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For Better Family Health, Lead by Example : Dr. Philip Wazny discusses this wonderful mantra in the field of parenting

Aug 01, 2012 02:13PM ● By Philip Wazny, NMD

With childhood obesity and adult "lifestyle diseases" such as diabetes and heart disease rapidly increasing, keeping the entire family healthy is truly becoming a group effort. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle within a family unit can be challenging, but with a little planning and discipline, achieving good health can be simple. The foundation rests in proper nutrition and effective exercise.

From a nutritional perspective, one wonderful mantra in the field of parenting is “leading by example.” Kids that see their parents eat in an unhealthy manner are much more likely to eat poorly themselves. If children see their parents eating healthy foods, studies show children are much more likely to eat healthy foods themselves. Start with the "just one bite" rule, which states that a child must have at least one bite of everything on their plate (be sure to include one or two comfort foods – foods the child has enjoyed before), which will gradually allow them to discover that some foods aren't so bad after all.

At first, you might have a little trouble enforcing the rule, but be persistent and your child will stop fighting it. Plus, it's a great way to introduce a new food every three or four days and get kids to try new foods on a regular basis. Be sure to not force a child to eat more than one bite, but insist on at least one. Recent studies suggest that it takes upwards of 17 exposures to a food before a kiddo will potentially like and ask for it.

Most parents try three or four times at the most, and then give up. Parents need to be persistent and allow for children to actively participate in food choices and preparation—get them involved. The next time you take the kids to the grocery store, allow them to pick out any fruit or vegetable from the produce section they want and help them prepare it.

Small children love dipping their food, and this can be a great way to get kids to eat something (i.e., raw vegetables) that they typically wouldn't eat. Try hummus, natural (unsweetened) sunflower or almond butter, unsweetened applesauce with cinnamon, black bean dip or yogurt. All of these dips, in addition to tasting great, provide healthy ingredients, including protein, fiber and good fats.

Healthy nutritional choices for children are paramount to ensure they get the nutrients, vitamins and co-factors their developing bodies need. Parents have the opportunity to be nutritional leaders for children, while leading by example. We can do this by offering creative, fun and healthy food choices and being actively involved in their dietary needs, both at the dinner table and at the grocery store. Most importantly, don't forget to have fun in buying, preparing and eating food—it can produce some of the best memories you both will have.

As for exercise, most people need at least an hour each day, but kids need closer to two. There are basically three facets within the concept of exercise: endurance, strength and flexibility. Take a peek at what children do when at recess and you'll see that they naturally involve themselves in all three of these aspects. Games of tag improve endurance, climbing on the jungle gym or monkey bars increases strength and doing cartwheels or tying shoes develops their flexibility.

Obviously, there are plenty of activities, but low-impact exercises are perfect for kids because their joints are still developing. Basketball, bicycling, ice skating, soccer, swimming, yoga and tennis are a few low-impact exercises that many kids enjoy. New studies suggest that hyperactive kids become much calmer by engaging in daily exercise activities with their parents. By having children involve themselves with many types of exercise, they will automatically address their own endurance, strength and flexibility needs.

By being directly involved with children's activities, parents not only reap health benefits themselves, but can also create deeper connections with all family members. Exercise has an unprecedented habit of teaching teamwork and discipline, but studies suggest that those kids who witness active parents are much more likely to be active themselves.

Philip Wazny is a naturopathic physician specializing in pediatrics and natural pain relief at Integrative Health, in Scottsdale. Contact him at 480-657-0003 or

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