Starting a healthier lifestyle sounds simple. You just need to drink more water. Get more sleep. Eat more fresh veggies. Exercise. But, and here’s the great big, even enormous but: you’re busy with work, the house, the schedules and everything else you’re trying to juggle. By the time you get home, the kids are cranky and raring to eat NOW. Your partner, who’s also cranky, is fielding a last-minute work call. Sometimes grabbing a quick meal from the closest fast-food restaurant feels like it’s the only way you’ll get some breathing room.
When you think about the demands of your nonstop life, changing your eating and exercise habits can feel impossible, or even like you’re guilt-tripping yourself. So relax and take things one step at a time. Most people make habit changes in stages, according to Harvard University research. Here’s a helpful step—enlist your partner and kids to help. Even very little kids can learn about choosing fresh fruit for a snack, or putting silverware on the table. Help them keep a tally of how many cups of water you all drink each day, or how many jumping jacks you can do at one time. The more you include your loved ones in your healthy lifestyle project, the more successful you’ll feel. Here are a few great ways to start.
Cook at home. Going out for dinner several times a week can sabotage even the most diligent diet (and the budget, but that’s another story). Do a few searches on the internet and you’ll find an abundance of easy-to-make, healthy meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Get everyone involved in choosing menus for the family, then set up a plan and a shopping list. You don’t have to pick specific days to eat specific things (unless you want to), but setting a strategy for week’s meals makes shopping easier and less expensive.
Let your kids choose fresh fruit and veggies for the snack drawer and help you wash it in advance so it’s ready to grab and go. At the store and at home, teach the kids to read labels and check for salt, sugar and fat. This is especially important if you have a chronic illness in your family. You’d be amazed at how many processed foods are load with sugar, salt and fat. Teaching them to recognize and avoid it now will prepare them to make healthy choices when they’re on their own.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Water is essential for good health. Make sure the whole family is drinking enough water. If you have space on your countertop, keep a large water jug (with a spigot so you don’t have to pour) out and place unbreakable glasses next to it so everyone can grab a drink whenever they want. Take a reusable bottle with you when running errands or walking around the block. If you get bored with plain water, try an infusion bottle so you can add fruit, fresh mint leaves or other natural flavorings to your drinks. Rather than drinking sugar-laden fruit juices, try freezing pieces of fruit inside ice cubes – it’s pretty on the table and kids can help fill the trays. Or dilute juices with water or even plain seltzer, which can turn your fruit juice into a healthy “soda pop.”
Get moving – together! The national Centers for Disease Control recommends that children and teens spend 60 minutes per day being physically active. When parents are active, kids are 5.8 times as likely to be active compared to children with inactive parents, according to the National Library of Medicine. What’s more, company makes getting physical more fun. Find something you call do all together, such as going for a bike ride. Walk the dog together. Play some tunes and dance while doing chores (except maybe the dishes!). Calisthenics are a great way to wear out your kids so they sleep well at night. I know one woman who made her very energetic young sons run races in the backyard every night before dinner, bath and bed. It worked! If that’s not your style, maybe you could grab your yoga mat and share a few poses with your kids to encourage stretching at the beginning and end of each day.
Reduce screen time. Media, whether computer, phone or tv, is the enemy of physical fitness as well as sleep. Make the table a phone-free zone unless there’s an emergency. Spend the hour before bed playing cards or reading instead of on your phone or tablet. Checking your smartphone in bed keeps your brain engaged and makes it harder to fall asleep. Research has found a correlation between exposure to blue light (the kind coming from screens) and the suppression of melatonin, the hormone responsible for controlling your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Using your phone or tablet right before bed can interrupt your internal clock. Instead, try a bath, listening to some music or meditating. The more thoroughly you unwind, the easier it should be to get to sleep.
Let your partner and your kids know you want to make some healthy changes. They love you—asking them to help should not be difficult. Engaging your family and including them in your success will make you all feel the success, and reinforce your close bond.