by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
Statistics on increasing childhood obesity and America’s overall weight problem constantly bombard us. It might not be all Twinkies and TV to blame. Is your lifestyle jeopardizing your family’s health …
Those constantly on-the-go tend to burn more calories than their couch potato counterparts. However, this hectic pace could actually cause weight gain. Everyday situations have the power to make or break your quest for health. Here are easy-to-implement solutions.
Situation: Always on the Go
Running from errands to meetings to kids’ activities causes stress for the entire family. Without built-in downtime, the body is fueled by a chronic state of stress. This increases the production of cortisol, a hormone that triggers hunger. This falsely increased appetite tends to result in overeating. What does one usually eat in a rush? High-caloric junk– whether you drive-through, hit the vending machine, or grab at random in your pantry.
Remember, physical activity is not the same as dedicated exercise.
It’s essential to carve time each day for relaxation, even if only 10 minutes. Ideally, you should include a form of daily exercise or stretching. However, we all hate to admit it, but there are days when getting to the Center may be impossible. Considering that, and even on workout days, commit to spending daily leisure time with your family or in quiet reflection alone.
Share conversation, discuss the day, take a refreshing walk outdoors, or enjoy a photo album or magazine. Look through the daily newspaper and mention headlines to the kids. Along with the downtime, seeing their parents read for pleasure helps children develop their own appreciation for reading.
Having scheduled downtime provides the entire family with a predictable aspect of the day. Regardless of what transpires, simply knowing this time is set aside provides comfort. Be creative. If late meetings or after-school practices threaten to interfere, schedule downtime for later in the evening or early morning.
Even if stress isn’t stirring up your cortisol levels, eventually you’ll realize through the rush of your day you’re hungry. Have sensible snacks prepared. Keep pretzels, dry cereal, or whole wheat crackers in your bag or car. Plan (and, if possible, prepare) meals in advance. Know the night before if you need to defrost anything or buy ingredients. Meal decisions made after a busy day when you’re stomach is growling often result in a pizza delivery.
Situation: TV for End-of-Day Unwinding. Dinner Must Be Made.
After a long day, it’s easy to switch on the TV and call it “unwinding.” Think again. The background noise alone of sitcoms’ canned laughter and Sponge Bob’s voice can escalate a simmering headache or increase tension after a crowded train ride. Although you may make dinner quicker by using TV to distract yourself from the task at hand or diverting your kids’ attention, consider healthier options for your time.
Watching TV is known to increase calorie consumption from mindless munching. It also tempts the taste buds with poor choices. Compare how often we see fresh produce advertised to the latest meal deals in buns. Video games, texting, and similar inactive pastimes can have the same affect.
One study measured self-control and impulsiveness in kids after watching only nine minutes of a fast-paced cartoon. Snacks were presented to the study group after watching. The children were rated on how long they could wait before indulging. Those who watched the fast-paced programming waited an average of 2.5 minutes versus at least 4 minutes from those who were assigned to draw pictures or watch a slow-paced show. The results further indicate media exposure can be a health issue.
When relaxing, relax. Don’t multitask it with dinner preparation, catching up on TV shows, returning phone calls, and checking e-mails. If time permits, pack the kids in the car and head to the Center for a quick dip in the pool. Let them enjoy free play in Childcare while you calm your mind with a Yoga class or release tension with weights. Everyone will return home ready to tackle dinner, homework, and the nightly agenda.
A change of scenery, to the Center or elsewhere, gives you a fresh perspective. Be sure to spend time among nature. One study showed hospital patients who had a window with a view of trees actually did better.
Soak up sunshine. Rays from the sun help your body make vitamin D. This is especially important for post-menopausal women who may be at risk for osteoporosis. Experts suggest exposing the backs of your hands to the sun two or three times a week for 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t forget sunscreen. You still get the sun’s vitamin D benefits without the harmful rays.
Get cooking with the entire family. Invite the kids around the counter to mix, stir, chop, and chat. When everyone contributes to the meal, it seems to taste better. Picky eaters are also more likely to try new foods when they have a hand at preparing them. Use this time to catch up with your spouse or partner, lest pressing topics wait to be hashed out when overtired at 11:00 p.m.
Situation: Inevitable Stress
You’re feeling short on time, patience, and energy. You jump from one project to the next, never fully able to accomplish anything. Meals are eaten while packing the next day’s lunches, sorting paperwork, or helping with homework. Late nights are standard, along with intervals of caffeine.
It may be a temporary rough patch in your schedule. However, you are sending a loud message to your body and those around you, including any offspring. Children learn coping habits from you. Teach them healthy ways to respond to stress. Irritability doesn’t have to become your disposition. It’s not fair to those with whom you interact. Most importantly, it’s not fair to yourself.
Live by example. If you want to be the picture of health, show yourself as such. Make a point, amidst the chaos, to take care of yourself. Stamina improves through small indulgences. Take time for a massage, a book, or your favorite Group Fitness class. Hire a personal trainer during these times to keep on track with your fitness goals. Reporting to someone increases compliance, especially during a time-crunched period.
Your efforts will be commended by your body and your ability to better cope with tensions. They will also be admired by others who might possibly gain from this infectious way of dealing with stress. Children emulate a parent’s response to stress. Life’s pressures are unavoidable; however, we can improve our coping mechanisms. By making time for yourself with a robust workout or calming meditation, you’re showing life is about what you make of it. Not what it makes of you.
Situation: Excessive Travel
Perhaps your job requires extensive travel. It may be a frequent commute to a satellite office or a regular necessity to tackle remote offices in your territory. Maybe you are in sales or visit far-flung clients. Warning: Extensive time behind the wheel, or in the passenger seat, may cause the seat to shrink.
The interstate highway is not a path to wellness, with its offerings of fast food, quick marts, and a decent span of boredom. Add some traffic jams and you’re suddenly craving a frozen coffee complete with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. To break up the monotony, a bag of chips or candy bar may seem to do the trick. All this before the wining-and-dinning frenzy and breakfast bar that often await business travelers.
Allow yourself a crazy, worthless indulgence. Only one. For the rest of the trip, enjoy some of your favorite healthy treats from home. Pack a small cooler filled with water, green iced tea, cheese sticks, sliced fruit, and whole-grain crackers. Toss in a few morsels of dark chocolate (you know, for heart health). Also include a cold, moist washcloth. Apply it to your face and neck during a late-night drive to revive you without a post-caffeine slump.
Make hourly stops to stretch and walk. Allow time to perk up the drive and the senses. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, which triggers fatigue and false hunger. It also guarantees your need for those frequent rest stops. Consider listening to audio books to help combat boredom and keep alert. Some can be juicier than a high-cal snack.
Be sure to fit in a workout at the Center before you hit the road. This increases energy and preserves muscle mass for those who travel extensively. If you’re a passenger, take advantage of travel time to perform isometrics. Bust some of these moves in reps of 16:
- Contract and release abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button toward the spine.
- Place a pillow, towel, mini travel bag, or handbag between your knees. Hold for two seconds and slightly release. Repeat, this time holding the same object in your hands at chest level. Squeeze between palms and release.
- Push palms against the car’s ceiling with hands shoulder-width apart. Press for two seconds and release.
- Wrap your arms around your knees. Hug, holding elbows. Round your back toward the sky and instantly relieve back tension.
These tips work for vacation travel and family outings, as well. You’ll arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to go.
Don’t let a busy lifestyle sabotage your health. Thrive throughout your double-header day, even during those extra innings at work and home. Make it a win-win situation.
“8 ‘Vices’ That Are Good for You,” by Marie Suszynski at www.everydayhealth.com.
“Decreasing Stress in Your Family: The New Weight Loss Plan,” at www.webmd.com.
“Road Trip: Avoid Weight Gain on the Road,” by Paige Waehner at www.about.com.
“SpongeBob Hinders Kids’ Minds, Quickly: Study,” by Associated Press at www.cbsnews.com.
Time runs (introductory photo): © Juha Tuomi at www.dreamstime.com
Yoga mat: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lululemonathletica/5417341252/in/photostream/
Fruit with tape measure: © Bruno Medley at www.dreamstime.com