Healthy Habits Can Enhance School Performance

Healthy Habits Can Enhance School Performance

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How often does your child engage in active play? Does he or she eat vegetables, fruits, and whole, unprocessed foods on a daily basis? What are his or her sleep patterns? These are just
How often does your child engage in active play? Does he or she eat vegetables, fruits, and
whole, unprocessed foods on a daily basis? What are his or her sleep patterns? These are just
a few of the lifestyle habits that can affect the learning ability of children and the degree to
which they enjoy school, according to Dr. Leslie Spencer, a professor in the Health &
Exercise Science Department of the College of Education at Rowan University. The
physical, intellectual, social, and emotional aspects of health are interrelated. If a child is
suffering in one area, the others will be affected as well.

Physical activity and fitness is a weak area for many American children today. According to
the U.S. Surgeon General, one out of every five children is overweight. While many kids eat
too much <+>junk<+> food, the major culprit in childhood obesity is inactivity due to excessive
time spent watching television or sitting in front of a computer. Children don't need
regimented exercise programs, but they do need active play on a daily basis. Organized
sports are one way of achieving this, but bike riding, hiking, jumping rope and other simple
games are also healthy and beneficial. Physical activity is a great stress-reliever, and
maintaining a fit, healthy body can improve self-esteem. Group activities help children learn
teamwork and important social skills that they will use throughout their lives, as well.

Sleep is an essential, but often-overlooked aspect of well-being and academic performance.
Sleep aids memory, and eight hours of sleep after studying will help a student retain more
knowledge the following day. Sleep is also a time when the brain repairs itself, and good
mental health is dependent, in part, on regular sleep patterns.

Nutrition can enhance a student's ability to concentrate and stay alert during school. A
breakfast consisting of whole grains and protein with minimal amounts of fat and sugar will
stave off hunger pangs that can interfere with a student's ability to think and reason. A
nutritious lunch is also important, particularly if the student is participating in after-school
activities that require additional energy. Contrary to popular opinion, sugar does not cause
hyperactivity. When sugar snacks are eaten in place of meals, however, a child may
experience a rise followed by a quick drop in blood sugar, which may ultimately leave him
or her feeling irritable or sluggish.

Overall, the concept of balance is the key to a healthful lifestyle that complements
scholastic performance in children. They need to eat frequent, healthful meals and snacks,
enjoy physical activity and social interaction with friends, establish regular sleep habits and
maintain positive and open relationships with their parents, teachers and friends. Some
specific suggestions for parents include:

• Encourage your child to have a regular bedtime. Most people need between seven to 10
hours of sleep each night. Nightlights and music can interfere with sleep, and their use
should be minimized, if possible.

• Limit television and computer time. While there are no <+>official<+> guidelines as to what
constitutes too much TV or computer use, make sure that your child spends at least 30 to 40
minutes each day in active play.

• Help your child find physical activities that he or she enjoys. Minimize the competitive
aspects, and encourage him or her to participate for fun.

• Serve breakfast before your child leaves for school. Limit sugary cereals, pastries and other
processed foods. Whole-grain cereals, fresh fruit, milk and toast are nutritious, quick options.

• Have your child take a lunch to school that includes whole grain breads, low-fat meats,
cheese, fruit, yogurt and other nutritious foods. Limit sweets and high-fat snacks such as
chips.

• Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia, are increasing among teens and
pre-teens. Pre-adolescent children should not go on weight-loss diets without the
recommendation and supervision of a pediatrician, even if they are overweight. While eating
problems are predominantly a problem for girls, boys may also suffer from them. Be aware
of your child's body image and changes in eating habits.

• Spend a few moments each day talking with your child about school and his or her
experiences of the day. Maintain open communication with your child and be aware of signs
of anxiety, depression or other changes in attitude or behavior.