By Sarah Jane Duffy and John R. Ratliff, Boomerang staff writers
Are your kids getting enough physical activity? Do you get enough sleep? Are Mom and Dad taking their medications? Is everyone eating balanced meals? If you're like most members of the sandwich generation - raising your own family while also being concerned for your parents' (or grandparents') well-being - family wellness is an ongoing concern that comes up almost every day in some way. Families that share healthy attitudes and habits are more successful at avoiding illness and staying active. Do you have a family wellness plan?
Take inventory of your family's health and do what you can to improve it. The key to a family wellness plan is to set goals. Different generations will have different goals, but by sharing an overall commitment to health, you teach and encourage preventive measures and healthy habits throughout the lifespan.
Each member of your family should develop an action plan that is specific and reasonable. A good action plan has several characteristics:
- It's something that you want to do. You may know that you need to walk more, but if you don't really want to do it, you probably won't. Likewise, you may think your kids need to walk more, but if they don't enjoy it, they won't do it. Find something that they want to do that helps you reach your shared goals.
- It's reasonable. Focus on short-term actions that you can expect to be able to accomplish in a week or so. Long-term actions that don't provide an immediate reward are unlikely to continue.
- It focuses on behaviors. Losing weight is not a behavior, it is an outcome. Your plan should focus on the behaviors that can lead to the outcome, not the outcome itself. So, if your goal is to lose weight, your action plan might be to cut out snacking after 7 p.m. or reduce your portion sizes.
- It answers the questions: What? How much? When? How often? For example, a good action plan might state: "I want to increase my physical activity by riding my bike for at least 30 minutes after dinner, three to four times each week."
- You're confident you will do it. Rate how likely you are to actually do what you plan on a scale from 1 to 10 (low to high). If you can't give it at least a seven, it's not a good plan. Pick something else and work your way up to this.
Have the family members share their action plans and support each other in reaching their goals. Use meal times together to discuss each person's goals and plan. Encourage everyone to be supportive and helpful, and there's no limit to how healthy your family can be.
Here are some healthy habits you and your family might consider for your action plans:
- Use more fresh vegetables and herbs in your cooking, and reduce the amount of salt and seasoning mixes, which tend to be high in sodium and preservatives.
- Plan colorful meals that will appeal to children as well as adults.
- Take your children grocery shopping with you and explain healthy choices.
- Get your children and your parents to eat together as much as possible.
- Plan regular visits to state and local parks for all generations.
- Share hobbies to encourage continued learning and mental wellness.
Family wellness is about modeling the types of behavior you want to see your children - and your parents - exhibit. If you or someone you love is struggling with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or others, consider attending Healthy U, a free healthy lifestyles workshop that teaches your skills and strategies for managing chronic conditions and living a healthier lifestyle.
With any family, there likely will be resistance to any effort to change long-standing behaviors, but be persistent. If family members set good goals and make realistic action plans, they will start seeing results immediately. This will make them more likely to continue to adopt healthier habits. A healthy family is a happy family.
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