While we were on tour, we had the opportunity to speak with our dear friend, Dr. Kate Tulenko, about how parents could better equip their children for healthier lives. Tulenko is IntraHealth International’s vice president of health systems innovation. She has been an advisor to national governments on health policy and reform and served on expert panels for the World Health Organization, the American Public Health Association, the Global Health Workforce Alliance, and the American Hospital Association.
Here is our interview with Dr. Kate Tulenko:
Tulenko: As a pediatrician and global health expert, I’ve traveled around the world and have seen firsthand what it takes for people to live happy, healthy lives in a variety of changing environments. There are thousands of lessons you could teach your children to help them improve their health, but they all boil down to a few main lessons;
Eat a plant-based diet. Raising animals for food is not only bad for human health but also it’s bad for the environment. Teach your children how to cook, enjoy a plant based diet and eat meat in moderation (or not at all). Every culture has lots of traditional dishes that can be made either vegetarian or with meat as a flavorant rather than the centerpiece. Teach them that if given the opportunity, choose fish over pork and beef.
Reduce stress. Our globalized world is increasingly fast-paced and competitive and the stress from keeping up can rob you of your happiness and health. Teach your children how to recognize and reduce their stress. Easy ways to reduce stress include meditation, deep breathing, yoga, positive thinking, gratitude, smiling, progressive body relaxation, exercising, getting sufficient sleep, spending time with friends and family (strong social bonds are strongly linked with better health), and setting aside time in your day to do activities you enjoy. Your children can also reduce stress by planning their time and avoiding situations that cause stress.
Practice a life-long sport: Exercise has been linked to longer, happier lives and to health benefits ranging from reductions in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic pain, and depression. Most of us are physically active as children and teens but tend to become much less active with the work and family responsibilities of adulthood. To make matters worse, many children’s sports such as lacrosse, football, cheerleading, and gymnastics aren’t generally played by adults or they can’t easily be continued into adulthood. (My unsustainable childhood sports where volleyball, fencing, and crew.) Help your children to find a sport they love that can be easily carried on through adulthood such as running, soccer, swimming, cycling, dancing, and tennis.
Resist peer-pressure. Peer pressure is linked to many health and social ills including drug and alcohol use, other addictions and irresponsible behaviors, early sex, poor diets, and bad spending and saving habits. Teach your children how to determine their own values and goals and resist peer pressure. Teach them that people who pressure them to do what they don’t want to do are not their friends. These skills will also help them resist the advertising will encounter throughout their lives that will undermine their self-esteem and encourage them to eat and buy things they shouldn’t.
Get help: No matter how well we live our lives, we all encounter health questions or problems throughout life. Teach your children to be proactive about their health, educate themselves, and reach out to healthcare providers when they have a concern.