Get outside. Get moving. Get well.
We are living in a time where answers are sparse to our many questions and insecurities are high. Knowing when to take action and make decisions is difficult. Knowing when to take action and make decisions for our kids is even harder. Regardless of what decisions you are making for you and your family’s health (vaccine, no vaccine, mask, no mask, travel, no travel, etc.), there are two truths that hold:
- We cannot fight the battles in front of us and do what God has called us to do as His people unless our bodies are healthy.
- We cannot achieve health without letting go of a lot of barriers and making increasingly difficult lifestyle changes.
As a mom of a 4, 6, and 8-year-old, I have come to appreciate the many challenges of parenting at different stages and ages. Trying to meet their needs and help them grow into productive and happy human beings is a full-time brain buster and a weight that is often too heavy to bear. Sometimes we even believe the script (the false script I might add) that we have failed our kids and didn’t make the best decisions for them. We feel like we can’t do anything or haven’t done enough. But really, we ARE DOING the best we can day-by-day with the tools we have in front of us.
So, as we are staying calm in the storm around us for our families, what are things we CAN DO to help these little ones? We set goals, we expand our tool box, and we see results. By doing this, we start making changes that will impact our family in a positive way as a family unit, members of our community, and individually improve each persons’ health.
STEP 1: THE GOAL: improve your child’s natural immunity.
STEP 2: EXPAND YOUR TOOL BOX: what you need to accomplish your goal:
- Good food
- Sun & Dirt
- A Good Book
Sounds simple? It really can be. The challenge is creating the lifestyle changes needed to make these simple tools work!
Good food means not just fruits and vegetables, but cutting artificial food coloring, sugars, processed foods, and limiting gluten. All of these things are wreaking havoc on our kids’ immune systems. Meal planning ahead, introducing healthy fats (like nuts and avocados), and cutting back on packaged snacks will make a tremendous difference in how your child’s body is able to absorb good nutrients and build a healthy immune system.
As soon as the school bell rings, get outside for at least 30 minutes per day IN ANY WEATHER. Vitamin D has been shown to improve immune health, and, in America, most of us are deficient in some way (over 40% of us). We are still sifting through the information and research that is coming through regarding Vitamin D, but one correlation has been found. More than 80% of people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 were vitamin D deficient. One of the challenges of these studies is that it is currently difficult to determine exactly how vitamin D may be needed to support immune function, but if we know we need more and our bodies will produce this important vitamin through sun exposure, then this would be the easiest, safest, and cheapest way to supplement this for our children. Additionally, being outside encourages playing in dirt. Dirt can not only bring some smiles (which decreases stress), but also will improve your child’s microbiome by exposing them to different microorganisms, which boosts immune responses. Being outside has also shown to impact our autonomic nervous system in a way that allows us to decrease our overall stress response (except maybe once you realize you have to clean their clothes). Science is proving this simple antidote one study at a time. One Harvard entomologist, E.O. Wilson, talked about his biophilia hypothesis stating that we have an innate emotional affiliation for other living things. More or less, God placed within us an innate desire to enjoy His creation around us. Therefore, our brains powerfully respond to that which we see around us through positive hormone releases. One scientist from Toyko even takes this further in the study of Natural Killer (NK) Immune cells (a type of white blood cell that protects us from diseases) and demonstrated that a couple hours a day outside for only 3 days can boost your NK count by 40%, which means increased natural immunity to anything that may invade the body.
Exercising even 10-20 minutes per day is so important for our immune systems. When your children are outside, encourage games that make them get moving by bending, twisting, jumping, squatting, and running. Get them sweating. This will improve their overall lymph flow, which helps with their general immune responses. Most of all, play WITH them, smile, and laugh!
Take time to read, journal, or draw for 10-30 minutes a day can decrease your child’s stress levels, change their mood, and sometimes take you and them to a different world. Even better, find a nook or swing outside to do these things together. My kids and I love doing nature watercolor paintings together outdoors, talking about God’s creations, and reading about them. The next thing we know, we have spent quality time together, unplugged from screens, and everyone’s “love tanks” are full.
There are so many resources available now that have proven that adequate sleep is beyond important. We cannot allow our bodies to heal from any perspective unless adequate sleep is there. Teach your children good sleep hygiene early and do everything you can to make sure they are getting what they need. Most school-aged children still require 9-11 hours of sleep per night! Some practical things you can do: watch the sunset with them to help them reset their natural sleep rhythms, help them to pray and mediate before bedtime, set the room at a cool temperature, and make sure the room is void of light. Keep these things as consistent as possible day to day, and voila you have a balanced sleep-wake rhythm.
Time is our most precious and hard-to-come-by commodity. In order to do these things and prioritize our family’s health, you have to create margin. Speaking from experience, this is often counter-intuitive to our culture and often our own personalities (personal story). This may mean giving up things like: Netflix, excessive participation in extra-curricular activities, and time spent browsing Instagram; however, it can be the most freeing lifestyle choice that will improve time to play and improve relationships. And, we know, that when relationships are improved, “happy hormones” are released, which creates a happy and secure child. This decreases stress, which improves our child’s overall well-being.
STEP 3: THE RESULT: decreased stress, improved overall health, mood, function, growth, and _________ (you fill in the blank).
So, let’s get to work and change ONE thing this week that could impact our kids in a positive way. I challenge you to see the difference.
Recommended Reads & Resources:
Balanced and Barefoot, Angela J. Hanscom
The Nature Fix, Florence Williams
Buysse DJ. Sleep health: can we define it? Does it matter? Sleep 2014;37:9-17.
The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 106, Issue 3, March 2021, Pages e1343–e1353, https://doi.org/10.1210/clinem/dgaa733