When it comes to children, most of us know the importance of ensuring their basic needs are being met — that they’re eating well, being active and getting enough sleep — but we often don’t extend ourselves the same consideration.
Jam-packed schedules, demanding jobs and active social lives often take precedence over the basic acts of self-care that keep us healthy as adults. “Habits, good and bad ones, start when we’re young,” said Lisa McComb, RD, LD, IBCLC, registered dietitian and lactation consultant at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center.
Whether you’ve forgotten good habits along the way, or never fully established them to begin with, dialing back to the fundamentals can make us healthier adults.
Maintaining a balanced diet — rich in vitamins, minerals and other key nutrients — is important during every stage of life.
“Generally speaking, Americans over-consume calories. A diet that is heavy on refined carbohydrates affects metabolism and produces cravings that contribute to weight gain,” McComb said. She recommends following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk products. It also includes lean meats, such as poultry and fish, as well as other healthy sources of protein like beans, eggs and nuts. Saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugars are noted as being especially damaging to a healthy diet.
“Fresh, frozen or canned — that first baby-food jar of fruits or vegetables was a good choice then, and it’s a good choice now,” McComb said.
Here are her tips for incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet as an adult:
- Start your grocery shopping in the produce section, especially the veggie aisle.
- Commit to trying a new vegetable every week.
- If a favorite fruit isn’t in season, try a frozen or canned option but be sure there are no added sugars or syrups listed on the packaging.
- Pay attention to color; the more variety in the color of your meals, the better. Try to consume a rainbow of fruits and vegetables throughout the week.
Frequent exercise is integral to a person’s health and sense of wellness, but a regular gym routine can be difficult to fit into a busy schedule. While setting aside time for dedicated exercise is necessary, you also should incorporate exercise into your daily activities, similar to how children approach playtime.
“An active child sweats everyday, and so should you. Not only does sweat cool you down, it detoxifies the body, helps to regulate mood, clears the skin and wards off disease,” McComb said.
Small ways to work up a sweat during regular activities:
- Walk wherever you can, always take the stairs and go the long way when possible.
- Speed-walk while doing errands.
- Play with your kids and/or pets.
- Forgo a shopping cart and use a basket at the store if you’re only picking up a few things.
- Clean the house at a faster pace than you normally would.
Most children have beloved bedtime rituals such as lullabies, story time, cuddling up with their favorite teddy bear or being tucked in before going to sleep. These rituals are important because they can help signal to the brain that it’s time to power down and get some much-needed rest. Unfortunately, for many adults, the art of the bedtime ritual often gets lost somewhere during adolescence. Re-establishing it prior to going to sleep can help promote restfulness and lead to better, deeper sleep.
Bedtime-ritual tips to help adults wind down:
- Draw the curtains and dim the lights in your bedroom.
- Have a cup of non-caffeinated tea.
- Give yourself a five-minute scalp, hand or foot massage.
- Listen to soothing music.
- Read a book or magazine.
- Practice deep breathing and meditation.
- Turn off phones, computers and TVs — and don’t take these devices to bed with you.
- Skip the nightcap. Drinking alcohol before bed can decrease your quality of sleep drastically.
We often give children “timeouts” when they’re upset or anxious and need a minute to calm down, but adults can benefit from this kind of mental break as well. “We all need tools to calm ourselves when we’re overly stressed or upset,” McComb said. Taking the time to cool off and come back to a situation can bring a fresh perspective, clarity and emotional resolve.
Tips for an adult timeout:
- Step away from the situation and breathe calmly.
- Spend 20 to 30 minutes alone to evaluate the “big feelings” you’re having. Are you tired? Overwhelmed? Worried about something else? Once you identify the contributing factors to your reaction, consider new ways to re-engage.
- Don’t jump right back into the situation immediately. Take as much time as you can to continue to cool off and regain perspective.
Practice what you preach
Children learn a lot by observing other people and mimicking their behavior. Good modeling can help hardwire healthy habits for children well into their adulthood. “If caregivers model eating well, staying active, keeping a regular sleep time and other positive behavior, children will learn that these are normal aspects of everyday life and be healthier for it,” said Carmen Leung, MS, child life specialist at Sunrise Children’s Hospital.