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Published on December 24, 2019

11 Simple Yet Powerful Habits of a Healthy Family

11 Simple Yet Powerful Habits of a Healthy Family

Ever since Stephen Covey published his bestselling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in 1989, the subject of habits has been in vogue. There’s no shortage of information if you’re looking to find useful habits to adopt for yourself. That said, many of the habits out there relate to business or personal success. But if your goal is a healthy family, you might want to take a page out of the expert “habit” books and apply them to your family life.

In 1997, my quest for family health and habits were put into motion when I founded LifeWorks Wellness Center with my wife, Sue Minkoff. From its inception, we always sought out to create a healing center where people would not only get the best possible medical care but in an environment that made you feel like family,[1] while also being passionate advocates for families looking to strengthen all facets of their household.

As such, we have amassed 11 simple but powerful habits of a healthy family over the past 2 decades:

1. Eat Together

When families sit down for a meal together,[2] rather than eating in “shifts” or grabbing food on the go, they tend to eat healthier things. Vegetables, fruits, and whole foods are more often consumed, rather than processed and fatty foods.

In addition to the physical benefits that come with healthier meals, research[3] shows that family time helps children get better grades and avoid smoking, alcohol, and drugs.

If your family doesn’t share many meals together now, it might not happen overnight. Perhaps start with a goal of two meals per week. Stick to that, build the frequency over time, and establish it as a habit.

2. Cook Together

Similarly, cooking meals together is beneficial for a healthy family. Not only is homemade food generally healthier, but family members who cook together are spending time together and creating memories. The kitchen is often the hub of a home, so it’s a good place to come together.

Making meals together also allows family recipes to be passed down. Children who learn to cook are developing a valuable life skill, and the work involved is shared – Mom or Dad doesn’t need to feel as though meal prep is their burden alone.[4]

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3. Plan Vacations Together

How often do you go on a vacation with your family and encounter complaining children? Something’s too boring, or you’re too busy. Involving the whole family in vacation planning might help.[5]

Giving children a voice in family plans allows them to communicate and stand up for the things that they want to do, as well as to consider others’ input and even learn to compromise. If you’ve gotten into the habit of the parents being authoritarian in planning activities, you can certainly try to get into the habit of getting everybody involved.

4. Respect Alone Time

As great as it is to do things together as a family, it’s also inevitable that all members of a family will want some alone time — and that’s a healthy thing.[6]

Spending time alone allows a person to reflect, unwind, problem-solve and more. Especially in this age of connectedness, when everyone seemingly has a mobile device tethered to them, it’s important to allow each other to disconnect when they feel the need. Healthy families make a habit of respecting each other’s alone time.

5. Learn to Listen

Parents are no strangers to talking to their kids. But productive conversation is a two-way street, which means talking with your kids is important — and talking with someone involves more than simply talking.[7]

True conversation involves listening, and healthy families make it a habit to listen to each other rather than just take turns speaking. What you tell your family members is no more important than what they have to say to you. Family members that make a habit of two-way discussions are more understanding of one another, and therefore closer.

6. Make Health a Routine

If you want to build healthy habits, health must become a routine that all family members follow. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control highlights consistency, predictability and follow-through when it comes to structuring family routines for health.[8]

That might mean everyone in the house brushes their teeth at the same time after dinner. It might mean that no one eats sugary snacks after a certain time of day. It means scheduling regular checkups, cutting off screen time after a certain hour, and making sure everyone gets enough sleep every single night. For an advanced take, consider alternative health options such as acupuncture[9] for the family.

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Make these things a daily routine, and you’ll develop healthy family habits.

7. Get Physical

The physical fitness mantra, especially when it comes to the current childhood obesity epidemic, is to “eat less, move more.” Healthier eating habits can be derived from adhering to some of the habit-building already mentioned, but if you want your family to move more, you have to make an effort.[10]

Go on family walks or bike rides. Plan for weekend activities that involve play. When you have a family gathering for a birthday, organize a relay race before cutting the cake. It hasn’t stopped me, that’s for sure — by the time I was 70, I had already competed in 42 Ironman races.[11]

The takeaway is that you can plan activity into your life, and healthy families make a habit of moving. It works in reverse, too — people who engage in regular exercise tend to be more effective in their family roles.[12]

8. Get in Some Downtime

Families are busy. There’s homework, kids’ sports schedules, social events to attend. The weekends, especially, can feel like the time when you’re always jetting from one place to another.

If you feel you need a break from all the activity, your family probably does, too. It’s great to honor social obligations and keep the kids busy, but sometimes you just have to chill out. If your weekends are constantly booked, try to make it a habit to set aside just one weekend a month to have no plans.

Give yourself a rest. Give your spouse a rest. Give your kids a rest. Spend a Saturday morning watching cartoons in your pajamas with your children. Take a weekend with no plans, and just see where it takes you.

If planning active days for your family helps cover your physical health, sometimes taking lazy days to relax and do nothing can help your entire family’s mental health.[13]

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9. Learn Together

How many parents, when their child comes home from school, ask: “What did you learn today?” It’s fairly common.

But what would you do if your child flipped the script and asked you: “What did YOU learn today?” Could you give them an answer?

There is value in being a lifetime learner. People don’t like know-it-alls for a reason. If you, as a parent, can shoulder the same responsibility for learning something new every day, which is the expectation placed on kids, aren’t you and your child both growing?

There are plenty of studies that show that being a lifelong learner is a key to success. And every parent wants their children to learn new things. So why not combine things? Research supports this strategy as a way of adding significant value to the whole family’s home life.[14]

Watch educational shows or documentaries as a family. Start a family book club or even decide to write a book that aligns with your passion. Your children are not your peers in very many ways, but learning new things together is a way to level the playing field a little, encouraging inquisitiveness in your child while letting them know you’re open-minded, too.

10. Watch the News as a Family

The news can be a scary thing for children. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably had at least a few moments where you think to yourself, “I hope he/she doesn’t hear this.”

But guess what? They probably do hear it. And because to kids, some of the things in the news are confusing at best and frightening at worst, it’s important to digest news as a family.

It’s your chance as a parent to reassure your children. It’s their chance as children to express to you the extent of their grasp of things, as well as any misgivings they have. Your instinct as a parent might be to shield your children from things like school shootings, war, and the like, but they’re going to hear about them. Digesting the constant stream of information together, and using the time to digest and discuss, is healthy.[15]

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11. Be Open and Honest

Relationship counselors will tell you that being open and honest with your partner is imperative to having a positive relationship. It’s the same with families, which are often an extension of an existing relationship.

That’s why it’s critical to be honest with every member of a family. It’s especially important to not hide anything. If you’re a spouse and a parent, you want your partner and your children to be open and honest with you, so should you get into the habit of being open and honest with them.

One of the foundations of a healthy family is trust, and trust can only be established with honesty and openness. Don’t hide from the truth. Don’t think you’re protecting your family by being less-than-open. Honest and open discourse is how societies advance, and making a habit of being consciously honest and open with family members is a fundamental part of establishing a healthy dynamic.[16]

Final Thoughts

Family life can be tricky. Not all families can be described as “healthy.” But if you aspire to that category, these are some guidelines you can follow to develop habits that build healthy families.

While different families may benefit from unique strategies of their own, one thing is universally true:

Commitment to a healthier family is an investment that never stops generating returns.

Featured photo credit: Anna Pritchard via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. David Minkoff

Health Expert | CEO BodyHealth | Co-Owner and Medical Director at Lifeworks Wellness Center | Author

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Feeling tired all the time?

Have you ever caught yourself nodding off when you’re watching TV, listening to someone drone on during a meeting or even driving a car?

I know I have, especially when I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive.

Feeling tired all the time may be more widespread than you think. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

If you’re tired of feeling tired, then I’ve got some great news for you. New research is helping us gain critical insights into the underlying causes of feeling tired all the time.

In this article, we’ll discuss the latest reasons why you’re feeling tired all the time and practical steps you can take to finally get to the bottom of your fatigue and feel rested.

What Happens When You’re Too Tired

If you sleep just two hours less than the normal eight hours, you could be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers.[2] And you’ve probably experienced the impact yourself.

Here are some common examples of what happens when you’re feeling tired:[3]

  • You may have trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired within your brain.
  • You may experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not because your brain’s neurotransmitters are misfiring.
  • You may get dark circles under your eyes and/or your skin make look dull and lackluster in the short term and over time your skin may get wrinkles and show signs of aging because your body didn’t have time to remove toxins during sleep.
  • You may find it more difficult to exercise or to perform any type of athletic activity.
  • Your immune system may weaken causing you to pick up infections more easily.
  • You may overeat because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids even when you’re not hungry.
  • Your metabolism slows down so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

Are you saying that feeling tired can make me overweight?

Unfortunately, yes!

Feeling tired all the time can cause you to put on the pounds especially around your waist. But it is a classic chicken and egg situation, too.

Heavier people are more likely to feel fatigued during the day than lighter ones. And that’s even true for overweight people who don’t have sleep apnea (source: National Institutes of Health).

Speaking of sleep apnea, you may be wondering if that or something else is causing you to feel tired all the time.

Why Are you Feeling Tired All the Time?

Leading experts are starting to recognize that there are three primary reasons people feel tired on a regular basis: sleep deprivation, fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Here’s a quick overview of each root cause of feeling tired all of the time:

  1. Tiredness occurs from sleep deprivation when you don’t get high-quality sleep consistently. It typically can be solved by changing your routine and getting enough deep restorative sleep.
  2. Fatigue occurs from prolonged sleeplessness which could be triggered by numerous issues such as mental health issues, long-term illness, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea or stress. It typically can be improved by changing your lifestyle and using sleep aids or treatments, if recommended by your physician.
  3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that occurs from persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep.

The exact cause of CFS is not known, but it may be due to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance or emotional trauma.

It typically involves working with a doctor to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing and treating CFS.[4]

Always consult a physician to get a personal diagnosis about why you are feeling tired, especially if it is a severe condition.

Feeling Tired vs Being Fatigued

If lack of quality sleep doesn’t seem to be the root cause for you, then it’s time to explore fatigue as the reason you are frequently feeling tired.

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Until recently, tiredness and fatigue were thought to be interchangeable. Leading experts now realize that tiredness and fatigue are different.

Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep.

But fatigue is a perceived feeling of being tired that is much more likely to occur in people who have depression, anxiety or emotional stress and/or are overweight and physically inactive (source: Science Direct).

Symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low stamina
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Low motivation

These symptoms may sound similar to those of tiredness but they usually last longer and are more intense.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive reason why fatigue occurs because it can be a symptom of an emotional or physical illness. But there are still a number of steps you can take to reduce difficult symptoms by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The number one reason you may feel tired is because of sleep deprivation which means you are not getting enough high-quality sleep.

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

So, quantity and quality do matter when it comes to sleep.

The key to quality sleep is being able to get long, uninterrupted sleep cycles throughout the night. It typically takes 90 minutes for you to reach a state of deep REM sleep where your body’s healing crew goes to work.

Ideally, you want to get at least 3 to 4 deep REM sleep cycles in per night. That’s why it’s so important to stay asleep for 7 or more hours.

Research also shows that people who think they can get by on less sleep don’t perform as well as people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night[5] So, you should definitely plan on getting seven hours of deep restorative sleep every night.

If you are not getting 7 hours of high-quality sleep regularly, then sleep deprivation is most likely reason you feel tired all the time.

And that is good news because sleep deprivation is much simpler and easier to address than the other root causes.

It’s also a good idea to rule out sleep deprivation as the reason why you are tired before moving on to the other possibilities such as fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which may require a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

4 Simple Changes to Reduce Fatigue

Personally, I’m a big believer in upgrading your lifestyle to uplift your life. I overcame chronic stress and exhaustion by making these four changes to my lifestyle:

  1. Eating healthy, home-cooked meals versus microwaving processed foods or eating out
  2. Exercising regularly
  3. Using stressbusters
  4. Creating a bedtime routine to sleep better

So, I know it is possible to change your lifestyle even when you’re working crazy hours and have lots of family responsibilities.

After I made the 4 simple changes in my lifestyle, I no longer felt exhausted all of the time.

In addition, I lost two inches off my waist and looked and felt better than ever.

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I was so excited that I wanted to help others replace stress and exhaustion with rest and well-being, too. That’s why I became a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.

Interestingly enough, I discovered that Dr. Sears recommends a somewhat similar L.E.A.N. lifestyle:

  • L is for Lifestyle and means living healthy including getting enough sleep.
  • E is for Exercise and means getting at least 20 minutes of exercise a day ideally for six days a week.
  • A is for Attitude and means thinking positive and reducing stress whenever possible.
  • N is for Nutrition and means emphasizing a right-fat diet, not a low-fat diet.

The L.E.A.N. lifestyle is a scientifically-proven way to reduce fatigue, get to the optimal weight and to achieve overall wellness.[6]

And yes, there does seem to be an important correlation between being lean and feeling rested.

But overall based on my personal experience and Dr. Sear’s scientific proof, the key to not feeling tired all of the time does seem to be 4 simple changes to your lifestyle.

L — Living Healthy

Getting enough high-quality sleep every day is the surefire way to help you feel less fatigued, more rested and better overall.

So, whether you’re sleep deprived or potentially suffering from fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you probably want to find a way to sleep better.

In fact, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body isn’t getting the time it needs to repair itself; meaning that if you are suffering from an illness, it’s far more likely to linger.

As unlikely as it sounds, though, fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to sleep. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at your bedtime routine before you go to bed and optimize it based on sleep best practices.

Here are 3 quick and easy tips for creating a pro-sleep bedtime routine:

1. Unplug

Many of us try to unwind by watching TV or doing something on an iPhone or tablet. But tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime.

So turn off all tech one hour before bed and create a tech-free zone in your bedroom.

2. Unwind

Do something to relax.

Use the time before bed to do something you find relaxing such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or taking an Epsom salt bath.

3. Get Comfortable

Ensure your bed is comfortable and your room is set up for sleep.

Make sure you room is cool. 60-68 degrees is the ideal temperature for most people to sleep.

Also, it’s ideal if your bedroom is dark and there is no noise.

Finally, make sure everything is handled (e.g., laying out tomorrow’s clothes) before you get into your nice, comfy bed.

If your mind is still active, write a to-do list to help you fall asleep faster.[7]

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Above all, be gentle with yourself and count your blessings, some sheep or whatever helps.

This article also offers practical tips to build a bedtime routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

E — Exercise

Many people know that exercise is good for them, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into their busy schedules.

That’s what happened in my case.

But when my chronic stress and exhaustion turned into systemic inflammation (which can lead to major diseases like Alzheimer’s), I realized it was time to change my lifestyle.

As part of my lifestyle upgrade, I knew I needed to move more.

My friends who exercise all gave me the same advice: find an exercise you like to do and find a specific time in your schedule when you can consistently do it.

That made sense to me.

So, I decided to swim.

I used to love to swim when I was young, but I hadn’t done it for years. The best time for me to do it was immediately after work, since I could easily get an open swim lane at my local fitness club then.

Also, swimming became a nice reason for me to leave work on time. And I got to enjoy a nice workout before eating dinner.

Swimming is a good way to get your cardio or endurance training. But, walking, running and dancing are nice alternatives.

So find an exercise you love and stick to it. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training and flexibility training in during your daily 20-minute workout.

If you haven’t exercised in a while and have a lot of stress in your life, you may want to give yoga a try because you will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

A — Attitude

Stress may be a major reason why you aren’t feeling well all of the time. At least that was the case with me.

When I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive, I felt chronically stressed and exhausted. But there was one thing that always worked to help me feel calmer and less fatigued.

Do you want to know what that master stress-busting technique was?

Breathing.

But not just any old breathing. It was a special form of deep Yogic breathing called the “Long-Exhale Breathing” or “4-7-8 breathing” or “Pranayama” in Sanskrit).

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Here’s how you do “Long-Exhale Breathing”:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy (so you know you are breathing deeply from your diaphragm and not shallowly from your chest)
  2. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your diaphragm with your mouth closed while you count to 4 (ideally until your stomach feels full of air)
  3. Hold your breath while you count to 7 mentally and enjoy the stillness
  4. Breathe out through your mouth with a “ha” sound while you count to 8 (or until your stomach has no more air in it)
  5. Pause after you finish your exhale while you notice the sense of wholeness and relaxation from completing one conscious, deep, long exhale breath
  6. Repeat 3 times ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale so you relax your nervous system

This type of “long-exhale breathing” is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

When your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, it soothes your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the relaxation response.[8]

Plus, this is a great technique for helping you get to sleep, too.

N — Nutrition

Diet is vital for beating fatigue – after all, food is your main source of energy.

If your diet is poor, then it implies you’re not getting the nutrients you need to sustain healthy energy levels.

Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated, time-consuming though.

For most people, it’s just a case of swapping a few unhealthy foods for a few healthier ones, like switching from low-fiber, processed foods to whole, high-fiber foods.

Unless your current diet is solely made up of fast food and ready meals, adjusting to a fatigue-fighting diet shouldn’t be too much of a shock to the system.

Here’re 9 simple diet swaps you can make today:

  1. Replace your morning coffee with Matcha green tea and drink only herbal tea within six hours of bedtime.
  2. Add a healthy fat or protein to your any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed. Please note that carb-only snacks lead to blood-sugar crashes that can make you eat more and they can keep you from sleeping.
  3. Fill up with fiber especially green leafy vegetables. Strive to get at least 25g per day with at least 5 servings (a serving is the size of your fist) of green vegetables.
  4. Replace refined, processed, low-fiber pastas and grains with zucchini noodles and whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, oats, amaranth, millet, teff, brown rice and corn.
  5. Swap natural sweeteners for refined sugars and try to ensure you don’t get more than 25g of sugar a day if you are a woman and 30g of sugar a day if you are a man.
  6. Replace ice cream with low-sugar alternatives such as So Delicious Dairy-Free Vanilla Bean Coconut Ice Cream.
  7. Swap omega-6, partially-hydrogenated oils such as corn, palm, sunflower, safflower, cotton, canola and soybean oil for omega-3 oils such as flax, olive and nut oils.
  8. Replace high-sugar yoghurts with low-sugar, dairy-free yoghurts such as Kite Hill Plain Yoghurt with 1g sugar or Lifeway Farmer Cheese with 0g sugar.
  9. Swap your sugar-laden soda for sparkling water with a splash of low-sugar juice

Also, ensure your diet is giving you enough of the daily essential vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. If you are low on any of the above vitamins and minerals, you may experience fatigue and low energy.

That’s why it’s always worth having your doctor check your levels. If you find any of them are low, then try to eat foods rich in them.

Alternatively, you might consider a high-quality multi-vitamin or specific supplement.

The Bottom Line

If you are tired of feeling tired, then there is tremendous hope.

If you are tired because you are not getting enough high-quality sleep, then the best remedy is a bedtime routine based on sleep best practices.

If you are tired because you have stress and fatigue, then the best remedy are four simple lifestyle changes including:

  • Enough High-Quality Sleep with Bedtime Routine
  • Regular Exercise You Love
  • Stress Reduction with Long-Exhale Breathing
  • Fatigue-Reducing Diet

Overall, adopting a healthier lifestyle Is the ideal remedy for feeling more rested and energized.

More Tips to Help You Rest Better

Featured photo credit: Cris Saur via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] YouGov: Two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week
[2] National Safety Council: Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?
[3] The New York Times: Why Are We So Freaking Tired?
[4] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
[5] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
[6] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
[7] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
[8] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

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