How to make your family healthier in 2013

Most people set individual New Years resolutions. This year, consider making family resolutions. Rather than setting goals that overwhelm, choose to focus on creating simple habits around the basics of nutrition, exercise and family time. Help instill healthy lifestyle changes that will last a lifetime, and encourage each member of your family to stick with them. By committing to fewer goals with more focus, you will quickly root yourself in healthy practices—without feeling the need to completely overhaul your life. Here are five small changes you can make to easily integrate valuable new habits into your family’s routine in 2013:

Always eat breakfast

When you go to sleep at night, your body shifts into fasting mode as it rebuilds and repairs. When you wake in the morning, new processes are set in motion as the body prepares to walk, talk, think and move. It needs fuel to do this.

That’s why it’s so important for every member of your family to break the fast with a healthy meal. If you skip breakfast or eat more than 60 minutes after waking, your body sets in motion a destructive chain of events that includes increased stress hormones, lack of focus, loss of muscle mass and imbalances in blood sugar that lead to cravings and crankiness.

Here are some quick and light options for those who need to inch toward this healthy habit:

  • 2 sticks of low-fat string cheese and 1 apple or medium-sized piece of fruit
  • 1 cup unsweetened oatmeal with cup milk and cup berries
  • 1 whole-grain waffle with 1 tablespoon peanut or almond butter
  • 6 ounces plain yogurt topped with cup berries and 1 tablespoon low-fat granola
  • 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese and 1 fresh peach

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Water makes up nearly 60 percent of our body composition and is a critical component with many uses. Not only does it help transport nutrients and hormones, metabolize fat, lubricate tissues for better digestion, and regulate body temperature, but it also releases toxins, mediates brain chemistry to improve thinking and clarity, and much more.

So, how much water should each family member drink? The daily intake for men should be 120 ounces, while women need 88 ounces, and kids need between 40 and 64 ounces. Kids who are active or sick need more fluids.

Consider these tips for making water a daily habit:

  • When you wake up in the morning, drink a full glass of water before you eat breakfast. To help you remember, leave a full glass in a place you’re likely to see it. When you drink your H2O, fill a glass for each member of your family, too.
  • Set an alarm on your watch, phone or computer to go off every hour, signaling you to drink a glass of water.
  • Get your kids in the habit by offering rewards for bringing home empty water bottles at the end of their school day.

Plan for sleep

Sleep is a critical time to power up the immune system, replenish healthy neurotransmitters and lower hunger-promoting hormones. The result? You build resistance to things like the flu, anxiety, depression, cravings and the desire to overeat. So getting your family on a regular sleep schedule can have all kinds of benefits.

As a rule, children between the ages of 3 and 6 need 11 to 12 hours of sleep per night, while children between 7 and 12 need 10 to 11 hours. Teenagers need eight to nine hours, whereas adults need seven to eight hours. If you’re not getting enough sleep now, you can make this a new habit by going to bed 15 minutes earlier every night for a week. Then, go to bed 30 minutes earlier the next week. Keep adding on 15-minute increments until it becomes habit to go to bed at a time that allows you the sleep you need.

Move your bodies

Exercise is a critical component to regulating stress. Every time you move, your body secretes chemicals that regulate stress and increase feel-good hormones like serotonin. Even 20 minutes of moderate exercise will move you out of stress and into a more relaxed state. Find an exercise that builds on something you and your family already love to do. If you enjoy being out in nature, go for a family hike rather than trudging it out alone on the treadmill. If you like the park, head there to take a long walk together, ride your bikes or play a game of Frisbee. Remember, the quantity doesn’t matter at first. It’s the quality of the activity that counts, especially when its time well spent together.

Focus on gratitude

Starting the year off with a healthy outlook helps build commitment. You can encourage positive thinking by focusing on what you have, rather than on what you don’t have. When you feel stressed to get it all done, remember to focus on the abundance present in your life—the family, friends and community that keep you so busy.

Heres a simple technique that will open you up to gratitude: Go around the dinner table and have each family member say two things they are grateful for that day. Not only is it impossible to feel disappointment at the same time you’re being thankful, this healthy habit also creates connected conversation and bonding that will serve your family for a lifetime.

Make planning healthy goals a family discussion. Kids need to be part of the process so that they feel included and will take more initiative. By following even one or two of these tips, you will improve your family’s health and create positive experiences and memories for the year ahead.

Julie Hammerstein is a certified nutritionist, an expert in weight loss and family wellness, and the author of Fat is Not a Four-Letter Word. Visit juliehammerstein.com for more information.