Good health — it’s important! And the well-being of our families, as a collective whole, is just as important as our individual health. While no two families are alike, generally happy and healthy families seem to share several attributes that nurture the mind, body and soul.
Healthy families communicate and promote an environment where everyone can openly express what they’re feeling. In fact, “effective communication is one of the most frequently mentioned characteristics of strong families,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Research on Successful Families. This includes talking about the good and the bad. When members of the family do something to upset their father, mother, brother or sister, they work to right their wrongdoing. On the opposite side of the spectrum, family members also show appreciation for one another.
Another reason why communication is important is that life is always changing, and most families face challenges at one time or another. Again, HHS research shows that when individuals know their roles and responsibilities within the family, they can better manage periods of uncertainty and change.
2. They spend time together
Demanding careers, social events, committees, after-school activities — all of it takes a significant portion of time away from our families. Yet, healthy families still spend a lot of quality time together, according to HHS research. This can be anything from sitting down and enjoying a meal together to gathering around the TV with a bowl of popcorn for a family flick. According to a Michigan State University Extension article, “Spending Quality Family Time Together is Very Important,” the amount of time will vary between families, and it’s a delicate balance. Participating in activities together will also help with communication — one of the most-cited qualities of strong families. Discuss how to spend your time with one another, and choose something all will enjoy.
3. They stay active
In addition to spending time together, healthy families meet physical activity guidelines. Staying active also sets children up for a healthier adulthood according to health.gov. Moderate and intense physical activity should add up to an hour or more every day for children age 6–17. And most adults 18–64 years of age should get in 2½ hours or more of endurance activities every week. This can be anything from speed walking to running.
When mom and dad participate in physical activities with the kids, it sets a good example. Staying fit is a lifestyle, so make it fun by taking family bike rides, walking places when possible, heading to the beach for swimming, or getting outdoors and working on chores like leaf raking (and pile jumping), together. You can even give your kids fun challenges: How many times can you jump the rope in a row?
Don’t have time to get active? If you’re like the average American family, chances are you can cut out some TV time. Children age 2–11 spend over 24 hours every week watching TV and pre-teens and teens age 12–17 watch almost 21 hours per week, according to data from Nielsen in NYDailyNews.com. Swap the tube for some of that quality, active family time.
4. They eat healthy
According to the CDC, the majority of youth do not get the daily recommended 2½ to 6½ cups of fruits and vegetables. And eating healthy impacts physical and mental health and school performance. As parents, we’re busy. We don’t always have the time to prepare healthy food, but it’s important.
The best advice we’ve heard is to get in the habit of planning. This includes planning your trips to the store and time to prep and cook healthy meals and snacks. Invite your kids to participate in the process and learn. At the grocery store, have them put healthy items in the cart. When they’re old enough, show them what to look for on food labels like low sugar, for example. In the kitchen, have them help you prep meals and snacks. Your kids will likely feel more invested in the meal and may even get over some picky eating habits.
5. They learn together
Spending time learning together not only strengthens your family bond, but your children’s education will benefit, too. More than a quarter of children who were read to three to four times in a week by a family member knew all letters of the alphabet compared to 14 percent read to less frequently, according to the National Education Association. When a child struggles with education, it can place stress on the family, so this is a great way to keep everyone sharp.
Learning together can also include spiritual learning. Religious or spiritually oriented families are typically stronger families, according to HHS research. This does not include a specific religious affiliation, but rather shared morals and a belief in something greater than oneself. Expression of this belief can range from participating in worship or volunteering together.
No family is perfect, but we can all work toward creating a healthier environment for ourselves and our children. Start taking a few moments every day to work on a healthy habit or two, whether it’s preparing healthy snacks, taking the stairs, or striking up a conversation with your spouse or kids. It will all add up to a healthier family.