Forget the old chestnut that "Big Bobby just needs to grow into his frame.” Overweight kids are four times as likely as their normal-weight peers to grow into overweight adults, according to a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics. And whether kids or grown-ups, overweight people are more prone to diabetes, heart disease, depression, arthritis, back pain and sleep apnea than their peers, studies show. And, as reported in the New York Times, they suffer more taunts and even make less money later on in life, too. Statistics Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada estimate that more than one-third of kids between the ages of two and 11 are overweight, about half of them fitting the “obese” category. Here's how to make sure your kid doesn't become one of them.
Tip 1: Identify if there's a problem “Fat? Not my kid!” Reality-check time. According to recent U.S. and British studies, parents are often in the dark (or in denial) when it comes to their kids' obesity.
A recent study by the Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, England, published in the British Medical Journal, found 57 per cent of fathers and 33 per cent of moms didn't know their obese kids were overweight. A similar study in the U.S. and published in Obesity Research (and picked up the American Diabetes Association newsletter) found that only 11 per cent of parents in a test group with overweight kids actually recognized that their kids were overweight (meanwhile, 60 per cent of other parents called it correctly).
Find out if your child is overweight by calculating their body mass index (BMI), which measures their body fat by factoring weight, height and gender. Make an appointment with your pediatrician to get this information, and to talk about ways to ensure your child maintains a healthy weight.
Tip 2: Limit your kids' screen time What's wrong with TV? How about endless junk food commercials, mindless loafing about on the couch, not to mention the dubious content of many shows screened during after-school and primetime hours. Many doctors suggest no more than one or two hours per day. Include computer and handheld gaming time in that allowance of screen-time.
Tip 3: Get kids hooked on water Water should be your kids' go-to bevvy for thirst quenching. Kids consuming pop, fruit drinks and sports drinks take in more empty calories -– not to mention sodium, tooth-attacking sugar and other unsavoury additives. Vitamin-C-rich100% juice and low-fat milk are fine options, but neither of them should be doled out like water. As for fruit drinks, pop and sports drinks, consider them liquid candy. For the nursing set, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention report that breastfeeding your baby reduces his or her chance of obesity later in childhood by 20 to 40 per cent, with benefits increasing for every month of breastfeeding.
Page 1 of 2 – Find out more tips on how to keep your kids at a healthy weight on page 2.
Tip 4: Don't let teens skip breakfast Studies have shown that skipping breakfast slows the metabolism – meaning calories are burned less efficiently and are more likely to be stored in the body as fat -- and increases the chance of overeating later in the day. It also harms academic and athletic performance.
Teens are notorious for rushing out the door in a hurry. If they don't want to sit down for breakfast, leave a bowl of cereal bars and bagged trail mix on the kitchen counter (or even the front hall table!) and stock single-serving juice and milk boxes in the fridge so they can eat on the fly.
Tip 5: Model healthy eating habits, Mom and Dad Your kids idolize you (OK, maybe not so much when they're teens), so lead by example. If you chug back endless sodas instead of water, eat bags of chips instead of healthy snacks or load up on processed foods while skimping on fruit and veggies, you're modelling the food habits they're likely to inherit. (Oh, and teens? They'll pick up on your hypocrisy and tell you where to shove your “Get outside and exercise and eat something healthy for a change” speech.)
Tip 6: Get active as a family If your idea of quality time is watching movies together while you eat chips on the sofa, you need to make some lifestyle changes. Walk the dog together, go for a bike ride, hit the playground circuit, go for a swim, hike a local trail, shoot hoops in your driveway or even go window-shopping along an outdoor boutique strip. Bonding over electronic media and junk food sends the wrong message to kids.
Family time should, for the most part, be active time (30 to 40 minutes, at least four or five times per week) if you want your child to embrace an active lifestyle – which is a must, given how little daily physical activity most kids get at school these days.
Tip 7: Make fast food less attractive for wee ones Avoid fast food like the plague. But as everyone knows, it's impossible to ban it altogether. My five-year-old eats McDonald's about once a month (always when Dad's been left alone for the evening, helplessly facing the dual challenges of child-minding and dinner-making). But here's a tip: when your kids are small, separate the toy from the Happy Meal, and dole out the toy later. Not knowing it comes with a Brand! New! Toy! reduces the attractiveness of the Happy Meal by at least 50 per cent. (And less whining equals less caving in and buying them junk food.)
And lastly, consider trading his GameBoy for a Wii or other interactive game Believe it or not, a recent study in the medical journal Pediatrics notes that interactive games played on Nintendo's new digital console Wii, with players mimicking tennis, bowling, golf or baseball moves in real life (which are picked up by the console's digital sensors), actually aid in weight loss.
The Mayo Clinic, which authored the report, says kids playing on Wii-like devices burned three times as many calories as those using more traditional handhelds. Meanwhile, a team at the University of Toronto is exploring its application in physiotherapy for kids with motor function disabilities. Is it as healthy as old-fashioned outdoor play? Uh, no. But as far as electronic games go, it's pretty impressive.
Here's what to do to maximize your antioxidant intake.
1. Spice it up.
Both dried spices and fresh herbs tend to be extra potent with antioxidants. “Having a really liberal approach to herbs and spices in your cooking as opposed to a tiny sprinkle is really beneficial,” says registered dietitian Desiree Nielsen.
2. Go organic.
New research from Spain is suggesting that organic produce may have extra antioxidants. “Phytochemicals are a plant’s defence mechanism—kind of like its immune system,” says Nielsen. “So when you apply pesticides and herbicides to crops, the thinking is that the plant has less need to self-protect, so it downgrades those compounds.”
3. Eat whole foods.
You can have too much of a good thing, and when you take antioxidant supplements you run the risk they’ll aid oxidation rather than fight it. “It has a reverse effect if you take too much or take it out of the right context,” says Nielsen. “When you start isolating compounds from food, they often don’t behave in the way that you would expect.”
Want to transform the look of your bedroom? Inspired by board-and-batten siding, this headboard looks like a million bucks—on a way smaller budget. It's super simple to build and you can easily customize the size to fit your bed.
- Tape measure
- Table saw or handsaw
- 1/2-inch sheet of MDF
- 1- by 5-inch MDF board
- 1- by 3-inch MDF board
- Several 1- by 4-inch MDF boards
- Wood glue
- Clamps for drying (optional)
- Nail gun and nails
- Caulking gun and caulk
- Paint tray
- Paint roller and paintbrush
- Paint (We used Behr Ultra Pure White 1850)
- Screwdriver and screws
- Wood filler
Measure the width of your bed. Using the saw, cut the sheet (A) so it's 4 inches wider than the bed— this was 57 inches for us—and 66 inches long. (We had ours cut to size at The Home Depot.) Cut the 1- by 5-inch board (B) the same width as the sheet. Cut the 1- by 3-inch board (C) 4 inches longer than the width of the sheet, which was 61 inches for us.
Place the boards horizontally on top of the sheet so they're flush.
Measure from the bottom of the 1- by 5-inch board (B) to the bottom of the sheet. Cut four 1- by 4-inch boards (D) to the same length. Place them vertically equidistant on the sheet.
Create a grid by cutting remaining 1- by 4-inch boards (E) to fit horizontally between the vertical boards.
Glue each board in place on the sheet; let dry. Using the nail gun, secure each board in place. Caulk any edges (if you see gaps); let dry.
Paint the headboard. To make it easier to paint the sides, elevate the sheet on scrap pieces of wood.
To hang the headboard on the wall just above the baseboard, use the level, then screw it in place. Cover screw and nail holes with wood filler; let dry. Sand; touch up with paint.
The magic number
You already know skimping on sleep is bad for you, but were you aware sleeping too much is no good, either? According to Harvard University's Nurses Health Study, women who slept too little (five hours or less) or too much (nine hours or more) scored lower on brain and memory tests and, by researchers' estimates, were mentally two years older than those who slept for seven to eight hours a night.
If you have a serious sweet tooth that's always getting you into (dietary) trouble, try to follow this very simple healthy-eating rule: Save the calories for the really good stuff. It's worth indulging in a favourite dessert or a special treat, but if you're feeling tempted to snack on something just because it's there, skip it.
To replenish your sodium levels after an intense workout—think hot yoga or a long run—add a pinch of salt to a glass of water.
Tools of the trade
Three must-have items for your healthiest year yet.
1. Skipping rope Even a short skipping session can deliver major cardio benefits. Plus, a jump rope is inexpensive, easy to use and—dare we say it—kinda fun.
2. Mini blender Prep a smoothie the night before, give it a quick whirl in the morning and dash out the door, healthy breakfast in hand. Single-serve blender, $27, hamiltonbeach.ca.
3. Sports bra No one wants to exercise without the right support. A good sports bra will feel snugger than your regular bra, but it shouldn't cause chafing. If you're big-busted, look for one that comes in actual bra sizes.
The hardest part of exercising is getting started. So when you don't want to head to the gym, make a 10-minute commitment to being active. If you want to stop after your time is up, that's fine—at least you'll have done something. But it's more likely you'll end up finishing your workout! — Kathleen Trotter, personal trainer
Research shows deep breathing reduces your heart rate and blood pressure, relieves stress and can even boost productivity. But those studies say we're all really bad at breathing properly. To do it right, try a free app like Breathing Zone (iOS) or Paced Breathing (Android). Or go the wearable route; new Fitbits and Apple Watches have built-in apps.
If you like working out, you’ve likely felt the temptation to keep trying new, cool—and increasingly extreme—fitness trends. But this year, we’re calling it: marathons and Crossfit aren’t the only way to work out. Here’s why we’re embracing more moderate workouts, like the 5K run, instead.
Here are some scary truths: 70 percent of new Alzheimer's patients in Canada will be women, and we're diagnosed with depression and dementia at twice the rate of men. But new research says there are three simple lifestyle changes we can make right now to keep our brains healthy as we age.
You brush your teeth to prevent tooth decay and check your blood pressure to monitor for signs of heart problems. But are you doing anything to keep your brain in tip-top shape? Because you should be. Brain health, which experts define as a combination of cognitive (memory, attention, thinking) and mental (emotional well-being) fitness, is a major, albeit under-the- radar, health issue for Canadian women.
It's major because as we age, so do our brains. Vascular changes can decrease blood flow; we can lose volume in key areas, including the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, the regions responsible for learning and memory. Myelin, a fatty material that makes up the protective coating around nerve fibres, starts to deteriorate, causing the brain to slow down. And nerve cells can develop plaques and tangles— structures caused by the buildup of proteins called beta-amyloids that can disrupt the brain's normal function. In some people, these and other signs of normal aging can cause mental health problems, strokes and brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer's, and increase the risk of diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
Brain health is an under-the-radar issue because, though women are more likely to experience cognitive decline (thanks to dementia or Alzheimer's) and to suffer from depression, most of the research on these conditions still focuses on men.
Thankfully, studies are showing that straightforward lifestyle changes—exercising regularly and not smoking are at the top of the list—help shore up what researchers call "cognitive reserve," a buffer that "delays the changes or makes your body better equipped to handle those changes," says Lauren Drogos, a brain researcher at the University of Calgary.
In fact, Drogos says there's evidence to show that, in some people, even serious symptoms do not necessarily develop into cognitive impairment. She points to the Nun Study, a famous long-running research project on aging and Alzheimer's that has been tracking 678 nuns from convents across the United States since the mid-1980s. One of the nuns, Sister Mary, died at the age of 101 showing no outward signs of cognitive decline—but when researchers examined her brain, they were shocked to find she had "abundant neurofibrillary tangles and senile plaques, the classic lesions of Alzheimer's disease." Scientists don't know exactly why some people can have severe symptoms, such as plaques and tangles, without experiencing cognitive decline, but, happily, cases like Sister Mary do show that dementia isn't an inevitable part of aging.
And since women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with many of these problems, the more we consider brain health when making our day-to-day lifestyle decisions, the better. (Bonus: These changes also benefit your heart and help prevent other diseases, including Type 2 diabetes and cancer.) So here's what you can do to take care of your brain.
This is your brain on exercise If you had to pick just one lifestyle change to make in the name of brain health, experts agree exercise tops the list—especially for women.
We consider neuroplasticity, the brain's capacity to form new neural connections, an exciting part of a child's development, but we now know our brains can continue to grow, repair and improve as adults, too. Physical activity is a well-researched trigger. Not only can working out bolster our day-to-day functioning and alertness but it also appears to help us repair brain damage. Plus, it slows down aging and the onset of age-related brain diseases.
Working up a sweat and pumping up your heart rate can lead to a healthier vascular system in the brain, which decreases blood pressure and oxidative stress (when your body's antioxidants can't fight off free radicals), and increases antioxidant activity, according to Marc Poulin, an Alzheimer's researcher and professor of physiology at the University of Calgary. Vigorous exercise also floods the bloodstream with a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which readies the body for repair and heightens the brain's ability to learn and form new memories. Plus, hitting the gym helps the brain repair myelin; a lack of the nerve fibre–protecting substance is a factor in developing multiple sclerosis.
Exercising can also restore crucial brain volume. Research has shown that the hippocampus— home to memory, learning and emotion—starts shrinking after age 55 by about one to two percent a year, but just one year of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise done three days a week can increase its size by two percent.
And while most of the research is about the benefits of getting in your cardio, Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an associate professor and Canada research chair at The University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, says strength training is also effective, as it can enhance brain performance and function by 11 to 17 percent. "Women live longer [than men], and age itself is the greatest risk factor for dementia," she says. "But the good news is when we look at the benefit of aerobic exercise on cognition in older adults, women seem to benefit more."
The takeaway: You can reap the rewards from even a 15-minute walk. Of course, the longer you exercise, the better, especially if you get your sweat on and your heart rate up. If you want to tick a few other brain health tips off your list, consider joining a team sport. It blends physical, social and cognitive skills, and "can also add pleasure and meaning to our lives," says Dr. Nasreen Khatri, a registered clinical psychologist, gerontologist and neuroscientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto.
If you have an office job and find you're sedentary most of the day, take a few minutes every hour or so to get up and move around. Research also suggests switching to a standup desk may improve your brain function.
Did you know? Taking care of a loved one—most often a spouse in your later years—can be a risk factor for developing depression and, eventually, dementia . But research out of the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto found, for the first time, that cognitive behavioural therapy, a form of talk therapy, can improve both mood and cognition.
This is your brain on sleep After a good night's sleep, you feel alert and ready to tackle the day. But that's not just because your brain has been resting. It has also been busy filing away memories and taking out the trash, so to speak, thanks to the glymphatic system, which washes the brain of waste materials. For example, a protein called betaamyloid, which is known to play a role in the development of Alzheimer's, acts as a neurotoxin when it builds up, killing neural cells in the brain. But a good sleep removes excess beta-amyloid and other waste materials, says Dr. Liu-Ambrose.
Because one of the common symptoms of Alzheimer's is disrupted sleep, it's unclear whether a lack of shut-eye should be considered part of the progression of the disease or a risk factor on its own, due to the buildup of beta-amyloids.
Nevertheless, poor sleep hastens your brain's aging process—much like sitting in the sun sans SPF speeds up your skin's aging process. And disturbed sleeping has been linked to all aspects of brain health, including an increased risk of depression and a decline in cognitive functions such as memory and reasoning. In one U.K. study out of University College London Medical School, middle-aged women who reported a drop in the average number of hours they slept had lower scores on cognitive tests involving reasoning and vocabulary.
What's more, our central clocks—a.k.a. our circadian rhythms—can drift from the patterns of our childhood, making it hard to get that much-needed rest. "As we age, our central clock is less sensitive to stimuli like light, food and physical activity," says Dr. Liu-Ambrose; this change makes it harder to fall, and stay, asleep. We can also become more vulnerable to stress and anxiety, which further disrupt those rhythms.
One way to combat these fluctuations is to try what seasoned travellers do for jet-lag recovery: Get exposure to real daylight and eat your meals on time to nudge your brain into a routine. And don't use bright screens at night, especially before bed, because they mimic sunlight and tell our circadian system that it's day, not night—and, therefore, not time to sleep. Those who need more help might consider light therapies that have been developed to treat seasonal affective disorder, says Dr. Liu-Ambrose.
The takeaway: Many researchers consider six to eight hours of sleep a night to be the standard sweet spot, though this can vary by individual. If you're routinely getting less than that and waking often in the night, not feeling refreshed in the morning and experiencing bouts of sleepiness during the day, talk to your doctor about sleep strategies—especially if you're experiencing anxiety or depression. In the short term, napping can reverse some of the effects of poor sleep, including memory loss and increased stress. And you only need a 30-minute catnap to feel the results.
This is your brain on a healthy diet There's no perfect "brain food," but eating a nutritious diet (lots of veggies and fruit, lean meat, fish and healthy fats) is the smartest way to maintain long-term brain function and memory, and to slow the development of brain diseases.
Getting enough of specific nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids is important but not the holy grail. University of Pittsburgh researchers recently found that people who eat broiled or baked fish at least once a week have larger brain volumes in the areas used for memory and cognition, despite varying levels of omega-3 in the fish they ate. Senior researcher James Becker concluded that he and his colleagues were "tapping into a more general set of lifestyle factors that were affecting brain health, of which diet is just one part."
In a 2015 study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, researchers looked at the broad set of eating habits of more than 900 people over 4 1/2 years and found that those who adhered to a diet high in fish, vegetables, nuts and berries, and low in fat and sugar, slowed down their brains' aging by about 7 1/2 years when compared to those with less-healthy diets. The healthy eaters cut their risk of Alzheimer's by up to 53 percent. And even when those people only adhered to the diet part time, they saw some benefits— an effect that has not been found in other diets, says Drogos.
The researchers dubbed the most promising cluster of these eating habits the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, which blends the longevity-boosting Mediterranean diet and the heart-healthy low-fat DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet that doctors recommend to patients at risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. More studies need to be done on why it works, but in the meantime, there's no downside to eating healthier and ditching the junk.
The takeaway: Add more veggies to your diet. Research shows that older adults who report eating more of this food group perform better in mentally stimulating activities than those who don't.
Did you know? "Menopause brain" is a real thing. As with "pregnancy brain," its more famous counterpart, women approaching menopause really do experience memory problems and brain fog. Researchers think a drop in estrogen levels might be the cause.
Can you train your brain? Does firing up a brain-training app actually help improve your memory and ward off dementia? Sorry to disappoint, but right now, evidence for the benefits of computer-based brain games is weak, says Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an associate professor and Canada research chair at The University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Coastal HealthResearch Institute. Brain games appear to help you learn to play them better, but research doesn't show that those tasks transfer to other aspects of brain performance. The same goes for crossword puzzles and sudoku, which help your vocabulary and math skills, but nothing more.
How to maintain your mental edge at any age
In your 30s: This is the time to make sure you establish healthy habits—such as getting plenty of exercise and sleep, and eating a good diet—that will affect your brain health throughout your adult years. "When it comes to maintaining brain health, the best time to start is yesterday," says Dr. Nasreen Khatri, a registered clinical psychologist, gerontologist and neuroscientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto. If you feel you need a boost at work, consider old-fashioned writing instead of typing on your computer. A study in the journal Psychological Science found that university students who made handwritten notes were better equipped to recall conceptual ideas from their professors' lectures than those who had typed notes on their laptops.
In your 40s and 50s: People in this age group are part of the "sandwich generation," and often face caring for their aging parents on top of dealing with their other work, financial and parenting obligations. So, unsurprisingly, they're super stressed—and this can affect both mental health and day-to-day brain function. Dr. Khatri says it's essential to prioritize and edit out activities and commitments that increase stress without adding value to your productivity or happiness. That's because "maintaining mental health in early and mid life is key to safeguarding cognitive health later on," she says. "Untreated depression in midlife doubles your risk of developing dementia in later life."
In your 60s and beyond: In your senior years, socializing with friends and family, and picking up activities that allow you to connect, such as volunteering, are key to maintaining brain health. And sorry, keeping up with folks on Facebook isn't enough. "Ask yourself: Is social media rounding out my real-life social experiences?" suggests Dr. Khatri. What you need is face-to-face interaction.