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Friday, May 29, 2015

9 Small Ways to Build Big Health for the Whole Family

Photo by Donald Lee Pardue (Flickr)

How much money would you have in a year if you saved all of your coins? Maybe you could afford a family getaway, your child's braces, or new home carpeting. That's because small changes can yield big results over time. The same principle holds true for your family's health. I found nine small changes that help my entire family achieve big health results, and they can help your family grow healthier, too.

Cut Out Soda

One can of soda can contain as many as 189 calories and eight to 10 teaspoons of sugar. You'll see a difference in your waistline, energy, and mood when you switch to seltzer, 100 percent juice, and flavored water.

Join a Family Fitness Program

Almost half of exercise program participants quit in the first six months, reports University of Illinois professor Edward McAuley. Stick with regular exercise as a family when you join a family fitness program at the YMCA, train for a local 5K race, or play in a co-ed sports league.

Bike or Walk Instead of Drive

Weekly errands are an essential part of life. However, have you ever left your car at home and biked or walked to at least one errand a week? This one substitution is good for your body, and the environment will thank you, too.

Eat More Veggies and Fruits

Can I tell you a secret? I add shredded carrots, zucchini, and mushrooms to meatloaf, tacos, and spaghetti. My kids don't notice the extra veggies, but I know they're getting the vitamins and minerals they need. You, too, can add veggies to your meals, offer fruit for dessert, and serve salad every night as you boost your family's health.

Prioritize Breakfast

My kids and I used to rush out the door without eating breakfast and then wonder why we were struggling mentally, physically, and emotionally all morning. Once I resolved to eat a fiber-rich and protein-packed breakfast like whole-grain cereal topped with Greek yogurt or scrambled egg burritos with a side of fresh fruit, we noticed improved concentration, less mid-morning snacking, and more energy all day.

Find Local Parks and Trails

If your kids are like mine, they'll have so much fun playing at a local park or hiking a local trail that they won't realize that they're also exercising. You'll have fun, too, as you enjoy the fresh air, sunshine, and time together.

Engage in Active TV Watching

Watching TV shows together is a treat for our family, but research shows that a sedentary lifestyle could increase heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and depression. Stand up and dance, dust, vacuum, or run laps around the house during commercial breaks or set a timer and stretch every 15 minutes as your family engages in active TV watching.

Start a Family Garden

My kids love digging in the dirt, which is partially why we started a family garden. Don't tell them, but our garden is also a source of hard labor. Together, we're building strong bodies as we nurture fresh, healthy, and delicious produce.

Sleep More

Adequate sleep improves alertness, memory, and moods. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, teens need nine hours of nightly sleep, and adults need seven to eight hours. Going to bed 15 minutes earlier every night, planning a relaxing bedtime routine, and maintaining the same bedtime even on weekends can help your family receive adequate rest.

Making big health changes is challenging, so try nine small changes instead. They revolutionize your health in a big way and are easy and fun to do. Which one will you start today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, May 25, 2015

Two Wheels, Endless Fun: 9 Ways to Celebrate National Bike Month

Photo by Paul L Dineen (Flickr)

May is National Bike Month! I know my girls and I love the endless fun and the health benefits like better cardiovascular health and reduced obesity risk that our bikes provide. Will your family join us by celebrating biking in nine fun ways?

1. Learn Basic Bike Tuning Skills

While a bike tune-up preps your ride for summer fun, it also teaches your kids mechanical skills. And don't forget that a tuned bike promotes safety! Find videos online or ask your local bike shop for bicycle tuning tips and advice as you:

  • Check the brakes
  • Inflate the tires
  • Inspect the drive train
  • Replace worn cables
  • Adjust the seat height

2. Map Out an All-day Bike Trip

Is there a local trail you want to explore, or have you heard about a fun tourist sight in a nearby town? Plan a day trip and ride there on your bikes. Remember to pack a picnic, plenty of water and your cameras as you enjoy family fun and exercise.

3. Share Outgrown Bikes

Do you have outgrown bikes collecting dust in your garage? We like to clean them up and share them with neighbors or friends. You could also donate your wheels to a local thrift store or homeless or abuse shelter where other people can use and love your family's outgrown bikes.

4. Build a Bike Obstacle Course

Turn your driveway into a fun and safe bike obstacle course with common items. A maze of traffic cones, small sticks, kitchen stools, flower containers, and figure eights drawn with chalk test your bike riding agility and give your family hours of fun together.

5. Assemble Awesome Streamers

My girls collect beads, ribbon, and other craft supplies that we're going to use to create streamers for our bicycle handlebars. What random supplies do you have lying around your home? Spend an afternoon creating customized streamers that decorate your bikes in style.

6. Buy New Helmets

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that you replace your bike helmet every five years. Have you done that? Take time this month to buy new helmets for you and your growing kids.

7. Ride on a New Terrain

Do you always ride on pavement? Test your bike skills on rocks, grass, or cobblestones. You might just find your new favorite riding spot.

8. Paint Your Bikes

Nothing says "celebrate" like color! Grab spray paint, masking tape, and newspaper, and give your bikes a makeover. Whether you create a rainbow design on your bike or cover your son's boring black bike in bright orange, paint goes a long way toward adding fun to your next bike ride.

9. Trick Out Your Bike With Arts and Crafts

Want to build a basket out of paint sticks or crochet a seat cover? Maybe you need a new bike rack in your garage or back yard. Use your imagination as you create works of art and trick out your bike with everything from paint color sample cards to wooden pallets.

Do these ideas inspire you to dust off your bikes and take a ride? I know my family can't wait to have fun on two wheels. Maybe we'll see you on the trail!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, May 11, 2015

5 Ways to Celebrate the Power of Play

Photo by Bruce McKay (Flickr)

Recess is an endangered part of a student's day in some schools. We know how essential play is to child's physical, social, and emotional growth, so we need to stand up for it! We want to see more excitement on the playground, more carefree chalk drawings on the sidewalks, and more soccer games in the field. How can we celebrate and promote the power of play? This starts at home by providing more playful opportunities for our own children, of course. But beyond that, here are 5 more ideas to spread the magic of play:

Share Play Advocate Posts on Social Media

If we're connected on social media, you know I love to share and celebrate all things play! There are plenty of stellar play advocates to connect with, like @Kaboom and @Playworks. Not only will you learn more, you can help spread awareness, discover new playful ideas, and have fun! There are infinite resources on play-based learning and outdoor adventure bouncing around the social sphere. Jump in!

Donate Toys or Gifts to Play Advocates

Toys have a way of conquering entire rooms, untouched and forgotten. Rather than tossing these lonely items, why not donate them to local charities for another child's enjoyment? Another way to spark playful joy worldwide is to pledge your child's birthday to a organization like Kaboom! In lieu of gifts from family and friends, you can set up a fundraising campaign that "plays it forward". With these donations, Kaboom! Works hard to build playgrounds, create colorful murals, construct theater stages, deliver books, and more. It's a wonderful way to spread happiness and health.

Create Ideal Recess Environments

In some schools, recess is dwindling. Kids are no longer getting enough time to unwind, explore, and make connections. If you want to become an expert and help reverse this trend, consider joining or hosting a Playworks training program. These events focus on creating ideal recess environments at your local school. I know my girls love recess and the chance it offers to run, imagine, and interact with friends. Help you child's school maximize recess, too!

Organize Local Play Times

My family makes time to play each day, and neighbors often stop by to join us. While impromptu play is wonderful, organized get-togethers also offer endless benefits. As a family, you can organize group hikes, board game nights, playground visits, sporting events, picnics, and more. Schedule weekly or monthly play dates, hang invitations at local grocery stores, businesses, and restaurants, and invite the neighborhood. By including others, you share the power of play and encourage your friends and neighbors to be active and engaged. Everyone wins!

Play More!

No matter how hectic and exhausting life gets, play and laughter can ease stress and help smooth the messy details. Sign up for the YMCA's after-school program, play a game of tag in your backyard after dinner, or go for a bike ride around the neighborhood on a Saturday morning. The fresh air, sunshine, and exercise are all key elements to a happy, healthy lifestyle that nips stress at the bud. This is true for both kids and adults!

Play time isn't just for kids. We all need time to unwind, relax, and play! Find a way today to celebrate the power of play and enjoy family time. Whether you try one of my ideas or use your own, there's no better time than now to play!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart