While the year is still marked by a public health crisis, personal health reigns. Families are embracing a more proactive approach to staying healthy as the fall season comes in, says Michelle B. Smith, a registered dietician.
“Many families are wanting to take more control of their health and realize that we actually have more control of our health than we previously thought.”
Ready to move family health and wellness to the top of your priority list? Here are five wellness trends to track.
1) Greener Meals
More Americans are serving up plant-based foods: Yale University’s program on Climate Change Communication reported that 94 percent of Americans are willing to eat more fruits and vegetables than they did last year. Smith expects that trend to continue. “We are definitely seeing more interest in plant-based diets from families,” she says. “I think a huge driving force behind this trend is the desire to improve one’s overall health and wellbeing.”
Eleven green foods that you can add more to your family’s ongoing diet: avacado, kale, brussel sprouts, kiwi, edamame, green tea, basil, seaweed, green beans, green bell peppers, asparagus, leafy greens of all kinds.
2) High-Tech Tracking
Research in nutrition and physical activity suggests that preschoolers should take up to 15,000 steps daily and middle schoolers should rack up 11,000. Multiple sources, including the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommend an hour of physical activity per day. With many kids not getting the physical education they need at school and some recesses on pause, that’s no easy feat, so more families are looking to wearable activity trackers that motivate kids to move.
Wearable technology was last year’s top fitness trend, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Feature-rich kids’ fitness trackers from well-known brands like Fitbit, Garmin, and Leapfrog are keeping up with their grown-up counterparts: Along with counting steps, some offer game play and challenges, rewards for meeting exercise goals, and different settings for different types of exercise. Using integrated apps, parents can monitor health and activity metrics, monitor chores and screen time, and even dole out allowances.
Trackers are trendy, but do they work? Scientists say yes — in multiple studies, kids who use fitness trackers are more active and spend more time outdoors. Activity trackers may not be right for every child, depending on their age, temperament, technical savvy, and level of motivation. Families who want to try out the trend without worrying that their child will lose — or lose interest — in a pricey device can find basic models that track steps and a few other metrics at major retailers for around $20.
3) Focus on Vision
Thanks to increasing hours spent focusing on small screens, childhood myopia (or nearsightedness) was deemed a global epidemic in 2019. In Europe and North America, up to half of children are myopic by the time they leave high school; in Asia, rates are as high as 90 percent.
Then the pandemic ushered in long-term remote learning, with school children suddenly spending their entire school day online. It’s as if all of our good senses just collapsed.Families who relaxed screen time rules during the pandemic haven’t really ramped them back up.
This upswing in hours spent on digital devices is causing eye strain, blurry vision, dry eyes, and worsening problems like myopia, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. With a school nurse shortage, many children don’t have access to routine vision screenings at school; even with vision screening, some common vision problems like convergence insufficiency, or problems coordinating the eyes to focus, are easy to miss, says Alan P Pearson OD Ph.D.
Our eyes function best with a mix of close-range and distance viewing, so long hours on screens without breaks are problematic. Parents can look for signs of vision problems that might not seem obvious as first by tuning into four categories of symptoms: feeling-related complaints (“my eyes feel sore”), descriptions of how objects look (“the words look blurry”), changes in performance (like skipping or misreading words), and behavioral signs, which could include avoiding close-vision tasks like reading, unintentionally winking, or holding reading materials very close to the face.
4) Beyond P.E.
Despite the best efforts of their parents and teachers, many kids are getting less exercise during the pandemic, according to researchers from University of Southern California. With extended limitations on extracurricular activities, more families continue to look for exercise options online. Kids are getting in on the virtual exercise trend; these days, kids can jump into virtual workouts and classes ranging from HIIT (high-intensity interval training) to yoga to dance fitness.
If a remote fitness class doesn’t sound appealing, one-on-one fitness coaching might be more motivating, especially for tweens and teens with specific athletic goals in mind.
5) Better Sleep
First, the good news: Thanks to social distancing and reduced travel, fewer children experienced ear infections, colds, and other minor illnesses over the past year, say medical doctors. Because these illnesses routinely disrupt slumber for babies, toddlers, and young children, families may have fewer illness-related sleep complaints.
But with family schedules still in flux, daily routines, including sleep routines, may be shifting. In fact, there’s even a name for COVID-19-induced sleep disruptions: coronasomnia. You may be surprised to hear that coronavirus and sleep issues go hand-in-hand, but the bottom line is stress and sleep don’t mix. According to the Sleep Foundation, the nation’s leading source for evidence-based, medically-reviewed sleep information, coronasomnia is characterized by increased sleep issues during the pandemic, as well as anxiety, depression and stress. According to sleep doctors, the average time it takes to fall asleep is 30 minutes, but for those suffering from COVID-somnia, it can take hours to do so.
And this form of sleep regression can be a troubling return of an undesirable sleep behavior that kids and parents thought they had mastered. While sleep regression is developmentally appropriate for babies, lack of sleep at night for older children and adults can result in over-tired days, stressed-out behavior, irritable stretches of light sleep or crying at night.
To master the issues, take inventory of your family’s supposed sleep problems. Parents should really do a gut check about what everyone’s experiencing in terms of sleep, and how big of a problem it really is for the child and the family. Is your child really being affected adversely from a developmental standpoint or is it really just the stress of upholding what life is supposed to look like?
Determine your family sleep priorities. If you’re operating in survival mode and just need to nab enough shut-eye to get through the next day, don’t waste a moment worrying about bringing your toddler into bed with you if it will help everyone get more sleep.
On the other hand, if keeping your child’s daily routine running smoothly helps keep stress at bay, don’t feel guilty about prioritizing a consistent sleep schedule. Build in regular times for movement, especially in the morning, when light exposure helps regulate sleep patterns and pave the way for a smoother bedtime. Limit screen time, especially in the final hour or two before bed. Although we all thought the pandemic’s end was in sight, it returned with a vengence. With all matters related to your family’s health, give yourself credit and emotional appreciation for the kind of year your family has had. Real family health is related to honesty and compassion for all.
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