Eat healthier. Exercise more. We all know that getting in shape starts with these two concepts — but following them is easier said than done.
During the coronavirus pandemic, we find ourselves going through a time of change and chaos, which is making daily life challenging for many families. However, it can also be a time to reprioritize daily activities and make healthy choices a part of the family’s routine. As program coordinator of Lifestyle Medicine at Children’s Hospital Colorado, family nurse practitioner Suzanne Paul helps a lot of families get in shape. Together with a whole team of experts, including family nurse practitioner Stacie Schreiner, they are intimately familiar with the barriers between families and healthy lifestyles.
Of course, it’s not so easy to do, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Paul and Schriener offer these six tips for staying on track:
1. Start slow.
The biggest problem people run into right off the bat, say Paul and Schreiner, is going too hard too soon. For most people, going from infrequent or little exercise to long periods of exercise every day is not going to be practical or sustainable — plus, it’s a good way to end up injured.
Instead, set modest goals and make it a priority to achieve them. For example, start with a short walk with your family. You can then increase the time and speed of the walk as you get comfortable. You can always work in more exercise as you go.
2. Set SMART goals.
Start with a goal that you know you have time for and can achieve as a family. At Lifestyle Medicine, the team uses the SMART system of setting goals:
- Specific: What exactly do you want to accomplish?
- Measurable: How will you know you’ve met your goal?
- Relevant: Does the goal make sense for your family?
- Timely: How much time will this goal require, and do you have the time?
For example, a family might decide to walk for 30 minutes a day, four days a week. “They can create a calendar and check those boxes,” Paul says. As the checked boxes accumulate, the family gains confidence and satisfaction in goals met.
3. Make it fun.
One of the biggest obstacles people and families run into with fitness is they think they have to do physical activities they don’t like to do. Some people like doing sit-ups and going running, but for those who don’t, there are plenty of other ways to get in shape.
Going for a walk as a family is one possible activity, and even just getting outside for a while is better than, say, sitting on the couch and watching a screen or device. The Lifestyle Medicine team recommends exploring the options in your neighborhood, such as walking and biking trails. There are also great online fitness resources for children including:
4. Limit screen time.
Limiting screen time is important but may seem like a big challenge during this time when everyone is working and learning at home. Schreiner recommends scheduling breaks throughout the day that are free from screens. This is a great opportunity to get outside, and it can be done as a family. This can help everyone feel more refreshed and focused to concentrate on school and work.
Set limits on screen time and stick to them. “Then there’s no argument,” says Schreiner. “When the time limit is up, you turn it off. Then you have more time to spend together as a family, and it can be fun.”
5. Get plenty of sleep.
Not getting enough sleep can make you feel not just sleepy-tired, but physically fatigued, making exercise seem unappealing. “Getting sufficient, quality sleep is important for overall health, including school performance, behavior and weight,” Paul says.
During this time of uncertainty, it is very important to establish routines and stick with bedtimes in order to maintain overall health. Have your child go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to ensure an appropriate amount of sleep.
6. Set a good example.
Kids mirror the behavior of the adults around them. Getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables, drink water instead of soda and increase their physical activity is often as simple as making these changes as a parent — and it helps if the extended family does, too. “Have fruits and vegetables available as snacks throughout the day and avoid unhealthy snacks like soda, chips and cookies as much as possible,” says Schreiner.
Our dietitian team in the Lifestyle Medicine Program suggests the following resources for kid-friendly recipes and cooking with your family:
Paul says, “Most of all, what can help is just living in the moment. Just spending time as a family and enjoying each other’s company can take focus off distractions and build bonds. It can also make doing activities as a family something parents and kids look forward to.”
During the current coronavirus pandemic, valuable time at home can lead you to the path of a healthy lifestyle. Often, it’s not in speeding up, but in slowing down where we find the most progress. If you are interested in learning more about the Lifestyle Medicine Program at Children’s Colorado, please ask your primary care provider for a referral.
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