Long-term health is not something that many young people routinely consider. After all, it’s easy to feel invincible during one’s childhood and adolescence. But the steps that young people take early on can affect their health as they get older.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, establishing healthy behaviors during childhood and adolescence is more beneficial to long-term health than trying to change poor behaviors in adulthood. The following are some ways young people can set the course for healthy outcomes throughout life.
Prioritize healthy foods. According to the childhood recreation group Mountain Kids, habits and actions performed subconsciously are hard to break because repeat habits trigger dopamine in the brain, causing pleasurable feelings that reinforce the behavior. So grabbing a slice of cake after school for a snack becomes rote. Instead, stocking the refrigerator and pantry with sliced fruits and vegetables, low-fat yogurt, lean protein like hummus and whole wheat dipping crackers can set the course for more responsible eating behaviors.
Eat meals and shop together. Kids can learn what healthy eating and portion control looks like if it is modeled by their parents. Children should be involved with reading nutrition labels and understanding the ingredients that comprise the foods they commonly eat. When dining out, choose restaurants that utilize menus that indicate the caloric content of meals. Children will learn to recognize and embrace nutritious foods and that can continue into adulthood.
Eating as a family also benefits mental health. Stanford Children’s Health says eating together as a family can encourage children’s confidence in themselves and improve communication.
Children who regularly converse and interact with their parents may be less likely to engage in substance abuse or act out at school.
Increase physical activity. The CDC says 21 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 are obese, and two in five students have a chronic health condition. A sedentary lifestyle may be one contributor to these statistics. At home and in school, adults can encourage physical activity as an effective means to prevent obesity. The Department of Health and Human Service recommends that children and adolescents age six and older get at least one hour a day of moderate or vigorous aerobic activity, such as running or biking. Muscle- and bone-strengthening activities also are recommended. Kids who learn early on to appreciate physical activity reap long-term benefits that extend well into adulthood.
Avoid tobacco. Tobacco and nicotine vaping products can contribute to many negative health conditions. Youngsters who avoid these products throughout their lives may improve longevity and reduce their risk for various illnesses.