Have A Very Healthy New Year!
By Christina Elston


Helping your family become healthier is a great New Year’s resolution. But following all the latest health recommendations can seem overwhelming – especially if your current diet and exercise plan consists of wolfing down fast food in front of the TV.

Don’t give up. Making small changes that become regular habits is the key to a healthier 2006.


Keep Up the Checkups

Until age 5 or 6, most kids make it to the doctor for recommended checkups. Infants and toddlers come in for immunizations, and most schools require a physical for kindergarten entrance, says child wellness specialist Ravinder Khaira, M.D. After that, however, some kids fall through the cracks.

Unless your child recently had a pre-participation physical for sports or summer camp – or you always schedule your children’s annual physicals – it’s probably time for an annual checkup.

“It’s the kids who don’t come in for sports physicals and camp physicals who need them most. They tend to be more sedentary,” says Khaira. Help your child make a list of written questions for the doctor, and bring it with you, he advises.

The appointment is a good time to talk about forming healthy habits, Khaira adds. “Children are impressionable. You can teach them fairly early in life and help them form habits that last a lifetime.”

Start with illness-prevention habits, such as staying away from people who are sick, not sharing cups or eating utensils, and washing hands frequently.

oNormal style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">You can also discuss injury prevention and safety rules for your child’s age with the health-care provider. Above all, be involved, says Khaira. “Always know what your children are doing and where they are.”

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oBodyText style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">Baby Steps to a Balanced Diet

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Don’t try to scale the food pyramid all at once. Improve your family’s eating habits one step at a time, suggests dietician Patricia Vasconcellos, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Vasconcellos recommends that families start by keeping a food journal for a week. Write down everything the family eats, look it over and set a few small goals. Here are a few tips:

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• If your family isn’t eating enough fruits and vegetables, start serving fruit at breakfast and a vegetable at dinner.
“You have to set up a base,” Vasconcellos says. “We have to just start eating a fruit and a veggie.”

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• Stock up on healthy food
, such as fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables with no added sugar or sauce. Choose low-fat dairy products, a variety of lean meats and whole-grain breads, cereals and crackers. Avoid buying sugary breakfast cereals, sodas and other sweetened drinks.

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• Buy healthy snack foods to help avoid temptation.
“If you have a chip mentality, you’re going to go for the chips,” Vasconcellos warns. Instead, reach for a piece of fruit and crunchy whole-grain cereal, crackers, popcorn or a handful of nuts.

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Fitness: 10 Minutes At a Time

Just 20 minutes of physical activity three times a week can improve overall health. But fitting it in isn’t easy for busy families, says Robert Garofano, Ed.D., director of the Pediatric Cardiopulminary Exercise Laboratory at Children’s Hospital of New York – Presbyterian.

One way to manage is to break your activity into two sessions. “You can start with as little as 10 minutes,” Garofano says. Adults can park a few blocks away from the office and take a 10-minute walk. Older kids can walk or ride a bike to school, or be dropped off a few blocks away if you feel this is safe. If your child’s school doesn’t offer physical education classes, ask recess monitors to organize a physical activity – a basketball or kickball game, for instance – during recess.

Finish your regimen with 10 minutes of family activity at night. “Ten minutes isn’t that long, but if you do it three times and add it up, you have a half hour of movement,” Garofano says.

The activity could be anything from a family walk before dinner, to a game of tag in the back yard, or kickball with another family in the neighborhood. Families in cold climates could join a gym, take a walk through the local mall, or climb up and down the stairs of the nearest high-rise building. Just remember to keep it safe and fun.

“If the activity is fun,” Garofan says, “they want to do it again.”

You can check out ideas from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control at

Remember, however, that before starting an exercise plan, adults over age 40 and children with any pre-existing physical condition should see a doctor. And everyone should take it easy at first.

“The key is always starting slowly,” Garofano says. After six to eight weeks, try exercising four days or adding five minutes to your activity sessions, until you are active 30 minutes every day.

More Health Notes 

Christina Elston is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in family health issues.