Living a healthy lifestyle isn't just for adults. Children also need good nutrition, exercise, and sleep to support their growing bodies. Setting goals as a family is a savvy strategy to try and get everyone what they need to be healthy and strong. Better yet, creating some family health goals may help you focus on having more quality, together time -- and a lot of fun along the way.
Before even beginning to plan your family-friendly health goals, it’s important to understand the qualities of a good goal. To be effective at setting and achieving your goals, the Mayo Clinic (CDC) suggests making them “S.M.A.R.T.” It’s a simple acronym that stands for:
Specific: To tell if a goal is specific, identify the requirements and constraints needed to reach the goal. For example, a general goal might be for your family to “lose weight together,” but a specific goal would be to “walk every evening for 30 minutes after dinner together.”
Measurable: To make a goal measureable, think in terms of numbers. For example, how many minutes do you need to spend on an activity per day.
Attainable: Don’t set yourself up for failure by aiming for out-of-sight goals. Choose smaller goals that you can use as stepping stones toward a bigger, long-term achievement. For example, a runner might dream of completing a marathon, but set a short-term goal of running 10 miles a week for two months.
Relevant: Set goals that are clearly related to what you want to accomplish.
Time: Writing down a definite timeline for reaching your goal helps provide a framework for getting the job done.
Now that you know the best practices for goal setting, it’s time to start thinking about your family’s hopes and dreams. Could your family find ways to spend more time together? And better yet, could you devote more family time to healthy activities, like getting active or cooking nutritious meals? We’ve got six simple ideas for how to build more health, wellness, and togetherness into your family’s routine:
1. Family cook-off challenge. Gathering family members together for a healthy cook-off challenge is a fun event geared toward eating right. Suggest that each dish prepared for the cook-off include a fruit, vegetable, whole grain, or low-fat dairy product—or even a certain calorie count. Set up a chart with each family member’s name where they can sign up for their dish, noting which type of nutritious food they’ll bring (and calorie count, if desired). Other health-conscious parameters could include no sugary desserts, no sodas, and no processed snacks.
2. Backyard fitness tournament. It can be difficult to get your whole family to the gym at once, so why not get some exercise in your own backyard? Choose some easy fitness activities that can help family members of all ages work up a sweat, such as push-ups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks. Make this measureable by setting a specific number of reps to do for each exercise. For example, to complete the tournament, each person must do 10 pushups, 20 sit-ups, and 30 jumping jacks, and then jog five times around the backyard. If your family has a competitive spirit, time family members for each circuit and see who can complete their exercises the fastest!
3. Group yard work and games. Getting fresh air and exercise while completing chores at the same time is a win-win for busy families. Set aside one hour on the weekend to clean up the yard in a way that’s fun. Rake piles of leaves, and then jump in them together. Compete to see who can pull the most weeds. Reward gardening with a family game of croquet or badminton. An added bonus: If you make your backyard a fun place to be, kids will likely be cheerier when they chip in with outdoor chores.
4. Sunday night healthy dinner. By making an extra-nutritious dinner a weekly ritual, kids can look forward to family face time and avoid scheduling other activities. In addition to the emotional benefits of eating together as a family, you can use this time to model healthy habits. Cook nutrient-rich, low-fat meals with plenty of whole grains, veggies, and lean meat. Have fruit for dessert instead of ice cream, cakes, or cookies. Serve water or low-fat milk instead of soda or juice.
5. Get active with grandparents. Including grandparents in your family health activities can add a special element — and help even more of your loved ones work toward a healthier lifestyle. Set a date for the kids to meet up with their grandparents and plan something active. You might suggest playing together on the beach, visiting a playground, or walking around a museum on a rainy day. Keep the logistics light and the exercise easy and fun.
6. Lights out on time. Kids need plenty of sleep for optimum health, just like adults. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), kids three to five years old need 11 to 13 hours of sleep. Children aged five to 12 need 10 to 11 hours sleep. While busy schedules may make routines difficult for families, the NSF recommends that kids maintain a consistent bedtime. If you’ve gotten off track, dedicate a week to setting healthy sleep habits as a family. Adults also need about eight hours of
sleep, so be sure to wind down early enough to get the rest you need, too.
HealthAhead Hint: Be a Role Model
Research has shown what’s called a “halo effect” among family members when it comes to gaining, and maybe even losing, weight. This means family members tend to either all gain weight, or all lose it. Researchers suggest this is largely because they share similar eating and exercise habits. With this in mind, think about what kind of influence you’d like to make on your own family when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, eating right, and exercising often. Your own healthy choices may help ensure that your kids stay healthy too.