Back-to-School: Family Health Routine Makeover

Back-to-School: Family Health Routine Makeover

It’s that time again. As families reinstate fall routines, schedule back-to-school physicals, and prepare for a busy school year, it is easy for parents to overlook their own routines, specifically when it comes to their health and wellness.

When parents create a healthy lifestyle for themselves, it sets a positive example for their . Scientific studies show that initiating healthy habits when are young is the best way to prevent the development of chronic diseases. In fact, a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that individuals who follow four healthy lifestyle habits-including never smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and following a healthy diet-together, reduced the risk of developing the most common life threatening chronic diseases by as much as 80 percent. These four factors were shown to dramatically reduce the risk of developing diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and cancer.1

One of my mentors always said, “A family that plays together stays together.” In my naturopathic practice, I find the most robust families with the healthiest habits include their kids as part of their entire wellness routine. These families approach healthy habits much in the same way they collaborated on homework and school projects. I observed parents indirectly educating their children about wellness by including them in shopping, cooking, gardening and exercising routines. Explaining to children why you are making certain choices, then allowing them to observe the results, has a lasting impression that will impact the way they make choices for themselves down the road. It has been noted, an important component to achieving success when following an integrative approach to health and wellness is the integration of all family members into the process.

Read more about making family meals healthy and fun

This year, consider a few easy steps that can help get your whole family ready for school…and lay a foundation for healthy habits throughout the busy year ahead and possibly for a lifetime.

Prepare for the sunshine shortage: Get your Vitamin D

The changing seasons bring less hours of sunlight and contribute to lower vitamin D levels. Scientific evidence indicates that vitamin D deficiency is common, which is partially the result of a well-justified emphasis on protecting our children from the potentially harmful effects of the sun.

Adequate vitamin D levels are important for a variety of health reasons, including promoting healthy bones and supporting healthy immune and nervous systems. There has been a great deal of recent research conducted on the benefits of vitamin D, and it is becoming increasingly evident that maintaining proper vitamin D levels is an important aspect of maintaining optimal health and wellness. In fact, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has convened a committee to update the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) values for vitamin D.2 Many experts believe the DRI for vitamin D is currently too low to support optimal health.

Ask your doctor about vitamin D, and if your family should consider a supplement based on individual diets and sun exposure. He or she may recommend vitamin D testing for some family members to ensure that your family is consuming an adequate amount of vitamin D daily.

Don’t wait for January: Start your New Years Resolution now

Back-to-school time is the perfect opportunity to get back into a regular routine-and your health and wellness regimen is a key component to ensure that your family’s health is in tip top shape. Your health routine should include basic healthy habits that are easy to follow on a daily basis. Remember to get enough sleep even when your kids’ baseball, saxophone and dance practices seem to be taking precedence.

Trade in juice and soda for lots of water, which will not only keep your body hydrated, but will give your skin a healthy glow. Take your multivitamin to fill in nutrient gaps in your diet-a busy schedule may mean you don’t always have time to eat as well as you should, leaving you vulnerable to deficiencies. Lastly, move your body daily, even if it’s just for a few minutes in between carpools or up and down the stairs at work. Challenge not only yourself, but everyone in your family to follow these healthy habits now and that will mean one less health-related resolution when January rolls around.

Get your immune system ready: Consider a healthy diet, dietary supplements, and exercise for prevention

With the colder weather comes shorter days eventually flu and colds can be passed quickly to family members. Prepare your body for the battle now-eat a healthy diet, include and other supplements as needed and get active. The better shape you are in now, the better your chances are of warding off cold and flu bugs that might cross your path.

Read more about reducing the spread of germs

A multivitamin is a great place to start because being nutrient deficient weakens your immune system-and it might leave you vulnerable to seasonal illnesses. Also, consider keeping the kitchen cabinet stocked with helpful immune support. Echinacea, elderberry, , and zinc are supplements I use to support a healthy immune system and some research suggests that these supplements are effective.3 And, of course, when I’m feeling under the weather, chicken soup (with lots of garlic), extra sleep and a little tender loving care goes a long way.

Image: Nestlé


1. Ford E, Bergmann M, et al. Healthy Living is the Best Revenge: Findings from the European Prospective Investigation In to Cancer and Nutrition-Potsdam Study. Arch Intern Med. 2009; 169(15):1355-1362

2. Institute of Medicine []. Dietary reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium.

3. Vlachojannis JE, Cameron M, Chrubasik S. A systematic review on the sambucifructus effect and efficacy profiles. Phytother Res. 2009 Jun 22. [Epub ahead of print]

– Caruso TJ, Prober CG, Gwaltney JM Jr. Treatment of naturally acquired common colds with zinc: a structured review. Clin Infect Dis. 2007 Sep 1; 45(5):569-74. Epub 2007 Jul 20.

– Shah SA, Sander S, White CM, Rinaldi M, Coleman CI. Evaluation of echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis. Lancet Infect Dis. 2007 Jul; 7(7):473-80. Review. Erratum in: Lancet Infect Dis. 2007 Sep; 7(9):580.

– Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004 Oct 18; (4):CD000980.

Leave a Comment
Douglas “Duffy” MacKay, N.D., is Senior Vice President, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). CRN is the leading trade association representing the dietary supplement industry. Dr. MacKay is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor and was a co-owner and practitioner in a family-owned New Hampshire complementary and alternative medicine private practice for seven years. In addition to his hands-on experience as a practitioner in the field of integrative medicine, he spent eight years working as a medical consultant for two companies in the dietary supplement industry, including four years with Nordic Naturals, where he served as Vice President, Clinical Research. He previously served as Senior Technical Advisor for Thorne Research. A published author in peer-reviewed journals, Dr. MacKay previously served as a Senior Editor of the peer-reviewed clinical journal Alternative Medicine Review. Dr. MacKay earned his B.S. in Marine Sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz and his N.D. from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. Dr. MacKay is licensed in the state of New Hampshire.