The Secrets of Happy Healthy Families
Presenting expert-backed tips for your loved ones
Instill healthy body image
The media sends unfiltered, unreliable and unrealistic messages about what is beautiful and desirable. "If the child's logic and coping skills are well-developed, he or she will be secure in their self-esteem. Perhaps they'll be less susceptible and won't seek external validation," says Dr Sameer Malhotra, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Max Hospital, New Delhi.
Explain that there are no set standards for body shape, skin colour and height. Each of us has different features and attributes that make us unique. Show them how software is used to 'touch-up' pictures.
Language matters: Are you caught up in the same culture that's propagating stereotypes and influencing your kids? Seemingly harmless comments ("I'm feeling fat today.") or comparisons ("This colour will suit your sister's fair complexion better.") can affect your kid's sensibility. "Avoid sarcasm and comparisons, especially with their peers," advises Malhotra. Bring the focus back on a healthy body and promote healthful habits. "Aerobics, gymnastics, sports are all good for your teens. Just make sure they don't resort to pills, powders and heavy weights," says Mumbai-based Reebok master trainer, Vinata Shetty. Help them develop good skin rituals like washing their face at bedtime, drinking enough water, applying sunscreen, oiling their hair regularly and not picking their pimples.
Get them moving
Says Dr K. Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, "Regular physical activity doesn't just improve fitness, it also increases sensitivity of the muscles to the action of the body's insulin to prevent high blood sugar. It tones up the heart and blood vessels to prevent high blood pressure and strokes later on in life. Plus, it helps to burn extra belly fat." What's more, it is a great stress buster, helping kids cope with their academic stresses.
A study of 4,600 middle-school kids in the US who got even 20 minutes of exercise at least three times a week had fewer symptoms of depression than those who were less active. Experts recommend 30 to 60 minutes of outdoor activity daily. Let them play around the local park every evening. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting a child's use of screen time to no more than two hours a day. Yet, according to a 2014 study in the Indian Journal of Pediatrics, all the children surveyed watched TV excessively (> 2 h daily). Longer screen time is associated with obesity, sleep issues, behavioural problems, violence and poor academic performance. Moving around the house and lifting and carrying household objects add to physical activity. Experts call it NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) -- make sure they get it.
Help them relax
Kids today seem burdened with stress too -- the kind of anxiety that heightens the risk of sleep disorders and depression and lowers immunity. Over-scheduling (games coaching, art classes, music lessons -- and of course, study time) leaves little room for unstructured free time, crucial to nurturing creativity in kids. Structured time is important, but giving them breathing space and downtime will help in their overall development. Take time out to be with your child and listen to him: Share a bedtime story with your toddler, share experiences of the day with the schoolgoer, try going for a morning walk with your teen or playing a board game with the whole family. They will believe you are there for them.
Watch what they eat
In India, nearly 19.3 per cent of children are overweight. By the year 2025, 17.3 million children in India will be overweight, according to a 2016 study published in Pediatric Obesity. Childhood obesity heightens the risk of diabetes and heart disease. One major culprit: junk food. According to the Obesity Foundation of India, drinking cola among kids has increased in the past 20 years by a whopping 300 per cent. In fact, it is estimated that 20 per cent of kids who are currently overweight are so due to excessive intake of sugary beverages. "Junk food means empty calories -- they make your kids gain weight even while they are undernourished," explains Kolkata-based nutritionist Heena Nafis. Large portion sizes, along with frequent eating out and ordering in, add to all the weight. Use the following tips to help them eat right.
Sitting down together for family meals yield a range of health and social benefits: Improved relationships with peers, better grades at school and a lower likelihood of smoking and using drugs, according to a Columbia University study. "Also, when your kids see you eating your cabbage and peas, they are less likely to fuss," says Nafis. To get the best out of mealtimes, interact with each other. Have a sweet-Saturday rule, make dessert a once-a-week treat and consider natural sweeteners -- strawberries in yogurt, baked apples and so on.
Get smart about nutrition: Juices and fruit concentrates are not the same as 100 per cent juice, just as brown bread is different from wholewheat bread. Watch out for hidden sugars: Packaged juices, milk additives and energy bars are among the most sugar-laden 'healthy' foods. To cut sugar in your child's diet, read labels carefully.
Got picky eaters at home?
- Train your infants: Expose them repeatedly to the same food. You may need to literally try 10 times.
- Focus on presentation: Try fruits cut in interesting shapes, put on skewers or served in colourful containers.
- Make the boring palatable: Pair new foods with old favourites (a bowl of steamed veggies with hummus, or a cheesy dip) or focus on preparing unappetizing food and present attractively. You could also try soups, smoothies and juices.
- Cheat a bit: Add minced veggies to gravies, mix leftover dal in your paratha dough, make cutlets out of leftover veggies or sneak zucchini and carrot into cakes.
- Keep it simple: Try vegetable pulao with rajma/paneer/chicken and a bowl of curd or chicken wrapped in roti or pasta with lots of vegetables.
Watch weight and waistline
According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, almost one in four men and one in five women in urban India are either overweight or obese. This, along with an expanding waistline, put us at risk of metabolic syndrome that may increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. "Find out what his ideal weight should be for his height. Ensure that his waist is not wider than 36 inches since abdominal obesity is a clear indicator of health risks. Make sure the BMI is between 18 to 23 kg/m2," says Dr V. Mohan, chairman and chief diabetologist, Dr Mohan's Diabetes Centre, Chennai. Here's how to cut the kilos and reduce the inches.
Make time to exercise: "At least 30-45 minutes of exercise five days a week, and 60 minutes a day if he/she needs to lose weight," says Mohan. Your partner may warm up to it if they know that exercising will leave little room to indulge in some of their favourite foods, he adds. Lace up and join them to motivate each other. Apps that help you count your steps -- 10,000 steps a day should be the goal -- are a start.
Eat healthy together: As with kids, home-cooked food and family dinners help, since packaged and processed foods have very little nutritional value. A good breakfast is a must and so is carrying packed lunch and snacks (fruits and nuts) to munch on, instead of fatty, store-bought fast food. "At home, switch to wholefoods, double your portions of fruits and vegetables, reduce your rice and chapati portions, cut the fat (especially the artery-clogging saturated fat and trans fat), lower salt consumption, reduce red meat, use processed and packaged foods minimally and substitute fruits for dessert," Mohan adds.
While stress is a given in our everyday lives, it's important to manage it, so it doesn't become chronic and burn you out. First off, make an effort to achieve work-life balance. "There may be times that your partner (and you) need to check office email and take official calls at home, but do try not to bring work home with you," says New Delhi-based life coach, Dr Sanjay Salooja. Take breaks together -- it can be rejuvenating for the mind and body. Research shows that far from setting back performance, vacations actually increase productivity. Researcher Mark Rosekind found a vacation can increase our performance by 80 per cent. We are more productive when rested. Getting intimate has huge health benefits for both of you -- from de-stressing to boosting immunity and burning calories.
Calm down before bed: Make sure you switch off electronic devices close to bedtime. "These can disturb sleep routine in three key ways," says Dr Ashok Seth, chairman, Fortis Escorts Hospital, New Delhi. "First, these devices are addictive -- we feel compelled to respond to messages and comments. Second, concentrating on the screen keeps your brain active, preventing you from unwinding. Third, the blue light from these mobile and tablet screens suppresses the release of the sleep hormone melatonin and upsets your circadian rhythm, making your brain (sleep centre) believe it's still day."
Instead, establish a relaxing bedtime ritual to help the body transition from active to calm, so you fall asleep faster and stop using handheld devices at least an hour before hitting the bed. Choose from a warm bath and meditation to snuggling in with a book -- whatever helps you fall asleep better. Turn down the bright lights at bedtime. And make sure both of you get seven to eight hours of shut-eye every night.
-- with inputs by Gagan Dhillon
Adapted from Prevention India. June 2013 Living Media Limited.