Health Take-Away: Families who play together, stay healthy together

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In a world and time of constant change and uncertainty, it is more important than ever to make our families the center of our lives and the focus of our priorities. Family is the single most powerful influence in a child's life. Children depend on parents and family to protect them, provide for their needs and teach them about human relationships and personal health.

The simple moments we cherish as a family, the food we share, the physical activities we do together and even the time we spend doing nothing, just being together — detached from our gadgets — define our lives and health. Here are some suggestions for health-minded families to consider:

- Live in the moment. Best-selling author Gretchen Rubin, who writes on the subjects of habits, happiness and human nature once observed that in life today, "the days are long, but the years are short." The lesson in that for parents is to be careful you're not wishing the time away, becoming so preoccupied with your child's distant future that that you're not fully engaged in the present. Mindfully cherish every moment, even those cold, wet mornings on the soccer field or those tough nights helping with homework. The perfect moment is the one you're in, not the one you're dreaming about.

- Eat real food. What we bring home from the grocery store is what's for dinner. Those choices shape the health of our family. Leave the processed, artificial packaged food on the store shelf. Get the kids involved in the food selection and preparation. Have them pick a new fruit or vegetable each week to try. These are teaching moments that can also be fun. Plan ahead for busy nights. Skip the fast food place and set the crockpot instead. Drink water, water and more water. It's one of the simplest, cheapest health habits we can pass on to our children.

- Move more. Today's children (and adults) are sitting more than any generation before. Pull yourselves away from the computer, television and cell phone screens. Find fun activities to increase movement. Children who play outdoors are found to be more creative, happier, healthier and stronger. They also get an added dose of Vitamin D while outside and that reduces a lot of illnesses. Ideas might include family walk nights, fitness challenges (who can beat mom in pushups?), freeze tag, bicycling and hikes. Take advantage of your natural surroundings by walking trails, climbing mountains, canoeing rivers and lakes. Moving with your children, not just watching from the sidelines, offers great bonding moments you will forever remember.

- Share quality time. Research shows that children who spend quality time with parents, even if it's simply talking, reading or sitting together, eat more nutritiously and are less likely to get into trouble as teenagers. They will share in conversations with parents more readily and often. Incorporate a "gratitude share" into dinnertime each night or a bedtime meditation; it doesn't have to be a religious prayer, just a simple moment of thankfulness. If you can't always manage to eat dinner together, make breakfast a bonding time or pick one night each week to really do it up with candles and linens. Make family game nights a tradition. And sometimes, it's ok to do absolutely nothing. Allow your kids to be bored once in a while, to learn the art of patience and simply enjoy some down time.

- Limit distractions. It's hard to be engaged when you're distracted by other things. An inattentive parent sends negative signals to child who might feel you aren't really there for them. Today's parents often bring work home, text on their phones and complete other activities instead of truly being with their children. Turn off the gadgets, have them do the same and truly spend time together. Your family's health depends on it.

Maureen L. Daniels, MEd, is director of Wellness at Work at Berkshire Health Systems.


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