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November was American Diabetes Month. Before now, I never paid much attention to diabetes because I never had to. All that changed when my little cousin was recently diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. According to St. Joseph's Hospital Cardiac Center, 215,000 people in the US under the age of 20 have been diagnosed with this disease. What is specifically alarming about this is the fact that it used to be a disease that only affected adults! Excess weight and low levels of physical activity can be blamed for the staggering number of children dealing with Type II Diabetes. Luckily, as I have started doing with my little cousins, parents can lay the foundation for their children to lead healthy, active lifestyles while still having fun.
Making healthy choices can become second nature after you remember a few easy tips:
- It's important to limit foods loaded with sodium and solid fat, like pizza and baked goods, to every so often. Good fats can be found in protein and dairy, like yogurt, milk, and cheese.
- When choosing protein, try to go for lean meats and add some variety with fish, eggs, cheese, and beans.
- Try switching your milk from whole milk to skim or 1 percent, to help you get in your daily serving of dairy and eliminate extra fat. (You may also choose to drink a milk alternative such as almond milk or soy milk.)
- Vegetables are a great way to get essential vitamins and nutrients. Look for dark green, red, and orange vegetables like sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and broccoli, to add to your diet.
Also, taking kid-friendly foods and turning them healthy was another trick. Instead of fried chicken fingers, we had oven-baked chicken fingers with sweet potato fries and a glass of milk; instead of steak and mashed potatoes, we tried baked fish and mashed cauliflower. (Believe me, they couldn't believe they were eating cauliflower instead of potatoes!) Additional things like using fruit and vegetables to make yummy smoothies was a big-time hit with the kiddos, and substituting frozen yogurt with healthy toppings over ice cream allowed them to get in something sweet without all the unhealthy parts.
Time to Get Active!
Another important aspect of diabetes prevention is to be active on a regular basis. Like with nutrition, it takes a little creativity, but there are many ways you can get kids to be active without even realizing they are exercising!
Using Video Games
A lot of people will blame technology and video games for low levels of physical activity in today's children, but I think video games can be a great way to get moving! Games like Just Dance and Wii Fit are fun and can give the whole family a great workout. It was fun to get the boys dancing, and the laughter alone from watching some of them seemed to be a workout in itself!
The benefits of yoga are great and varied. Yoga is a good way to relax stressed out children and adults and can be taken as a class or from the comfort of your home. Yoga is great for building flexibility and balance, and for building overall strength as you advance from easier poses to more advanced ones. It is also a great exercise for overweight kids as there are many levels to start at so no one is starting at a point they are not comfortable with.
Skip! Run! Jump!
Using games that kids learn in school and from neighborhood buddies is a great way to get them active without realizing they are exercising. Playing games like tag, hide-and-seek, kickball, etc. are always a hit. We got a big neighborhood game of kickball going one night, and the kids loved it so much that the next night we did a big game of capture-the-flag. Additional activities like nature hikes, ropes courses, and obstacle courses are all great ways to get kids to be active while also having fun!
It can seem daunting to think about a child developing such a serious disease, which has some pretty serious consequences. When I first learned about my cousin I was scared and sad all at the same time. But then I realized that that wasn't doing anything for me, and it was action that I needed. Being creative with food and activities, no matter how big or small, will allow you to get kids on track to a healthier life and teach them lessons that they can carry with them throughout the rest of their lives. And perhaps one of the most important takeaways yet: BE THE EXAMPLE! If you are willing to eat healthy and be active, the chances are that your child will too!
Carolyn is a 20-something-year-old with a passion for life, fitness, and overall well-being. She is an avid cycler, golfer, and has known to bust some serious moves on the dance floor. Check out Carolyn's blog at http://fullonfit.blogspot.com!
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