Human nature (being what it is) means most of us are creatures of habit. Some are good, some are bad. We don’t take much notice until the activity is either restricted (like with exercise due to injury) or, has caused health concerns such that we are forced to make lifestyle changes. The question is: When faced with a necessary change, how do we develop and maintain healthy practices so they become habits? The very definition of “habit” is something we do routinely, as a part of our normal daily life.
Initially, you have to consciously think about these choices and plan how to utilize them in everyday life. When you need to include the whole family, implementing changes and keeping them are more difficult. Here are some ideas to help you get started and stay on track.
1. Make a plan. Consider what you want the final outcome to be. For example, less computer/TV time and daily exercise. Write out steps how to make that happen. However, realize you might need to work in phases. If you and/or your child are not used to exercise, do not expect to keep moving for 60 minutes the first day without some backlash. Start with three days a week at 30-45 minutes and build from there. With TV, video games and computer time, limit them to the weekends and then only as a reward when goals are met, chores and homework done, etc.
2. Understand for yourself why you are making the changes and educate your kids about the importance of healthy eating, exercise, less TV, etc. It is more likely that the lifestyle changes will be longer lasting if everyone knows the “why” and buys into it.
3. Be creative, have fun and give choices. When your kids are involved in the decision making this gives them the tools for competent decision making later without your involvement. If the activity is fun, you ALL learn that exercise and being active is not torture. There are many activities that work muscles and elevate the heart rate that are fun for the whole family. Dancing, jump rope, playing outdoor games (like the ones we used to play as kids), hiking, roller skating, swimming, playground time.
4. Don’t give up to soon. For anything to become a habit it needs to be repeated over and over. If you have a week with set-backs due to illness, school or work, don’t worry about it. Do what you can and keep up the schedule by being flexible. Remember, the definition of “habit” is a natural, normal routine. Try not to let life’s hiccups interrupt the consistency. Just work around them.
5. Allow for small rewards. Build your plan with mini-milestones. Agree to treats and rewards when you accomplish goals. Do not be afraid to have something, be it a food treat or an activity, as long as it is in moderation. Perfection is never the goal and, if we try for that, we set ourselves up for failure.
6. Set a good example. “Do as I say not as I do”, has never worked well. Your kids need to see you trying just as hard as they are. The shared experience will allow for a greater bond and further make sure that these are long lasting changes.
As societal pressure and technology morph our lifestyle to be less healthy, we need to make a conscious effort to eat well, exercise often, and combat disease and aging so we can live a full, functioning life. It can be a struggle at first but once these changes become a habit, they become a lifestyle.
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