with water. Make flavored ice cubes with fruit. If you have a child who drinks a lot of SSBs, try diluting the soda or juice with water, creating a 1:1 mixture, then continuing to dilute over time with more water until you are serving mostly water. Eliminating SSBs is a great way to cut calories, avoid unneeded weight gain and save on dental bills.
Regular Activity: One hour or more a day for active play
Regular activity helps you stay healthy. Its benefits cannot be denied, from maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy heart, to sleeping well and improving concentration on reading and other school-related activities. Help children and teens take at least an hour a day for active play. Playing outside, and challenging siblings and friends to a friendly game of tag, hide-and-seek or races across the yard are easy activities for kids of all ages. If there are no other children available for play, kids can race against time to see how fast they can go. Taking the dog for a run, dashing through a sprinkler, swimming at the community pool or enjoying the jungle gym at a nearby park are other fun options.
Make it a family affair. Take advantage of the summer warmth, and spend time outside. If it’s too hot during the day, take a family walk or go for a bicycle ride in the evening. A picnic at the park or a trip to the zoo can bring family and friends together. Why not combine activity with healthy eating by taking a family trip to a strawberry farm in June or an apple orchard in late August or September?
Limit screen time — video and TV time and computer games — to no more than two hours a day. Family games, walks, visits to the park, and even discussions are healthier alternatives. Excessive periods of screen time more than double the risk for heart disease, even if an individual is exercising. So beware of the screen!
Keep your mind active. Read. Learning something new can be fun. Summer is a great time to find creative ways to learn. Find fresh fruits and vegetables to try, and discover why they are healthy. Explore different ways to prepare food. Find out how to grow a garden. Play a new game or, better yet, create one. Go outside on a hot day, and sit on a blanket under a tree to read or draw. Be curious. Learn something to share with the family at a mealtime conversation. Challenge everyone to come to dinner with a new thought or idea to discuss.
Sleep: 9-12 hours keep everyone happier
Maintain regular bed, waking and relaxation times. Sleep gives your brain a daily vacation, one that’s crucial for overall mental and physical development. According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers require about 12 to 14 hours of sleep each day, preschoolers require about 11 to 13 hours and school-age children require 10 to 11 hours. Even teens need about 9 hours of sleep per night. Those who sleep well consistently tend to be healthier and at less risk for heart disease and overweight when they are older.
Avoid TV and computers in the bedroom, as they are disruptive to sleep and raise the risk for overweight or obesity in kids of all ages. The chance of an unhealthy body weight increases twofold in children with a TV in their room. Maintain a relaxing, calming bedtime routine and a sleep environment that is consistently quiet, cool and dark. This goes for the whole family. Maintain healthy sleep habits all summer, and you will ease through the back-to-school transition.
Once healthy Eating, Activity and Sleep habits are established, they become comfortable family routines, and it’s easier to maintain wellness throughout the year, and Enjoy life. Each day remember the saying 5-2-1-0: 5 fruits and vegetables; 2 hours or less of screen time; 1 hour of activity: 0 sugar-sweetened beverages.
Enjoy each day of the summer!
Cynthia A. Danford, PhD, CRNP, PPCNP-BC, CPNP-PC, is a primary care PNP and an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing, Pittsburgh, PA.