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December 2014

Healthy Kids through the New Year

by Beth Cline

Usually reserved for topics like losing weight, working out more and stressing less, resolutions take advantage of the opportunity to start the new year with a clean slate. The right resolutions can be a great way to get (or keep) a healthy lifestyle on track.

The first step for children and parents in resolving to get healthier is choosing safe, appropriate resolutions. Lisa Dorfman MS, RD, LMHC, Sports Nutritionist-University of Miami Athletic Department/Adjunct Professor and National Media Spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association suggests keeping it simple. “One of the best resolutions for kids is simply to sweat for at least 30 minutes a day, doing anything they like to do best!”

Resolutions could include:
• Give children new responsibilities. Help them resolve to walk the family dog for at least thirty minutes a day or help with weekly household chores like vacuuming, washing the car or raking leaves.
• Resolve as a family to walk more. Get each family member a pedometer and see who can log the most steps in a day. Parents can help children boost those numbers by parking a little further away from store entrances or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
• Help children limit their TV or computer time. Suggest they try to stick to no more than a few hours a week on either. Rebecca Berman RD, M Ed, nutritionist for Sodexho School Division (K-12) reminds parents, “The less time your child spends in passive activities, the more physically active they are likely to become.” Instead, trade each half hour of TV watching for a half hour of activity.
• Don’t limit resolutions to just activity. Resolve to try a new fruit or vegetable each week, or have kids choose (or prepare, if they are older) one meal a week.
• Choose a specific goal and end date. For example, children can train to run in the October Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run. By starting early, children have plenty of time to build up to the one-mile run. For older children, try training for a local 5K event.

After children and parents have worked together to choose appropriate resolutions for healthier living, its time to stick with them. This often proves to be the most difficult step for children and adults alike. Dorfman suggests offering a system of rewards “like collecting frequent flyer miles, awards can be granted at various points.” For example, give children a star a day for keeping their resolution. Five stars could equal movie tickets; ten stars, new athletic gear; 20 stars, a day at an amusement park, etc.

Denise Austin, fitness expert and spokesperson for the Idaho Potato Commission, advises parents, “One way to get moving and to stick with resolutions is to get fit as a family.”
Here are a few ideas Austin recommends to get started:
• Plan an active daytime getaway — sit down with children and map out an exciting hiking or biking trip.
• Pick active activities. Try bowling, skating, or walking around a museum for great indoor ideas. Try seasonal activities outside- like sledding in the winter, flying a kite in the spring, swimming in the summer or playing in leaves in the fall.
• Challenge the whole family to a friendly game. Pick a favorite one whether it's basketball, volleyball, or even Twister! Or learn a new game together!

As with any resolution, parents and children should be aware of a few pitfalls to avoid. Dorfman warns against punishing children when they can’t or don’t attain their goals and to keep rewards exciting and fun. Berman offers her advice, “Remember that each of child is wired differently. Every child has their own timetable and limits, and pushing them hard can backfire. Don’t criticize your child if they don’t reach a particular goal. Offer gentle encouragement and support, and reassess the goal to determine if it is realistic for your child.”

Austin adds, “Agree as a family to not set unrealistic or overly restrictive goals, especially with food. I think that most foods can be enjoyed in moderation. This is why I don’t like diets that advocate eliminating major food groups. For instance, I think active people need the energy that comes from carbohydrates. I gave up carbs for one day and all I did was miss my favorite foods and feel sluggish. I believe a healthy diet featuring a wide array of foods, including carbs like those found in Idaho Potatoes, is the best way to go. Add exercise and the whole family is on their way to a healthier and a happier New Year!”

Berman offers some final advice to parents and children making resolution for a healthier 2006. “Maintain a positive attitude toward the changes in lifestyle your children (and the family) are taking. Keep things fun and avoid acting like a drill sergeant. This is not a contest, but rather an experience that will help your child establish healthy habits for life.”

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun held annually in October. Visit www.marinemarathon.com. Beth Cline is the Public Relations Coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon. No federal or Marine Corps endorsement implied.