Raising a Healthy Family_lowres

Raising a healthy family may be one of the biggest challenges parents face on a daily basis.

The time-consuming grind of getting everyone off to school and work for the day is tough. Fighting the commute, both coming and going, and coordinating everyone's varied and busy schedules can make for a stressful existence.

The external factors pulling families in different directions affect eating habits, exercise routines, sleep patterns and the ability to cope with stress. All of these things contribute to the quality of life we enjoy and can have a direct correlation to future health risks and problems.

In particular, surging obesity rates for adults and children are sounding alarms throughout the medical community. About two-thirds of the adult population is considered to be overweight or obese. In children, more than 15 percent are overweight or obese — a number that has doubled in the last 20 years — and another 15 percent are approaching an unhealthy weight.

"I cannot stress enough to my patients that maintaining your health now will help to improve your health down the road, especially in children," says Dr. Alex Hoang, a family medicine practitioner at East Jefferson General Hospital. "Way too often, we see people with poor diets living a sedentary lifestyle, suffering with diabetes, heart disease, cancer, joint problems and other complications. There is a connection, and we want to help them make healthier choices."

It is never too late to examine your family's habits and take the initiative to make healthier choices. It may not be easy, but it will give you and your children a chance not only to get healthier but also stronger as a family. Eating a healthy dinner together, going for a walk in the park or a bike ride in the neighborhood, playing catch in the yard — all of these activities provide needed exercise and allow your family time to talk, learn about each other and create healthy bonds.

"Families that spend time together tend to be healthier both physically and mentally," says Hoang.

For children, diet and exercise go hand-in-hand. That's why it's important to promote outdoor activities. Kids who stay inside watching television, playing video games or surfing the Internet tend to overeat or snack more frequently throughout the day. Chances are, what they're eating is not always the healthiest food. Combine this with not burning the appropriate number of calories to offset the meals, and a child will most likely gain weight gradually over time, making them more prone to health problems.

"Beginning an exercise program at childhood can initiate a lifelong prevention of certain chronic diseases," says Randy Lee, EJGH Wellness Center's health education specialist. "Exercise at an early age can improve muscle and bone strength, joint integrity, and heart and lung capacity. This is important because it will aid in the child's growth process."

For the recommended 20 to 30 minutes of heart rate-raising aerobic exercise (to be done at least three times a week), try jumping rope, jogging, bicycling or swimming, but always keep in mind your child's interests and skills. An activity he or she does not like may lead the child to become frustrated or bored and cause them to give up. The goal is for exercise to become a positive outlet for relieving stress.

An added benefit of exercise is that it helps children sleep better at night. Children (and adults) who don't get enough sleep or have broken sleep often lack focus and concentration during the day, which can affect their performance at school (or work).

"It is important for parents to lead by example," says Lee. "Adults that are physically active tend to have children that are physically active."

If you are concerned about the types of exercise you and your child are doing or if there are other health conditions that limit the ability to exercise, consult your family's physician for a specific program designed for your needs.