The best place for children to learn about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle isn't school or medical centers but at home. Parental education is strongly linked with children’s health and wellbeing and plays an important role in the fight against lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes developing later in life.
According to the World Journal of Diabetes, Asian countries account for more than 60 percent of the world’s diabetic population. This figure may sound alarm bells for parents in Asia, where changing lifestyles have spurned an epidemic of the disease. You can play a major role in the fight against diabetes by ingraining healthy lifestyle habits in your kids. To help you get started, we've identified four simple but effective ways to educate your kids on how to stay healthy and to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes – the most common and preventable form of the disease.
1. Get active with fun family activities
Regular aerobic exercise has been linked to a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life so it is important to stay active as a family.
Encourage your children to take up an aerobic sport like dancing and football or martial arts that focus their attention on beating their opponents or personal best instead of the actual exercise.
Consider exercises you can do with your children: going for a walk to the park or for a swim to the nearest beach or aquatic centre. Bike riding is a popular sport and one people of different ages can enjoy together. You can also exercise indoors with your kids using 'exer-gaming' – video games available on consoles like Wii and Xbox that make the experience fun.
2. Limiting screen time for you and your kids
According to the British Medical Journal1, children who spend more than three hours watching television, playing video games or glued to smartphones tend to have more excess body fat and have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who spend only one hour a day in front of screens.
Your tech-obsessed kids are unlikely to thank you for limiting their time on Facebook and YouTube, but there are ways to mitigate their pain. Rather than setting an arbitrary daily time limit, share your legitimate concerns with them and come up with a daily allowance you can all live with. Establish tech-free zones such as the dinner table and tech-free times such as before bedtime.
In 2016, researchers at the University of California2 proved sleep deprivation is magnified by exposure to the blue light of smartphones, while a growing body of evidence suggests sleep deprivation can lead to a pre-diabetic state.
3. Family friendly & children fun snacks
Since sugar in the body comes from our food, the quickest route to a healthy lifestyle and reducing your children’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes is to limit their intake of sugary snacks like candy and soft drinks. But refined sugar is not the sole driver of diabetes and weight gain. Did you know carbohydrates like potato chips and white rice turn into sugar the moment they reach the stomach?
The solution, according to Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare3, is a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet that can be applied to all kinds of meals – even snacks. Instead of stocking up on chocolates, chips and cup noodles, keep a few hard-boiled eggs ready in the fridge with mayonnaise to flavour. Low-carb snacks like cheese sticks, seaweed chips and roll ups – use slices of cold meat, nori sheets or lettuce as a wrap and fill with cheese – fit easily in lunch boxes while dips made of avocado, egg or sweet potato can cure your family’s hunger pangs any time of the day. Make sure you've got plenty of carrot and celery sticks on hand for dipping.
4. Lead by example and don’t forget to laugh
Don't expect your kids to take your legitimate concerns about limiting tech time to heart if you excuse yourself to answer work emails. Likewise, munching on high-carb snacks and drinking alcohol to excess sets a bad example.
Exercising with your children by simply walking to your local park or kicking a football around can help reduce the risk of diabetes and a whole host of modern illnesses, while new research by Statistics Canada4 shows a children's level of physical activity rises five to 10 minutes for every 20-minute increase in the physical activity of a parent.
The same study found children with overweight parents were twice as likely to be overweight compared to children with non-overweight parents, and we know nine out of 10 of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. If diabetes and obesity tend to run in families, then so can healthy lifestyle habits – if parents lead by example.
'Laughter is the best medicine' is not just a saying; depression, anxiety, and stress are linked to poorer health outcomes. In the same vein, positive emotions like gratitude and fulfilment actually encourage you to lead a healthy lifestyle. Have fun with your families!
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