When it comes to lifestyle changes and making healthy habits stick, families attending First Steps Fit4Allkids, a community-based nutrition and weight management class offered by Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, know that small steps can help families set and achieve their health goals.
Goals for a healthier lifestyle don’t have to be complicated. In fact, simpler goals tend to lead to more success. If your family is ready to start making changes look no further than 9-5-2-1-almost none. These are the numbers that lead to healthier children and families:
- 9 hours of sleep
- 5 servings of fruits and vegetables
- 2 hours or less of screen time
- 1 hour or more of physical activity
- Almost no sugar sweetened beverages
“By keeping 9-5-2-1-almost none as part of your family’s strategy, you can take healthy steps each day toward your goals,” advises Raquel Hernandez, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P., Fit4Allkids medical director, director of medical education at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Here are some of her tips to help families meet these goals:
9 Hours of Sleep
Sleep has become increasingly important to maintaining a healthy weight, as well as promoting weight loss for children and adults. Too many children are sleep deprived due to increasingly busy schedules, the use of devices at bedtime and our 24-hour culture.
- Set a household bedtime. This is a time in which all kids are either quieting down or going to bed. This means turning off devices, TV and other distractions to have everyone in the home start winding down.
- Remove electronics from sleep areas. Whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or other device, they should not be within arm’s reach of where you or your children are sleeping. The white light of these devices can disrupt our natural sleep cycles.
5 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber to keep kids regular and promote feeling full during meals. Many parents become frustrated when their toddlers and young children begin to refuse fruits and vegetables. Don’t stress--research shows that most children need to be introduced to new foods like fruits and vegetables at least 30 times before they begin to enjoy it.
- Keep fruits and vegetables in obvious places in the home. Whether it’s a fruit bowl or a shelf in the fridge, make sure your kids can see and reach these healthy foods.
- Share your love of fruits and veggies. Kids look to parents to model healthy behaviors. Even if you’re not a fruit and veggie fan, pick your favorite item to snack on and talk to your kids about your favorites. Let them know and see that you prioritize eating healthy.
2 Hours or Less of Screen Time
Inactivity is a main risk factor for obesity, diabetes and hypertension. One of the biggest contributors to an inactive lifestyle includes extended screen time. In an environment where video games, TV, video streaming and other electronic media occupy our children’s day, it is critical to recognize how much time children are spending by a screen, being inactive.
- Use timers. Whether it’s your phone or a kitchen timer, start clocking how much time your kids are spending on their respective devices. If it’s more than two hours per day, start to redirect their time toward non-screen based activities.
- Create screen time as a reward. If you’ve got a gamer on your hands, try to negotiate screen time as a reward for positive behaviors. For example, if your child has reached the two hour limit and still wants more, it may be a good idea to say that after a 30-minute run around the block, they get an additional 15 minutes of screen time. Get creative! The idea is that you can work together to make it a win-win negotiation.
1 Hour or More of Physical Activity
Being physically active not only promotes heart health and healthy weight, it also increases lean muscle mass, helps improve mood and promotes self-confidence. Keeping kids active can be a challenge, but 60 minutes of activity per day is important and achievable if you get creative.
- Getting a great workout does not depend on fancy equipment. Be creative with things you already have around the house and look online for other ideas. A simple deck of cards can be a useful tool for creating a fun workout: Assign each suit a move such as jumping jacks, squats or push-ups and the number on the card is how many that need to be done. Take turns drawing cards until the deck gone.
- Track your activity. A consistent way to stay motivated is to track how active you are and set goals to become more active. It can be fun to use cost-efficient pedometers to track how much activity you achieve per day. Families engaging in friendly competitions for number of steps achieved per day tend to achieve their weight and lifestyle goals more readily. Even without a digital device, a paper log of how often your child is active and for how long can give you a starting point to define where you need to go.
Almost Zero Sugar Sweetened Beverages
If you’re looking for the fastest, most direct way to change your habits toward a healthier lifestyle, look at what you’re drinking. Too often, the excess calories our children consume include those from sodas, sports drinks and other sweetened beverages.
Think about it - how often have your kids played a great game of youth baseball, soccer or gymnastics only to be rewarded with a bottle of Gatorade? It’s unfortunate but true that we reward great activity with sugar sweetened beverages that only increase the risk of weight gain and other health issues in children.
- Bring the H2O. Stock up on water bottles and make sure you have them filled on your way out of the house. If you’re packing lunches, swap out the juice packs for water or flavored waters.
- Look for low or calorie-free alternatives, as well as portion size. Read the labels and try to find the lower calorie/lower carbohydrate content beverages. While artificial sweeteners are not ideal, when transitioning toward eliminating high sugar beverages, their benefits outweigh the theoretic risks over time. In addition, though beverages come in “single” serving bottles, often these are two servings in one. Keeping an eye on how much of the beverage you and your child consumes can make a big difference in your total calorie intake.
Reaching your family’s heath goals can be as simple as 9-5-2-1-almost none. These small steps can have a big impact now and later in life.
For information about First Steps Fit4Allkids or the Healthy Steps Weight Management Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, please call 727-767-2014.