It’s Time to Pump (Clap) You Up!

Have you gotten your 30 minutes of physical activity yet today? Well, you better get moving as it’s National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Whether physical activity is already a part of your lifestyle, or is something that ‘you’ll get around to’ when you have more time, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN) designates the month of May to remind all Americans that creating physically active lifestyles and participating in favorite sports should be a top priority for us all. If you’re one of the ‘I’ll get around to it’ individuals, use this month to set new goals to start getting fit and active. These new habits will have a positive effect on you now as well as for the rest of your life.

According to the PCFSN, less than five percent of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of activity each week. Kids are more physically active than adults with the help of physical education classes and recess; yet only 33 percent are getting active every day. Continue reading

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates

Hippocrates was right on the money, even some 2,400 years ago. I try to remember this ageless wisdom when making everyday food choices; however, the truth is that when under stress all bets are off. We’ve all been there. You’re working extra hours at work to finish a project or get report cards done, and the thought of going home and cooking a meal exhausts you even more, so you go through the drive-through at McDonald’s. You’re having relationship difficulties, so dinner consists of a box of cookies or a bag of chips. Or, maybe you’re caring for a sick family member, and you forget to eat altogether. Of course this is not the “medicine” about which Hippocrates spoke. Food often becomes a relaxation technique to quell our anxiety, comfort us, and/or increase our emotional pleasure when what we really need are nutrient dense foods (aka Continue reading

“Savor the Flavor of Eating Right”…..

… this year’s theme for National Nutrition Month®. For over 30 years, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has sponsored this annual month-long campaign in March to refocus the American public’s attention on the basics of eating healthy. This year’s particular theme was created to remind us all to:

  • develop mindful eating patterns for ourselves and our families;
  • think beyond what we eat and also consider the how, when, why and where; and
  • encourage us to take time to enjoy food traditions and appreciate the pleasures, great flavors and social experiences food can add to our lives.

Continue reading

Heart Healthy Kids

February marks American Heart Month, so let’s take a look at how we can address kids’ heart health. It’s commonly understood that heart disease is the leading cause of death nationally for both men and women (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1999-2013). We’ve known for a long time that heart disease—along with diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and some cancers—is considered to be an obesity-related health issue. The current rate of adult obesity in New York is 27%, which has been steadily rising (with the exception of a slight decline in 2011-2012) since 1990 when it was 9.3%. (The State of Obesity, 2015).

In young children, however, we’re seeing signs of progress. The CDC released a report in 2013 that showed that, among 2-to 4-year olds from low-income families, there was a statistically significant decline in obesity rates between 2008-2011(14.6% to 14.3%). We’ve also seen rates decrease among teens. Great news, right?! It most certainly is, because we know that the majority of cases of heart disease don’t just develop overnight in adulthood…..

….they begin in childhood. The Bogalusa Heart Study began in 1972 when a pediatric cardiologist from Bogalusa, Louisiana, thought it prudent to study the precursors of adult cardiovascular diseases. He started researching the behavioral and biologic risk factors of cardiovascular disease in youth and continued to follow them for many years. The major findings?

  • Observations clearly show that the major causes of heart-related diseases begin in childhood, with documented anatomic changes occurring as early as 5 to 8 years of age.
  • Autopsy studies show signs of atherosclerotic lesions in the aorta and coronary vessels, as well as in the vasculature of other organs, indicating atherosclerosis and hypertension begin early in life.
  • Environmental factors (diet, exercise and cigarette smoking) are significant and influence abnormally elevated cholesterol levels, hypertension, and obesity. As such, children should be introduced to healthy lifestyles as early as possible.

So, what can parents, teachers and our greater society do to make our kids more heart healthy? The revamp of the federal school meal programs under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is a step in the right direction. The “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards include:

  • more fruits and veggies, whole grains, leaner proteins, and low-fat dairy products.
  • lower levels of fat, sugar and sodium in foods and beverages along with more nutritionally dense choices.
  • options to vary foods among elementary, middle and high school age groups.
  • restrictions on fundraisers sold during the school day (e.g. candy bars, bake sales, etc.).
  • requirements that all foods/beverages sold in schools meet the same dietary guidelines, whether from the lunch line, snack shacks or vending machines.

Teachers can take these standards a step further and encourage parents to send their kids to school with healthy snacks. Whether it’s snack time, birthday parties or classroom celebrations of any kind, shifting the focus away from overly-processed, high-fat, sugary foods to “real” food (e.g. fresh fruits and veggies, yogurt parfaits, whole grain tortilla chips and salsa, etc.) will reset kids’ palates so that they actually prefer the taste of healthier foods. Even better, get them moving! Encourage students to choose physical activity-based activities for celebrations, like extra recess time or a game in the gym. Allow students to choose fun items from a “party cart” (e.g. birthday tiara, slinkies, feather boas, crafts, etc.) or allow them special privileges (e.g. choice of story to be read, first in line for lunch, etc.). Suggest that student groups or the school as a whole focus on non-food fundraising.

These same practices apply at home. Parents can set limits on the amount and types of foods and beverages of minimal nutritional value that are kept in the house, encourage more physical activity outdoors, and limit screen time for their kids. Check out The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Pinterest and The ASHA Leader Blog for exceptionally fun and creative ideas! And, remember that even these seemingly small steps are steps in the right direction for their heart health.

Mcneill_Stacy_150px_1411Be well,
Program Coordinator, School Wellness

A New Year, A Healthier New You!

Last month I blogged about a potential hazard of overeating during the holidays: annual, compounding weight gain. Research indicates that most of us never lose those couple of pounds, innocent as they might seem at the time. But, that doesn’t have to be the case! Since it’s now “Resolution Season,” let’s discuss the reality of taking that weight off now and utilizing those same strategies in the future.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: there is no magic pill. Sorry. Our society is rife with books, testimonials, television shows, infomercials, websites, organizations, etc. that endorse a specific diet, eating pattern, cleanse, nutritional supplement, etc. They all promise a slimmer, healthier you. Some work, some don’t. Some are safe, some are not. Some are free, some cost mega-bucks. Making significant changes to your diet can be overwhelming, time-consuming and expensive. Continue reading

Jimmy vs. Michelle: And the Winner Is…………

As the beginning of another school year quickly approaches, I thought I’d throwback to a blog from the past that I really enjoyed writing. I hope it inspires you and your kids to move more—and makes you smile as well!

I hate to be the one to break the news to you….but, summer is almost over.

Almost time to go back to school. Even though I am a 12-month employee, I have taken full advantage of the longer days and spent many an evening working up a sweat on the Erie Canal Trail or at our beautiful state parks. Summertime in Central New York is heaven for those of us who like to stay physically active! Like mine, hopefully you and your kids’ summer has been filled with lots of physical activity… swimming in the pool or at the beach, riding bikes, playing ball or tennis, taking extra-long walks , running in some of the 5K races going on all around CNY, or participating in a grueling potato sack race. Continue reading

Moms and Dads… Take Your Own Advice

Even though I am not a parent myself (at least not to human children), I am surrounded by family and friends who are. I observe them interacting with their children and notice the care and effort they put into creating environments in which their kids will thrive. I have shared the journey with my sister as she became a mother four years ago and have watched her blossom into an amazing parent. She, and most of the parents I know well, work tirelessly to keep their kids safe and healthy, to promote good behavior and to impart wisdom so that their kids will be a “better version” of themselves. They provide opportunities for enrichment, put in countless hours of carpooling, and patiently remind them to look both ways before crossing the street, to share their toys, to not stick their fingers in electrical sockets, and to eat lots of fruits and veggies. And, of course, they understand the importance of being a good role model. Continue reading