Five Tips for a Healthy New Year

The beginning of a new year is a great time to help children adopt some habits that are good for their health. Our pediatricians offer these five important tips that every child (and adults, too!) should follow to stay well — not only this winter but all year long.

 

healthy foods, shoes and jump rope in shape of heart

Healthy Tip #1: Use best handwashing practices to prevent infections — including colds, flus, pink eye, and other germs.

Rebecca Berger, MD, MPH, a pediatrician with General Pediatrics at Woodlawn, offers the following handwashing advice:

  • wet your hands (you can use cool or warm water)
  • lather (any soap will do)
  • scrub (20 seconds, which is singing happy birthday twice)
  • rinse (cool or warm water)
  • dry

Use these steps before and after toileting (including diaper changes), preparing food, caring for animals, and assisting those who are sick.

 

Healthy Tip #2: Get a good night’s sleep.

“It's hard on the whole family when babies, toddlers, kids and teenagers aren't sleeping as well or as much as usual,” says Lisa Troy, MD, a pediatrician with North Rockland Pediatrics.

She says this makes it important to be consistent with bedtime, both during the week and on the weekends and holidays — especially for young children.

She offers these guidelines for how much sleep different age groups need per night:

  • A child ages 3 to 6 years old requires 11 to 13 hours of sleep.
  • Grade school kids ages 7 to 12 years old need 10 to 11 hours of sleep.
  • Teenagers need 9 hours of sleep.

 

Healthy Tip #3: Eat a balanced diet.

When it comes to eating right, Rubina Bhatia, MD, a pediatrician with North Rockland Pediatrics, likes to use the analogy of an expensive sports car.

“We need the best kind of fuel to make sure the car runs well and fast! The same goes for our body. We need to fuel our body with right ingredients so it functions well,” she says. A well-balanced diet consists of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. 

Her recommendations:

  • Children and adolescents should fill half of their plates with fruits and vegetables, 1/4 with whole grains (such as whole wheat bread and pasta) and 1/4 should have protein (like lean meat, poultry, fish, and eggs)
  • Drink water and avoid sugary drinks like soda and juices. 
  • Eliminate processed cookies, candies, chips from your home. Keep fruits and vegetables washed and cut in the fridge for kids to grab instead.

 

Healthy Tip #4:  Limit screen time.

It can be tempting to use phone, tablets, and TVs to keep toddlers and children occupied. But Vicente Garcia, MD, a pediatrician with Brookfield Children's Physicians, points out that this habit can quickly backfire.

“The fascinating sounds and colors/videos streaming from our phones provides a major distraction for babies and toddlers, instead of encouraging them to focus on people and activities currently happening around them. It also introduces the concept of relying on an electronic device to prevent boredom, rather than learning the skill of solving basic problems such as knowing how to fill one's own time,” Garcia says.
While in today’s world it is impossible to completely avoid electronics, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers these simple guidelines:

  • For babies, screen time should be avoided except for video chatting.
  • 18 to 24 months: parents may choose to watch education programs with their toddlers.
  • 2 to 5 years old: screen time should not exceed one hour.
  • 6 and older: parents should make sure to balance electronic use with sleep,  schoolwork, activities, and socialization to find the right balance for their child. In addition, electronics should be prohibited at mealtimes.

Healthy Tip #5: Get plenty of exercise.

“Without the distraction of screens, it can be much easier to help our children be active,” Garcia says. Since every child is different, he points out it’s a good idea to encourage youngsters to engage in activities they enjoy, such as: going on walks, hiking in the woods, grocery shopping, gardening, shooting hoops, riding a bike, fishing, exploring in the park, or playing a sport.

When it comes to how much to aim for, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers the following guidelines:

  • Pre-school aged children: Integrate regular activity throughout the day. This can include running, walking, dancing, and doing gymnastics.
  • Children and adolescents 6 to 17 years old: one hour a day or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. This should include muscle-strengthening exercises three days a week (such as climbing or doing push-ups) and bone-strengthening exercises (like running or jumping) three days a week.

Healthy habits add up

When you teach children to make smart choices, you are helping them create habits that will help them grow into healthy adults.