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As we head into the winter months, it can be a little more difficult to keep up healthy habits with our kids. The long days of summer, filled with lots of outdoor time and fresh produce from farmer’s markets, have been replaced by cold days of indoor activity. But that doesn’t mean we can’t reinforce healthy practices all year long.

When it comes to developing healthy habits, setting a good example for your kids is the best policy. When children see parents choosing a healthy lifestyle, they’re more likely to do the same. The habits they form while they’re young— eating healthy foods, ensuring enough rest, or staying active—can last a lifetime.

Eat healthy meals and snacks

Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, to serve your family. Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables also contain vitamins and minerals, although the processing of these products sometimes adds ingredients such as sugar, salt, or preservatives. Be sure to read the labels so you can choose what’s best for you and your family.

Aim for a diet rich in whole grains, nuts, and healthy fats such as in olive, sesame, peanut, or other oils rich in unsaturated fatty acids.

Although comfort foods like mac and cheese, pizza, and burgers are okay on occasion, they should not be part of a regular diet since many of these foods are high in fat, sugar, and salt. While shopping, limit purchases of processed snack foods such as chips, candy, and ice cream.

Encourage kids to drink water regularly. Stick with plain water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages to cut down on empty calories.

All parents know that kids are always hungry after school! When choosing after-school snacks, offer healthy alternatives to highly processed foods such as celery with peanut butter, carrot sticks, fruit, string cheese, and whole-grain crackers.

Get enough sleep

Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep. Not only is sleep an important part of a child's physical and emotional health, it also can play a role in how well they do in school.

Having a consistent bedtime routine can help ensure a good night’s sleep. Incorporate predictability into your child’s routine—for example, a bedtime snack followed by a bath, then reading time or listening to relaxing music. Consider cutting off screen time when it's getting close to bedtime.

Get moving

Make physical activity part of your family’s routine. Even in cold weather, you can get outside with your kids. Turn off the screens and head out for a brisk walk. And of course, when the snow comes, lots of winter-weather fun comes with it—from building a snowman, sledding or jumping in the snow with your family pet.

Encourage your kids to try group activities, such as team sports, dance, or martial arts. These can help a child’s growth and self-esteem.

Another holiday season has come and gone, and many of us are still enjoying memories of family dinners, happy hours with friends, and holiday baked goods. Along with those memories might be a few pounds gained and a drop in energy. Don’t worry—with a little effort and focus, your body can recover from holiday excesses.

If you’d like to enter the new year with renewed energy, here are a few tips:

Set realistic goals. By including just a few changes to your diet and daily routine, you should be able to take care of any damage done over the holidays and even lose additional weight.

It’s best to take it one week at a time—don’t try to overhaul your diet overnight. If you make too many changes at once, you might get discouraged and give up altogether. Strive to make lasting changes to your eating habits rather than aiming for weight loss or a number on the scale. It is not recommended to adopt a diet that is too drastic or too calorie-restrictive, and it is best to avoid fad diets. Adopting healthy eating habits over the long term is a more effective approach to promote wellness and weight loss.

Eat more often. People who have kept their weight off for more than a few years tend to eat an average of five times a day. Light, frequent meals curb your appetite, boost your energy, improve your mood, and even speed up your metabolism, since the process of digestion itself burns calories.

Load up on the healthy stuff. After the holidays, lighten up on rich foods and focus on fresh fruits and vegetables. Have a variety of produce on hand to ensure that you’re getting essential vitamins and minerals that you might skimped on over the holiday break. When grocery shopping, choose healthy snacks such as yogurt or mixed nuts.

Drink water. It’s a common mistake to confuse thirst for hunger. Next time you feel like snacking, drink a glass of water instead. Drinking water also helps you feel full, so drink as you eat to add volume and weight to your meal.

Quit smoking. Smoking not only affects your physical health, but your vitality as well. Freeing yourself of tobacco is one of the best things you can do to improve your well-being and quality of life.

Find a new exercise routine. Sometimes, it’s hard to get back into an exercise routine at the beginning of the new year, especially if you’re bored with it. Consider finding something new, such as a different walking or running route or a yoga class.

Easy does it. Your first workout after a holiday break will probably feel more difficult than you remember. Don’t be disappointed—it happens to everyone. Every day, push a little harder and go a little further. Give your body a chance to regain momentum. Gradually re-introduce your favorite activities. Exercise will bring you balance and a good dose of energy.

We’ve made it past the winter solstice, when we experienced the shortest day of the year. Still, there are plenty of chilly days ahead when light is scarce, and many people find themselves losing energy, feeling unmotivated, and experiencing an overall change in mood. For some, these mood changes are so different from the norm that they may signal Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Symptoms associated with winter-onset SAD can affect everything from sleep patterns to appetite changes. Every year as the days become short and dark, people with SAD start to slow down and have a hard time waking up in the morning. Their energy level decreases, and they tend to eat more, especially sweets and starches. Their concentration suffers, and they may withdraw from friends and family.

To help address the symptoms of SAD and fend off the winter blues, here are some ways to lift your spirits when the sun goes down early and there’s a chill in the air: 

Get outside. Even though heading outside might be the last thing you want to do when it’s cold out, making the effort is worth it. An hour-long walk under the winter sun can do wonders for your overall mood.

Seek the light. Spend as much time in natural light as your schedule and the weather permits. One way to get your daily source of light therapy is to keep your environment bright and comfortable. A light therapy lamp can brighten up your office, bedroom, or other area of your home and help improve your mood and boost your energy.

Exercise during the day. As much as you are able, schedule your workouts during the day, outdoors if possible. Exercising during the day helps produce endorphins in the body that trigger positive feelings. It also helps boost energy during the day, helping you wind down at an appropriate time at night.

Maintain a sleep schedule. When it’s dark at 4:30 p.m., your body clock may tell you to start winding down for bed. You might also feel the pull toward extra winter naps. Despite these urges, try to maintain a regular sleep schedule.

Practice mindfulness and meditation. If the lack of sun has got you down, using mindfulness strategies such as meditation or yoga can help you identify your feelings and improve your mood. Working on mindfulness allows you to channel your feelings and look at your thoughts without judgment. Meditation helps center your mind and body, and helps you escape from the triggers leading to anxiety or depression. 

Embrace the slower pace of winter. Don’t feel guilty about not packing your winter days with activity. Winter is a great time for contemplation and reflection in your journal, getting lost in a book, or taking a long winter drive. Consider picking up a new hobby that you can enjoy in the comfort of your home, such as knitting, crafting, woodwork, or learning a new language.

Plan to get away. If you can head to warmer temperatures, that’s a great way to beat the winter blues. Planning a trip gives you something to look forward to – always a definite mood booster.

The holiday season is in full swing, along with the shopping, cooking, baking, cleaning, and entertaining that keeps us on the run. While some might revel in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, for others, stress can become an unwelcome holiday guest. By being aware of holiday stressors, you can be intentional about minimizing them. Here are a few tips to help you navigate this holiday season:

Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones for other reasons, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's okay to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season. Don’t punish yourself for not feeling celebratory.

Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect, and they don’t have to be the same every year. Set realistic goals and keep expectations manageable. Pace yourself and prioritize what’s most important to you. If the cookie exchange and caroling are too much, let go of one activity and focus on the one you enjoy.

Set aside differences. This is a tough one but try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't always live up to your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress, too.

Stick to a budget. Making a budget at the start of the season for holiday shopping and expenses can help mitigate financial stress. Before you do your gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. If holiday shopping has become overwhelming, consider alternatives such as donating to a charity or starting a family gift exchange.

Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends, and other activities. Plan menus and then make your shopping list to help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for meal prep and cleanup.

Don't abandon healthy habits. Even though schedules change during the holidays, don’t let go of the things that keep you grounded and healthy. Eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, stick with your regular daily physical activity, avoid excessive tobacco and alcohol and drug use, and consider limiting your social media time.

Take a breather. Make time for yourself with an activity you enjoy. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing, and restoring inner calm. Take a walk, listen to relaxing music, or read a book.  

Reach out. If you're feeling stressed during the holidays, it can help to talk to a friend or family member or seek out community, religious, or other social events. Volunteering your time or doing something to help others can also help you refocus and give you a new perspective.

Seek professional help if you need it. If you find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, or unable to face routine chores, talk to your doctor or mental health professional.

If you enjoy walking, running, or biking, the arrival of cold weather might feel like the end of those outdoor activities. But you don’t need to give up outdoor exercise during the winter. With the right preparation and mindset, winter exercise can be energizing. Here are a few things to keep in mind before heading out for cold-weather activity.

Ease into winter exercise. Conditions are more challenging in wintry weather than in warmer months, so start with shorter walks or jogs to get acclimated.

Watch for ice. Watch out for areas with melted snow that can refreeze overnight, as well as black ice on sidewalks and roads. Make sure your footwear has adequate treads.

Dress for the cold. At a minimum, your cold-weather exercise clothing should consist of a hat, beanie, or headband, a base layer shirt, a running jacket, mittens or gloves, running pants or tights, and warm socks. Your clothes should be made from moisture-wicking materials like merino wool, polyester, or other synthetic fabrics that dry quickly and remove sweat from your skin. Cotton is one of the worst types of fabrics to wear running or working out. It’s not very warm to begin with, and once it gets wet, it stays wet.

Layering is key. Whether you’re heading out for a long walk, a relaxed jog, or a full-on run, the secret to staying comfortable is layering. Layers do two things: They provide a pocket of air between each layer that keeps you warmer, and they allow you to easily control your internal temperature by removing layers as you warm up.

If cycling is your preferred outdoor activity, here are a few tips to help you continue riding happily through the winter months:

Get the right gear. A cycling cap or skullcap that fits under your helmet adds warmth. For severe cold, consider a face mask or a helmet that covers more of your head. Waterproof bike gloves will keep your hands dry and warm. Most cycling shoes have a snug fit for pedaling efficiency, so you might consider switching to cycling footwear that’s slightly larger to accommodate thicker socks.

Check your tires. Check and adjust your tire pressure. Air pressure loss happens faster in cold temperatures; inflate tires to the low end of the recommended range. Consider switching to knobbier and/or slightly wider bike tires that grip better on mucky, wet, or slushy surfaces.

Take up the lane. While the far right of the road might seem like a place to stay out of harm’s way, that’s not necessarily the case. The immediate curb area is where plowed snow, mud, and broken glass accumulate. Also, the farther right you are, the harder it is for drivers to spot you in the dark. Riding in the middle of the right-hand lane makes you more visible and deters drivers from trying to squeeze by as they pass. You’ll also be keeping your bike farther away from roadside debris.

Ride relaxed. Locked knees and elbows make it harder to react smoothly. Instead, stay loose and use your legs to absorb any motion created when running over snowy ridges or other road rubble. Be alert and ready to steer around ice, slick leaf-covered surfaces, or debris.

What causes the flu?

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus, which spreads easily during the winter months when people spend time together indoors. Influenza can spread quickly between people when an infected person coughs or sneezes, dispersing droplets of the virus into the air. It can also be spread by hands contaminated by the virus. There are many strains of influenza virus, and the virus can change from year to year, which is why anyone eligible—that is, everyone six months of age and older—should get a flu vaccine each year. 

Who is most at risk for the flu?

People most at risk for severe seasonal influenza are pregnant women; children younger than 5 years; people older than 65 years; people with chronic medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS, asthma, heart and lung diseases, and diabetes; and people with increased risk of exposure to influenza, which includes healthcare workers.

What are the most common symptoms of the flu?

Common flu symptoms include fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat, and a runny nose. The cough is often dry, can be severe, and can last two or more weeks.

Can I have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

It is possible to have flu and other respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 at the same time. Some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, making it hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. If you’re experiencing symptoms, getting tested can help determine if you are sick with flu or COVID-19.

How is the flu treated?

Because the flu is caused by a virus and not bacteria, antibiotics don’t help. Most of the time, resting and drinking plenty of water while the flu runs its course is the best treatment. Most people will recover within a week. If someone is in a high-risk group or is experiencing severe symptoms, they should contact their healthcare provider.

How can I minimize my risk for getting the flu?

The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the flu vaccine every year. Every year, a new vaccine is developed based on the information about the new influenza strain that is circling the globe. Although getting vaccinated just before flu season begins provides the best protection, getting vaccinated at any time during flu season can still help prevent flu infections. And the good news is that, according to CDC guidelines, you can get a flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time, including a COVID-19 booster shot.

Beyond getting vaccinated, continuing to practice the hygiene measures we’ve all learned during the pandemic, including washing hands often, physical distancing, and wearing masks in certain situations, can also help prevent you from contracting a respiratory illness. Washing your hands after touching potentially contaminated objects (such as door handles and light switches) has been proven to effectively reduce the chances of passing on or developing the flu. Sneezing or coughing into your elbow is another way to reduce transmission of the flu virus.

If you do contract the flu, avoid others while you have symptoms and for 24 hours after the symptoms have gone.

With the arrival of fall and winter on the horizon, parents know all too well the sniffles and sneezes, coughs and fevers that kids come down with this time of year. Although commonly known as flu season, these cooler months also bring increases in other respiratory tract infections as we all begin spending more time indoors. And this year, COVID-19 is again part of the mix.

When your child starts to show symptoms of a respiratory illness, it can be confusing to figure out whether it’s just the common cold or something more serious. With increasing cases of COVID-19 among children, understanding the difference among common respiratory infections and your treatment options is important.

What is the difference between the flu, COVID-19, and RSV?

The flu, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are all highly contagious viral respiratory infections. These respiratory illnesses affect both children and adults, and it is possible to be infected with multiple viruses at the same time.

What causes the flu?

The flu is caused by the influenza virus and spreads easily during the winter months when people spend time together indoors. There are many strains of influenza virus, and the virus can change from year to year, which is why anyone eligible—that is, everyone six months of age and older—should get a flu vaccine each year.

What causes COVID-19?

COVID-19 is caused by the novel coronavirus, and with the emergence of the delta variant, cases of COVID-19 among children are rising.

What causes RSV?

RSV is a viral illness that causes symptoms such as trouble breathing. It’s the most common cause of mucous plugging of the small airways in the lungs and pneumonia in babies. RSV is spread when a child comes into contact with fluid from an infected person’s nose or mouth.

What are the symptoms of the flu, COVID-19, and RSV?

This is where it can get tricky. Both the flu and COVID can cause symptoms including runny nose, sore throat, fever, chills, headache, cough, muscle soreness, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Since the symptoms are so similar, the best way to determine whether your child has COVID-19 or the flu is to get them tested.

RSV symptoms are like those of the common cold. In children, symptoms start about two to five days after contact with the virus, and the early phase of RSV in babies and young children is often mild. In children younger than age three, the illness may move into the lungs and cause coughing and wheezing. In some children, the infection turns to a severe respiratory disease.

If your child shows signs of illness beyond mild symptoms, see your pediatrician, who may do a nasal swab test to determine if your child has RSV. Because most children recover without difficulty and because there is no treatment for RSV, these tests usually are not necessary.

How do I prevent the flu, COVID-19, and RSV?

One of the best ways to protect yourself and your children from the flu and COVID-19 is to get vaccinated against these viruses, and have your children vaccinated if they’re eligible.

Engaging in proper hygiene practices with your child can also reduce the risk of infections.
Avoid putting your baby in contact with anyone who exhibits symptoms of any respiratory illness, wash your hands regularly, and don’t let anyone smoke around your baby. Continuing to practice the measures we’ve all learned during the pandemic, including physical distancing and wearing masks in certain situations, can also help prevent your child from contracting a respiratory illness.


This article originally appeared in the Centre Daily Times.


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