The proper lifestyle tools become lifelong, lifesaving gifts. Caring for young children compels us to create a healthful environment. We begin to put greater thought into balancing sleep/wake schedules, exercise, diet, the air our youngsters breathe and the surfaces they touch. So how can we be sure we are making the right choices? One way is to hear the claims and then weigh the evidence. It helps to choose educated professionals with whom we share common values. The following article draws evidence-based data from the perspective of prevention, functional medicine & systems-based approaches to healing.
Why is sleep so important for our children? Until the age of about 5, the human body generally requires between 12-13 hours of sleep a day; astonishing to some – well known by others. During sleep, the brain and body develop. Less than 11 hours of sleep a night during this crucial developmental stage may severely impact the child, with negative life long implications. Throughout the life span, sleep requirements may change. Click here to read more about recommended upper and lower limits of sleep from birth to 25 years of age.
What are the recommendations regarding exercise for our children? The 21st century brings with it the recognition that a sedentary lifestyle correlates highly with deterioration of the cardiovascular system. Specifically, the more we sit, the greater our chances of developing blood clots, obesity and poor posture – all of which stress the heart. Fortunately, even if we have fallen into couch potato patterns, or have otherwise become addicted to our laptops, once we begin to work more physical activity into our daily routine, we can reverse the premature aging of our cardiovascular system. What a blessing to be able to help our children avoid the sedentary habits that can drive them to an early grave.
Two essential questions might pop into one’s mind: (1) How much exercise is really necessary for the human body? and (2) How much physical activity do children really need in order to define theirs as a heart-healthy lifestyle? For these answers we turn to the experts. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least an hour (60 minutes – which can be divided into two 30-minute intervals) of exercise a day for children over the age of two. Click here to see what the AHA concludes regarding health implications for our children.
How can I get my child moving? Once we define the questions and find the answers, we then need to be able to implement. Easier said than done. If you are interested in encouraging the next generation to form healthy lifestyle habits, you are in the company of a growing number of caregivers on the lookout for creative tips on how to physically engage children and young adults who are otherwise flooded with sedentary technological activities. Click here for ten heart healthy ideas.
While cardiovascular exercises are essential for several systems – including circulatory, skeletal and respiratory, stretching exercises are also important. In fact, stretching may be one of the most important interventions for athletes, when the goal is to keep the body limber. Remember: flexibility is what helps protect against soft tissue injuries (i.e. sprains and strains) during sports activities. This is a huge point to keep in mind for adolescents. Click here for some valuable interventions.
Yoga is another important approach. When done properly, yoga helps more than just ligaments, tendons and joints. Well appreciated by adults who value balance of mind, body and spirit, yoga is able to be enjoyed by children as young as two years of age. If you think your child might be interested, click here for a few child-friendly poses.
Building a strong mind & body involves physical exercise (noted earlier), and well balanced nutrition. Most people understand the impact of calcium, Vitamin D and other popularly advertised nutrients on the body; however, few people are aware of the role these play in brain development. In fact, most are unfamiliar with the tremendous impact of nutrition, in general, on such diagnoses as ADHD, IBS and other issues that involve a variety of organ systems. Learn more by clicking here. Young children require on-target intervention in order to maximize their potential as they grow.
When it comes to the air we breathe, we usually consider air ‘quality’ – and there are several interventions (including plants – click here for a few examples of air filtering plants, and here for additional information) that can help. HEPA air filters are generally considered safe and effective, whereas the ‘ionic air purifier’ technology is becoming less respected by environmental groups. Click here to learn about HEPA filters.
Flu, Humidity and Vitamin D. Low humidity sets the stage for the transmission of airborne viruses, including the ‘flu’ virus (especially in winter months). When the dry air season combines with low levels of Vitamin D, the body’s immunity is low enough to permit the flu to multiply and make us sick. This is why in the north eastern United States, when the air is driest (beginning February, when the body’s Vitamin D stores are lowest after 5 months of sunshine deprivation), we understand ‘this is flu season’ . . . and flu shots become recommended by conventional practitioners, beginning in November. For those who are either unable to take the flu shot (i.e. if you ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome ) or if you simply choose not to have it for any other reason, there are ways to boost your immune system to avoid the flu. Click here for recommendations. With or without a respiratory illness, in addition to drinking enough water each day, humidification of household air is important to keep the eyes, nasal passages, lips, mouth and throat hydrated.
How can I humidify my home? When the winter weather makes the air outside cold and dry, whether you heat your home with electricity, oil, gas or a wood burning stove, the air inside your home is just as dry – and needs to be humidified. Plants can help. Depending on the type of plants you have, watering more often might help. Gardeners usually advise against ‘misting’ leaves – but that also depends on the plant. Click here for additional creative ideas on how to humidify your home. Humidifiers are also a popular intervention during winter months. To learn more about how to choose a humidifier, click here.
How else can I protect my family during the dry winter, flu-season months? Giving the immune system the proper tools to protect our children is FAR more effective than trying to kill or destroy any/every ‘germ’ (virus, bacteria, fungus) with which they may come into contact. In fact, research shows that children exposed to allergens (including animal dander, mice & even roaches!) in the first year of life have less respiratory issues than those who are raised in a more ‘sterile’ environment. Choosing non-toxic cleaning products for all surfaces – including wood, is a challenge; however, it is well worth the effort if you are interested in preserving our earth for future generations. Here are some tips on how to keep your home environment earth friendly: click here.
Ask your child’s pediatrician or pediatric nurse practitioner about how you can boost your child’s immune system using foods, fluids, and dietary supplements. Although these are ‘over-the-counter’ there are important reasons why it is best to consider your child’s unique body, metabolism, growth pattern and genetic make-up before selecting foods, herbs and supplements. Your wellness provider can help.
Here’s to healthful choices for you and your entire family! ~Dr. Iankowitz