Seven Baby Steps To A Healthier You

little changes all add up

Seven Baby Steps To A Healthier You

Erica recently wrote about making small changes towards a healthier lifestyle. And I am totally on board with that plan. Making big changes often feels way overwhelming. And overwhelm can stop you from changing even one damn thing. Where do you start, right? It’s much easier to tweak one or two small things, then build on that.

My advice: get out of that rut with baby steps! Instead of tackling a total health makeover, just make a few nips and tucks. Small bites are much more manageable, and can help you break down those psychological barriers. This especially goes for moms—I mean, who’s got time in their schedule for a full-on lifestyle change? Not me, that’s for sure.

Choose one or two things to work on, tops. Keep at it until it’s a habit. Research has shown it takes about 3 weeks for a habit to become firmly ingrained—although I suspect it’s more individual than that. As in: depends on the person, depends on the habit you’re trying to create.

Once your small bite has taken hold, though, choose another. Here are some suggestions for easy things to slip into your life:

 Downsize your dishes (studies show that you’ll eat less if you use smaller bowls and plates—and you won’t even notice).

 Try to eat just one “superfood” a day (spinach, salmon, yogurt, walnuts, avocado…)

 Get more sleep by making your bedtime a mere 15 minutes earlier.

 Stash a hula-hoop behind your TV and work it while you watch.

 Make a ritual of gratitude. Whenever you’re making a cup of coffee (or tea) take a moment to think about three things you’re thankful for. (Here’s why gratitude, and happiness in general, is crucial for health).

 No time for a full-on yoga class at the studio? Me neither. But rather than do nothing at all—do 10 minutes. (This online yoga network has loads of 10 minute yoga workouts that you can easily slip into your day.)

 Watch your liquid calorie intake—juice and pop spike your blood sugar but they do little to satisfy hunger. Cut back on the liquid calories and hydrate with water instead. (See here for more magic weight loss tricks).

Your turn. Any easy baby-step ideas?



Are Working Moms Healthier Than Stay-At-Home Moms?

And now, for a little controversy...

Are Working Moms Healthier Than Stay-At-Home Moms?

In a study that was just presented this past weekend in Denver, moms who worked full-time reported better mental and physical health than stay-at-home moms. Researchers analyzed data on over 2,500 women who became mothers between 1978 and 1995. Working moms, in this study, reported more energy and mobility, and less depression at age 40, than moms who stayed at home.

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of the “mommy wars,” pitting stay-at-home moms against working moms. Although—the debate usually seems to centre around what’s better for the kids.

This study, in contrast, looked at what might be better for moms, themselves. Which is highly interesting to me.

So, if these findings are accurate, why might this be?

The researchers themselves had various thoughts and hypotheses. It might be the financial issue. Perhaps it’s the empowerment factor. Or maybe it’s about the control and autonomy that working provides. The benefit might arise from being in a place where you’re an expert on something, and the resultant self-esteem boost. Does meaningful, productive work (outside of raising kids) bring happiness? Maybe. (And if you’re curious how happiness actually improves health, read this.)

A further interesting aspect of this study was the findings related to part-time work. It’s a commonly cited approach for finding “balance,” to work part-time, right? Well, they found that moms who worked full-time had better mental and physical health than even part-timers.

What wasn’t surprising was the women whose health was the worst, mentally and physically, were the “persistently unemployed.” These are women who repeatedly drop in and out of the workforce, are laid off or fired, or can’t find meaningful work. Tough on mental and physical health, for sure.  

I often feel vaguely uncomfortable with studies like this—as if there is just one way to do it. In my opinion, I’ve always felt these sorts of decisions are highly individual, and if going back to work full-time is not what you want to do you shouldn’t feel pressure to do so. There is no cookie-cutter formula for balancing work and motherhood, nothing that’s going to apply to every mom. Also? Things change over time. What worked for you and your family a few years ago may not be the way to go now.

However, I think the findings from this study might be helpful for women who are on the fence—women who are weighing their options and trying to decide whether to go back to work, and how much to work. Knowing that you may be doing yourself some good—physically and mentally—by opting to return to work may help you make a decision.

So—now your turn. What do you think? Do you work outside of the home? What sort of effect do you think it’s had on your health? Are you a stay-at-home mom? Would you have it any other way?


Back-to-School Health Checklist

A handy list for a healthy start

Back-to-School Health Checklist

Back-to-school isn’t just about a fresh box of pencils and new shoes. (Although I do love both of those things, truth be told.) Get ready to give your kids their happiest, healthiest year at school by taking care of the following things. Here’s your checklist:

1: Backpack Weight

Resist the temptation to load your kids’ backpacks with the kitchen sink. Yes—you want them to have everything they might need. But heavy backpacks are tough on growing spines. As a rule of thumb, kids should carry no more than 10%-15% of their body weight in their backpacks. Bag too heavy? See if you can arrange to have duplicate supplies stay at school. Or consider a wheelie bag.

2: A Healthy Breakfast

A good, nutritious breakfast is a foundation for an enjoyable and productive day at school. A crummy—or worse, skipped—breakfast is a recipe for a tired, grumpy kid who will have difficulty concentrating and behaving well through the day. But the morning rush is brutal, right? You need some quick, healthy (and yummy) ideas for breakfast. Smoothies are perfect for that. Or try our household fave: yogurt and granola, with fruit. Also, many egg recipes take only minutes. Or try this: breakfast muffins. (And while you’re thinking about it: pack a  healthy lunch!)

3: A Good Night’s Sleep

Let’s back up even further...and start the day off right with a good sleep. A lot of kids don’t get enough rest at night. They’re not like adults—kids need way more sleep than we do: school-aged kids need about 10-11 hours a night. (While we’re at it—are you getting enough sleep?)  Insufficient sleep has been linked with poor academic performance, and higher rates of injuries. If you suspect your kid isn’t getting enough (clues: you’re consistently dragging him out of bed in the morning, she’s cranky or tired later in the day), try moving bedtime forward a little earlier. In the summer, bedtime tends to get pushed later and later, with lax schedules and longer daylight hours. September can be a rude awakening, in more ways than one. Try gradually shifting bedtime earlier, by 15 minutes at a time, starting a week or so before school begins. Also? All screens and electronic things go off an hour before bed.

4: Medical Information For The School

You need to make it as easy as possible for your kid’s school to deal with whatever comes up, no matter how unlikely. Most schools have forms, etc—don’t neglect to complete them. Give them all the details they need: emergency numbers, details on medical conditions and allergies, list of any medications your child takes including doses, immunizations, your child’s health card number, name & phone number of your family physician.

5: Germs

Take this opportunity to educate your kids on good hand-washing habits. Because, let’s face it, schools are petri dishes. At home, you can monitor your kids' hygiene habits. At school? Not so much. As a minimum, make sure they know to wash their hands before eating, and after using the washroom. And, please don’t hate me for saying this, but: although back-to-school season still feels very much like summer—cold and flu season is coming fast.

6: Stress & Overscheduling

The fall is a time for returning to routines and rituals and fresh starts. Which is a wonderful thing. But it’s easy to go too far. Overscheduling is a modern phenomenon for today’s families—and kids can suffer under the pressure of too many activities. With so many amazing opportunities out there, it’s easy to go a little overboard signing your kids up for everything—music, sports, art classes, languages...but you’re going to need to hold yourself back. Signs of stress in a kid are myriad: wetting the bed, poor sleep, moodiness, changes in behaviour.

7: Bike Safety

In September, lots of kids ride their bikes to school. ( in Victoria, they do it year-round. Not to rub it in, or anything. How cheeky...) I’m a big fan of swapping cars for bikes, but please make sure your kid is well-versed in bike safety first. Helmets are a no-brainer, of course. And I can highly recommend Pedalheads, if they’re in your province. My oldest son has done Pedalheads the past two summers, and in addition to being a ridiculous amount of fun, they emphasize road safety and smart cycling.

8: Got older kids? You’ve got some talking to do.

Keeping lines of communication open, vis a vis smoking, drugs, alcohol...this is no easy task, that’s for sure. But you have to try. And keep trying. And, um, keep trying some more. Back-to-school time is a good prompt for these discussion topics. For more help along these lines: see here.

There. Now that you’ve got those kids off to a healthy start...what about you? I think it’s time for a little of this, don’t you?

You can learn even more ways to get organized and transition from summer to school on our Back-To-School 2014 page.