Common New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, eat better, stop smoking, and exercise more. Giving yourself a personal goal for the New Year is a great way to make positive changes in your life. Time and time again, however, people tend to drift away from these resolutions after only a few months, returning to old and comfortable unhealthy habits.
But, what if you had a different motivation?
This year, why not look beyond the scale below you and the meals in front of you - to the people around you? Is every member of your family enjoying a happy, healthy life? Are your children developing healthy habits that will last them a lifetime? With childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes on the rise, Richard A. Ortoski, D.O., a family physician in the Erie area, recommends resolving to make changes in your life this New Year’s to not only benefit you, but to benefit those you care most deeply about; your children.
We have all heard that healthy habits start in the home. As a parent, one of your biggest responsibilities beyond loving, protecting, and providing for your children, is to role-model appropriate and healthy behaviors. “Children are excellent observers,” Dr. Ortoski says. “Even as infants, children will model their parents’ behavior.”
This means if you’re eating junk food while watching TV, handling stressful situations by yelling at your spouse, or spending countless hours on the couch instead of enjoying the outdoors, your children will, more likely than not, develop the same patterns of behavior. Dr. Ortoski explains that unhealthy habits like these “can increase the risk of developing obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and some cancers.”
Below is a list of some of the most important behaviors, according to Dr. Richard Ortoski, to model for your children.
• Turn off the TV: By simply turning off the TV, you allow for an endless array of healthier possibilities. Whether it’s reading, playing a game, exercising outside, or just talking, your children will benefit from these more “active” activities. And don’t forget that people tend to turn to junk food when watching TV.
• Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Just because children may protest at the thought of vegetables, it doesn’t mean they won’t eat them when available. If you are eating a healthy diet, chances are that you will have more fruits and vegetables in the house, which in turn, will provide more healthy choices for your kids when they reach inside the refrigerator. Make healthy foods the norm and your children will be more likely to gravitate to them when making their selections outside the home.
• Take time to relax. Stress has an uncanny way of building up in a person until it inevitably reveals itself through physical or mental symptoms. From sleep problems, to headaches, to drug abuse, to an inability to concentrate, stress has a way of stopping people in their tracks. It is important that, at a young age, a person learns how to deal with stress. Perhaps it’s reading a book, talking with a friend on the phone, or writing in a journal. Show your children how you deal with difficult situations and explain to them why it’s important to take time out to relax and unwind on a regular basis.
• Exercise regularly. By exercising regularly, you are not only improving your own health and happiness, but you are also teaching your children how important it is for them to take care of themselves. Whether it’s hiking, biking, playing baseball, swimming or ice skating, include your children in your exercise routine when you can. The activity will be a bonding time for you and your kids and a time to relieve stress. Most importantly, it could teach your children to love physical activity and incorporate it into their own lives as they grow up.
• Drink responsibly. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, about three in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some time in their lives. There is no better time to teach children about the dangers of drunk driving than from the very beginning. As a role model, refrain from drinking alcohol before you drive and, if you are going somewhere after drinking, make sure you assign a designated driver. Let your children know of the safety precautions you are taking. Drinking excessively is also not good for your health, so be sure to model drinking in moderation.
• Wear your seatbelt. It is important to show your children that you are always thinking of safety and that they should as well. When you are in a car, wear your seatbelt. When you are biking, skiing or doing other sports that could cause head injury, wear a helmet.
• Don’t smoke. We all know that smoking can cause lung disease and cancer and can have negative secondhand effects. Studies also show that teenagers are more than twice as likely to smoke if their parents do. So, if you smoke, now is the time to quit to increase your health and to show your family that you are motivated to improve yourself even if it’s hard work.
• Stay calm. The way a child chooses to cope with a stressful situation is often a reflection of how his/her parents cope. If you yell at your children or spouse when you get upset, your children learn to deal with disagreements the same way. Instead, teach your children to stay calm and rational, listen to all sides of an argument, and respect all involved.
While you can’t control every influence on your child, you do have the ability to create a strong, healthy foundation to last them a lifetime. “A parent’s influence cannot be over-emphasized,” stresses Dr. Ortoski.
If you don’t already, resolve this New Year’s to start modeling healthy behaviors and watch as you, your children, and perhaps your children’s children, reap the benefits.
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