Jan 18

If you are a regular reader of my columns you know that I often focus on relationships – mainly, the parent-child relationship. I almost always emphasize the importance of respect as the key to lasting relationships. This column will be no different. While the connection between respect and health and fitness may not be immediately apparent, rest assured there is one.

I don’t recall ever having written about health and fitness, the theme of this month’s issue of Baltimore’s Child. I’ll start with a confession. When my children were young, I sent them to school with lunchboxes filled with white bread sandwiches, full-fat cheeses, potato chips, and pastry. (I just felt a chill go up and down my spine writing those words. But that was fifty years ago and that’s what we did in those dark ages.) I hasten to add, however, that our dinners were well balanced.

In this age of enlightenment, parents are far more conscious of their own well-being and their children’s. Already, you can see the connection. Respect for oneself includes respect for our minds and bodies. Today we know that select foods will not only maintain good health, but in many instances they can cure what ails us, prevent what could hurt us, boost our mood and lift up our spirits. Conversely, the wrong kinds of food can impair our health, cause disease, drag down our moods and dampen our spirits.

Perhaps you’ve heard people derogate health foods, trivializing them with names like rabbit food, sawdust, and worse. Or they chomp away on nitrite/nitrate-filled processed foods, inflammatory sugary carbohydrates, cholesterol-building fats and blood pressure elevating excess sodium with the rationalization, “You only live once.” – neglecting the flip side that If it is true that we only live once, then why shorten the length of time we’re here?)

Like healthy food, exercise assures a healthy body. Since we first stood upright, the human body has evolved into a kinetic marvel made to move. In the olden days, kids spent many hours outdoors; they ran races, they played baseball and football and badminton on my back lawn, they made up games, they chased each other, they danced in the rain, they were alive and they were healthy. Today, some public schools have done away with gym and cut out recess. To make matters worse, a study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, children from ages 8 to18 are engaged with video games and other electronic gadgets that keep them fixed in their seats for almost eight hours a day, seven days a week.

A number of parents have contacted me about their struggle to limit the hours their children spend on video games. In an earlier column, I did suggest parents have necessary conversations with their children about working together to establish agreed-upon use and limits. When kids feel they are part of the solution, they are more prone to cooperate than when parents dictate the rules and demand obedience. Having them participate in the decision is far less stressful than the battles that ensue when they have no voice.

Getting physically active yourself and having your children join you can do wonders for your relationship. What I have heard from children over the years when I ask them what it is that they want from their parents most of all, the almost unanimous answer is “their time.” So engaging in fun activities with them, where laughter and talking are shared, taking a walk, tossing a ball to each other, shooting hoops, swimming, dancing, exercising, gardening, and the like is not only crucial to your good health, your child’s good health, but it is also the golden door that leads to the good health of your relationship.

At the age of 88, some of my body parts are wearing out, but I am moving on my own and very grateful for an active life at this point. Frankly, I’ve come to healthy living a bit late and I regret it. Had I done earlier in my life what so many wise adults are doing now, I might have prevented the creaking bones and aches and pains that emblematically afflict older generations. However, to overcome these annoyances, I have recently started an exercise program to strengthen my muscles, I’m improving my old brain by learning to speak Spanish, I am happily still writing my column, I’m writing a book – and my husband and I are looking forward to celebrating our 69th wedding anniversary in June.

I wish you and your family the best of health.

as seen in Baltimore's Child Magazine