So you want your children to lead healthy, happy lives. You want your partner to join you in an active life and grow old, healthfully, with you. How do you lead your family to eat better, exercise, and prevent illnesses such as cancer without invoking nicknames like "The General"? Simple. You don't just talk. You DO.
As a personal trainer, I have just one or two hours with a client to make the greatest impression possible. As a mom, I am aware I have two decades to teach my little people everything they need to carry them through the rest of their lives. Every mom who's repeated a command 483 times without a response knows bossing someone around isn't the best way to get their attention. And, if bossing your children around is counter-productive, well, bossing your spouse around is a one-way road to "Resentmentville."
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month (CCAM) in Canada. After lung and breast cancer, colorectal cancer (CRC) causes the most cancer-related deaths in Canada. In Ontario alone, an estimated 8,900 people were diagnosed with CRC in 2014. Almost half will die, mostly due to late diagnosis. The good news? (Yes, there is good news!): When detected early through regular screening, there's a 90 per cent change of curing colorectal cancer. Even better news? A new report from Cancer Care Ontario confirms a healthy body weight, nutritious diet, and regular exercise decrease your risk of CRC, so you can take prevention into your own hands. Screen early and screen often. A great tool to help assess your cancer risk is My CancerIQ. My CancerIQ is a new online tool that will help you assess your own cancer risk and provide you with a personalized action plan to reduce it.
Here are 9 "Do's" to get you and your family started on the path to living well:
Every week, sit down with your favourite cookbooks or food blogs and plan healthy dinners (ideally, with a little extra in the pot for simple lunches the next day). Plan slow-cooker meals for nights you have after-school sports or late meetings. We like to plan simple meals once or twice per week, like a quick homemade soup or homemade pizzas, to build in a "cooking break" and make it less likely we'll pick up the phone and order in. Keep a variety of fruits and veggies on hand so you can easily make healthy lunches for office and school.
Eat dinner together as many nights per week as possible. Rituals around meals teaches children how important fueling their bodies is. Children who eat with their families consume more vegetables than children who eat without their grownups. Plus, children will experience the preparation, serving, and cleaning up of the meal, giving them skills for adolescence and adulthood.
Offer a variety of vegetables at each meal so even the pickiest eaters (big or small) can find foods they like that offer vitamins and antioxidants their bodies need. Even a few bites of each will make a substantial serving of veggies. Stick with it: you'll impart a love of veggies while also getting more nutrients into them, even during the picky years.
Stop making "kid food" and offering separate meal options. Meals are to be enjoyed and shared, and one meal should be appropriate for all family members. Avoid actions such as offering frozen nuggets while you eat salmon, or running through the drive thru for the kids before soccer, then grabbing a piece of toast for yourself at 9 p.m. Teach your children that a meal is chosen based on what's nutrient-rich, flavourful, and practical. Food should be respected, as should our bodies.
Make chores a family activity based on teamwork. Have children make their own beds and clean their own rooms (try not to let your Type-A side stress over their imperfect final products!). Choose a time for housecleaning where everyone can get involved. Many of the exercises we do in the gym simulate movements we did more regularly in days gone by: reaching, scrubbing, kneeling, squatting, shoveling and organizing. Daily activity actually contributes significantly to caloric burn and helps prevent disease, so you'll kill two birds with one stone, checking to-do's off your list while you all reap the physical benefits. We purchased kid-sized shovels so our little ones can come out to help every time we shovel snow. Mow your lawn the old-fashioned way, take your dog for a walk instead of tossing her in the backyard, and walk to do your errands when you can. Make life your gym!
Let your children (and partner) see you exercise. Showing your little one that you take the time to enjoy a fitness DVD, a bootcamp class, or a pre-dinner jog will teach them exercise is normal and a part of a regular routine. When you can, invite them along. Children as young as five can jog with you, and they will naturally break your jog into intervals and embrace short "races" to provide variety and interval training to your workout! I jog with my five and seven year-olds along with baby in the jogging stroller.
Choose outdoor activities on weekends and plan active adventures like hikes, bike rides, or "urban hikes" around your city. You can choose an appealing destination, like a favourite lunch spot or a picnic in the park to help motivate. Movement is fun - and this is something young children naturally know, but as they age, we teach them that "play" means video games, TV, and organized sports. Let them remind you that walking, climbing, running, playing, and exploring are fantastic ways to blow off steam and bond with one another.
You don't need to look like a fitness model to be a "healthy weight." A little padding is perfectly healthy, while too much can affect your metabolism and increase your risk of CRC and other diseases. Respect your body by putting whole foods into it and moving it regularly. Find your comfortable weight and stay there. If weighing yourself induces stress, pay attention only to how your clothes fit.
Talk positively about your body and in terms of its health and strength, not its size. No matter how many positive body-image messages your little one hears in the media, the classroom, or coming from your mouth, it's how you ACT that will have the greatest effect. Restrict negative influences such as mainstream TV, women's magazines, and your own self-deriding remarks about your physique. This message will be the foundation of their healthy lifestyles as adults.
Positive motivation has the greatest effect. Don't chide your partner for any poor choices, yell at your children to eat their peas, or complain about your saddlebags. Take care of yourself and you will inspire your loved ones to do the same. Good begets good.