Your kids: Physical Wellness
This is the first of four articles looking at the different part of Wellness, what they are and how they benefit your children. Each article will end with suggestions how to bring more of that wellness to your kids' (and your) lives.
This week, Physical Wellness.
What is Physical Wellness?
I go on and on about physical wellness. Why? Because it is important. Making the effort, taking care and doing your best for yourself in all areas of wellness is important, sure, but specifically physical wellness endeavors positively impact your quality AND quantity of life. Good physical wellness (which looks differently on everyone) helps you feel good, helps you keep moving easily and fluidly, helps manage your stress, contributes to your social wellness, contributes to maintaining your emotional levels, keeps your weight in balance, and more. What does this look like? You have energy, you can keep up with your kids, you can try and achieve challenging feats, you can push yourself to accomplish more and you feel great achieving all of this. Here’s the thing: developing and embracing healthy habits for contributing to and maintaining your physical wellness is a lot easier if you start doing this early in life. Translation: helping your kids to understand and embrace concepts that are a part of physical wellness early will help them embrace a more active life in general, and make better food choices.
Physical well-being is not just looking good, but also feeling confident in how you move, what you do, and having a sense of ownership over your physical accomplishments. Physical well-being is so much more than great muscle tone; having a healthy quality of life embraces one’s level of physical aptitude, sure, and also the ability to recognize the impact of one’s own behaviors and focusing on adopting healthful routines. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, staying well-hydrated, staying active – all part of the physical well-being piece of your wellness pie. Know this: I am not going to preach at you about any particular regimen that you must subscribe to in order to be physically well. I can only tell you that each person has to find this balance for themselves. What I know for sure, though, is often the most reliable physical wellness successes can be achieved when one is part of a social group. Why is that? Because including the social component enables us to have the support and encouragement we so often crave when doing something challenging. And, honestly, when you are held responsible for your commitment by someone else, it rings more true. It's a lot easier to avoid that snooze button if you know you have friends waiting for you to show up for your morning run, am I right?
Beyond weight loss or weight maintenance, the positive contributions you gain from staying active and exercising regularly far outweigh any perceived inconveniences you may feel about exercising. Getting sweaty, lack of ‘necessary’ equipment or space, lack of skill or ability … these are, as I said, perceived. What you need to be active you just you.
Why is it important for your kids?
Living an active life is not just about weight management. There are so many benefits of being active and taking care of one’s physical wellness to include increased mental capabilities like longer attention span, increased memory and increased capacity for learning.
By removing physical activity from our day and our children’s day, we aren’t allowing them to just play: to run, jump, push, pull, and climb, for not just physical gains in fitness, but for mental and intellectual growth as well.
Short-term lessons result in long-term gains. Learning how to be active, embracing an active lifestyle, learning sound nutrition practices … teaching these lessons to our kid will help them to grow up practicing and embracing these healthy habits without having to think about it; ‘healthy and active’ will be second-nature for them.
What your kids learn as they are young, and develop into habits, they will continue to do as they age. You know this already. But here’s the thing: when your kids are away from your influence, from your shopping habits, from your cooking repertoire, don’t you want them to continue to eat well and be active? The best way to help them embrace an active lifestyle and healthy eating habits is to share this with them every day they are in your home. Talk to them about what you are eating, what you are buying, what you are cooking. Teach them how to cook healthfully. Help set them up for success with grocery shopping lessons. And exercise with them. Teach them what you know. Let them teach you new sports, and learn with them.
What are some things you can do with your kids to help them embrace better physical wellness? We can we encourage them to do:
1. Go.outside.and.play. Put the darn device(s) down! All of you! You go, get your kids, and play a game. It doesn’t matter if it’s throwing a football around, PIG on the basketball court, or a fierce game of croquet. Just go play some PHYSICAL AND OUTDOOR game with your kids. They might whine and whinge but I promise, after 5 minutes, they will be having fun, too. Yard games count as quality time. I have very fond memories of playing freeze tag or badminton as a family during summer nights; bet you can think of several fun games you played with your family, too. Not that I am trying to spend your money, but it would help you succeed with this if you can have the supplies on hand to use for these sorts of goals (hint: this is an excellent time to get your kids’ suggestions for games and/or supplies). Some of our favorite yard games (that involve running around) include badminton, Speedminton, Spikeball, Pickle ball (but that needs a court), Kubb (Viking Chess), Kan Jam, Molkky, and Bocce. These all involve minimal equipment, a yard and people. Pretty easy get all of that together.
2. Take your kids grocery shopping. I know, I know, it can be painful. But trust me on this: the more involved they are in what fills the cupboards and fridge, the more invested they will be in what goes into their mouth. They will learn how to make smart shopping decisions (reading labels, price comparisons, picking good in-season produce), they will learn how to make grocery lists from planned or upcoming meals, and, most importantly, they will spend time with you and you’ll have ample time for quality conversations.
Go through the aisles at the grocery store together and talk about what might be good choices and what might not. You know what? It’s okay that you don’t know everything there is to know about nutrition; you might be surprised about knowledgeable your kids are.
3. Bring your kids into the kitchen and cook together. Decide on your meals together. Write your grocery list together. You can further the fun by then learning how to cook different dishes together. Sure, the kitchen will be a mess, but the time spent together working to create a meal will not only give you some more of that quality time I keep jabbering on about, but it will also help your kids learn where food comes from, how to make it taste good; generally, food made at home from fresh ingredients is lower in fat and sodium and other undesirable components than foods purchased ready-to-eat or in a restaurant. And cooking together might bring a picky eater onto your side of the broccoli fence. Let them pick the recipe, let them help do the shopping, and let them help with the cooking; investing their effort from start to finish will up the enjoyment and learning.
Also, please don’t hide the healthy ingredients. While I know it may seem novel and fun to blend up a can of beans and hide it in your brownies or hide the tofu behind the riced cauliflower, the better your kids understand what they are eating – knowing the names, seeing the colors, identifying the flavors – the more likely they will be to develop a liking for those same foods. Let them discover they love roasted veggies, and raw carrots with hummus, sweet potato chunks baked and bean soup. No cheese sauce, ranch dip or ketchup required!
4. Let your kids teach you their favorite sport. Let them teach you what they know about it, what they want to learn about it, and help them develop their skills. Be their biggest fan. Oh my gosh, they would love to see you at games, at their practices, cheering them on. Let them hear you loud and clear; let them know you are there and rooting them on.
5. Help your kids drink enough water. Get them a water bottle they like and will use and help them understand how much water they need to be healthy and well-hydrated. Keep cold water in the fridge if that is their/your preference. Help them understand how much better water is for their health than any rehydration fluids, or (especially) sugary sodas. What’s the secret to keep them drinking (water)? Is it a contest? Is it a slice of lemon? Is it carrying around their water bottle wherever they go? You will know best. Every day, encourage them (and yourself) to drink a full glass of water upon waking up and then another one every hour. Sadly, we all spend a good portion of our days borderline dehydrated. Especially if you tend to drink caffeinated beverages all day, work or go to school in an air-conditioned building, or are very physically active, it is very important to replace the water you are losing through your interactions. And no, not juice, not rehydration fluid, not soda but W A T E R. Your body needs water for every single thing it does – from involuntary actions such as digestion to breathing to having a heartbeat to voluntary activities like running, playing basketball and playing in the pool with your kids. Water literally greases your wheels; give yourself enough to keep things rolling smoothly.
6. Workout with your kids. Better, be active with your kids. A workout doesn’t have to be 7 reps of this exercise and 5 of another. Working out can look very differently depending on your mood and interests. Maybe you all like dance parties; I promise you, 30 minutes of hopping and twisting around to your favorite songs will definitely be a cardio endeavor. Perhaps you like to garden together; that is a great way to incorporate resistance movements like digging and lifting heavy pots. Much more enjoyable that lifting dumbbells plus you have the added benefit of creating something beautiful. Are you walkers? How about you go on a family hike? That’s infinitely more enjoyable than trekking the same distance on a treadmill, and you’ll get some vitamin D, too! And, if you incorporate bird-watching or tree naming, you’ll also be racking up an environmental lesson, to boot.
7. Give your kids space. Space to explore their curiosity. Kids are interested in amazing things. They make the most fabulous connections. Given ample room to romp around, they will make discoveries you may not have imagined. They actually care what color the rose is when they stop to smell it; they look down, around, and all over, and see things with a clarity and with color you no longer have time or patience to explore. Yes, their pockets will be filled with things you might not be able to identify, but that stick has a purpose as do those other things. Give them the chance to do explore, ask them about their discoveries, and then listen to them when they tell you about it. I promise you, you will learn something new.
Give them space and opportunity to have plenty of physical movement. Kids need to move. Kids need to have space to run, jump and climb. Sure, you can give them various pieces of equipment like a trampoline, basketball hoop or bike, but they don't need those things. They need space. Space + a ball? Even better. Space + a ball + a friend/sibling? Best thing ever. Especially if you throw in a couple trees and big rocks to climb on. You don't need to sign them up for expensive lessons, or join a gym. One of my kids' favorite places to explore is a park with a creek. Free, and beautiful! (I do recommend packing a change of clothes, though, for an afternoon like that!) Space to move, to run, to get sweaty and grimy, this is an amazing gift. If you don't have a yard, find a park or two. Give them the gift of space, and they will develop a love of movement that will serve them well over the course of their lifetime.
8. We can help them grow up with a true picture of what they look like. Sure, body image is important, but it isn't the defining view of a person. Focus on how amazing their bodies are, what they can do and accomplish instead of how they look. Help them by listening to their body and self-esteem concerns. Their worries and fears are real. Listen and validate what they are feeling. Help them to find ways they can feel more confident in themselves. I'm not saying to lavish them with extravagant praise (that has ironically actually has been shown to lower self-esteem); instead help them to develop realistic views of themselves, their abilities, and help them to have the confidence to face challenges, challengers, and nay-sayers.
Talk to your kids about what they see in the media. Talk to them about their views and concerns. Talk to them about what you believe, and what you've been through growing up. Talk to them about lessons you've learned. Help them to learn from your mistakes.
Help them to listen to the voice in their head that tells them that they are strong, they are good, and they are worth it. And that they deserve the best from others. We can amplify their good body image thoughts by mirroring it in our own lives. We can help them to see that the person in the mirror really is the fairest of all.
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