An Alphabet of Tips to Keep Families Happy and Healthy

Adjust the Attitude. We’ve heard it more often than not that a positive attitude can keep you healthier.  To back up this statement, U.S. News and World Reports state optimistic women lower their risk of death by 14 percent from any cause and pessimistic women’s risk rises by 16 percent. Studies from Harvard and Duke University show a happy attitude towards life can improve health, extended life, and create an overall sense of well being.  

So how do you stay positive when life throws lemons your way? Practice the power of positive thinking. “If a baseball player thinks he’ll never hit a homerun, chances are he never will,” says Dr. Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D and national brain health spokesperson. Tell yourself, “I will have a great day.”  Or turn a negative statement such as “I need to lose weight,” into a positive one with “I am getting physically fit.”  Remember what the mind believes, it achieves.

Boost Brain power. Let’s face it, we need our brain to function daily. The best way to boost brain power and to keep the brain healthy is by stimulating the brain physically, socially and cognitively, says Dr. Howard Rankin, clinical psychologist.  Crossword puzzles only help verbal skills. If you want a complete work-out for the brain you need to do a variety of different tasks (physical as well as cognitive, like balance exercises and ping-pong) and you really need to challenge yourself, such as learning a new skill.

Combat Cardiovascular Disease. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) has become the number one cause of deaths in American men and women. Too much cholesterol in the blood, obesity and inactivity can lead to CVD.  There is good news. These causes can be preventable ones.  Studies show overweight women can decrease their risk of CVD by 30 percent by reducing their body weight by 5 to 10 percent, according to American Heart Association (AHA).  More importantly, by maintaining an active lifestyle you can lower the risk by up to 50 percent. The first step to combating CVD is to eat a heart-healthy diet. Check out the nutrition center at Next, get moving. Become physically active. And lastly, avoid tobacco smoke.

Drive away diarrhea.  Like it or not, everyone suffers from the dreaded diarrhea.  Usually a spell of it will last a few uncomfortable days. As long as you stay home, you’re okay.  Venturing to work, school or public places can throw one into a panic. To treat diarrhea, consider a clear liquid diet for the first 24 hours.  After that, slowly add bland foods, such as bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, also known as the BRAT diet. Other foods include saltines and mashed potatoes (without all the toppings—remember bland).  If the dreaded “D” continues, look at the foods you’re eating and give a call to your doctor.   

Eat together as a family. Dinner time is an important opportunity to strengthen the family bond and to instill lifelong lessons.  Harvard University links children’s literacy and school success to dinner table talk. Additionally, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has found teens who eat two or less family dinners a week are three times as likely to try marijuana, two and half times as likely to smoke cigarettes and one and half times as likely to try alcohol.

Dishing up dinner might take some creativity if schedules are frantic. Try cooking a large amount on one day and incorporate the leftovers into entrees for the next day or two.  Or prep dinner and toss it in a slow cooker before the busy day begins.

Fit feet.  When our feet ache, it affects our entire lifestyle. We need healthy feet to stay active.  It doesn’t take much time or energy to keep our feet fit.

First, feet need to be clean and dry. Fungal organisms love moisture.  So be sure to dry between the toes, too. Keep your shoes to yourself. Sure, mama always told you to share. Well, this is one time to be selfish with your shoes. Never go into a public area, such as the gym, locker room or public pool restroom, in bare feet. These are high breeding grounds for fungi. Don’t let your feet sweat. With 250,000 sweat glands in each foot, perspiration creates the perfect place for bacteria to set in. Place baby powder in your shoes to help absorb moisture and wear breathable footwear and socks for happy feet.

Games Galore. Physical games are a great way for families to keep body and mind healthy, while having fun, too.  Physical games allow you to maintain flexibility and endurance, as well as builds muscles. As your body is getting a workout, your mind will, too.  You’ll need to anticipate the opposition’s actions in games like tag football, tennis or volleyball.

Brain games help keep the brain active, which produces new connections between nerve cells.  As we age, we experience changes in our daily intellectual skills, says Dr. Cynthia Green.  To keep the brain sharp, Green recommends playing games against the clock, such as PacMan.  Time games force you to pay attention, work fast and think nimbly. You can't beat the clock without doing so.

Healthy cleaning methods. A healthy home environment begins with safe cleaning products, which can have a positive impact on your family’s well-being.  Skip the traditional cleaners that contain toxic chemicals and look for products that are environmentally friendly.  Or to save money, use everyday pantry items you have on hand.  Baking soda acts like an abrasive.  Hydrogen Peroxide removes stains.  Vinegar removes grease and soap scum, dissipates odors, replaces bleach and cleans windows.  

Increase physical activity. The word exercise can cause loud groans to many.  Moving it doesn’t mean your typical membership at a gym.  Instead, “Make a list of the ways that you like to move,” says Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez, author of Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management.  “This list might include dancing, swimming, jumping rope, water aerobics, playing tennis and so on. Finding fun activities inside and out will give you endless opportunities to remain active.”

Kick off shoes.  Although you might not want dirt from the bottom of the shoes tracking into your house, think of all the other things that could be on the bottom of the shoes, too.  Allergens, dust mites, germs, pesticides, and toxins could be making their way across the carpeting. The University of Arizona found the exterior of our shoes contains an average of 421,000 bacteria.  So, leave those shoes at the door.

Lung TLC.  Anything we breathe in can affect our lungs, according to the American Lung Association.  To keep lungs healthy, be aware that germs, smoke and harmful substances can harm your lungs.  Make it a point to avoid them.  During colder weather, cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your respiratory system from the frigid blast of cold air.  Eat healthy with plenty of antioxidants in the diet. If your diet isn't as healthy as it should be, take antioxidant vitamins, such as Vitamins A, C and E. For more information about lung care, visit the American Lung Association at  

Mindful Meditation.  Mediation can slow down stress and give you peace of mind. Follow these simple steps to meditative mind. Go to a place where you will not be interrupted. Pillows and a throw will make it more comfortable. Be sure to turn off the phone. Dim the lights and turn on soft music. Close your eyes and take deep breaths, relaxing your body wherever you feel tension. Visualize a place you enjoy that brings you comfort or peace. Let your thoughts drift to that place.  Do not let your thoughts deviate from your place of comfort or peace.  Give yourself at least ten minutes.  Then, slowly move out of mediation. Stretch for a minute or two before you enter the world again.

Nurture you neck. Most people rarely think about their neck until a kink or pain appears. Just think about it–that narrow neck holds up a fairly nice size sphere, the head. So the neck needs to be healthy and strong. Stretching the neck ligaments and muscles is the most effective way to promote a healthy neck and ease neck strain. Try this simple stretch that you can do daily.

With shoulders forward, turn your head slowly to the right. When you feel a pull in your neck or when the joints won’t allow you to turn anymore, hold this position for up to 30 seconds. Repeat on the left side.

Organically Grown.  Going organic is a hot trend, says Tina Ruggiero, a nutrition expert and author of The Best Homemade Baby Food on the Planet. Scientific studies show some toxic chemicals used in pesticides have been linked to serious health problems, including learning disabilities, immune dysfunction, and cancer among others.   

To begin buying organically without breaking the bank, Ruggiero, suggests buying organic produce in season.  Buy grains in bulk and look for coupons for organic products.  Consider joining a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group and grow your own vegetables. Ruggiero advises to prioritize your shopping by skipping the organic soda and buying the organic meat, milk, cheeses, as these are produced without growth hormones and antibiotics.  

Play together. Playtime isn’t for kids only.  Adults need it, too.  Best of all, studies show families who play together can communicate better and more often.  Additionally, playtime offers an opportunity for family bonding and building self-esteem.

Introduce your kids to some of your favorite pastimes as a child.  If you need a little help, borrow from the library The Daring Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls.  Both books are filled with ideas from days gone by.  Or make it a plan to try something you’ve always wanted to try as a kid and never had the chance. Or try something completely new, such as mountain bike riding, pottery class, or kayaking. For outdoor ideas, check out Venture Outdoors.  Remember, it’s about having fun, which brings better mental health for adults and children alike.            

Quench your Thirst.  Dr. Marvin Kunikiyo, author of Revolutionizing Your Health, warns water is the second on our body's priority list with oxygen being number one.  According to the latest statistics, 75 percent of Americans are dehydrated.  Kunikiyo says the reason is many people equate any liquid beverage, such as juice, coffee, tea, or soda, with water. However, soda, coffee and alcoholic drinks dehydrate the body as they take more water out of the body than they put in. Another reason is the thirst mechanism decreases with age.  

A dehydrated body can cause inexplicable pain, constipation, digestive problems allergies, asthma, as well as stresses the brain.  To stay properly hydrated, health experts agree a person should drink half of his/her body weight in ounces.  A 120-pound woman should consume 60 ounces of water a day, or nearly a half gallon.  So, drink up.

Reduce Stress.  On top of making you feel awful, stress can cause health problems.  Back pain, headaches, high blood pressure, fatigue, shortness of breath, weight gain or weight loss are symptoms caused by stress.  If we could eliminate the event or the thing that causes stress, we’d be fine. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.  So we need to change our reaction. Family Doctor recommends we look at change as a positive challenge, by setting realistic goals at home and work.  Solve the little problems to help gain the feeling of control.  Also, be sure to exercise and participate in sports, social gatherings or activities enjoy and ones that do not cause stress to you.

Share Spirituality. “Spiritual beliefs are comforting and reassuring,” says Dr. Robert Epstein, former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today Magazine and author of Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence.  Studies suggest children with a spirituality or religious environment get along better with other children, helps them do better in school, and helps them feel better about themselves.  

Renee Trudeau, coach/speaker and author of The Mother’s Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life, suggests parents incorporate spirituality into everyday life by spending time together in nature. Take a family hike or soak up the sights, smells and sounds of nature. In the morning, carve out a few minutes in the morning before you everyone rushes out to work/school to share three things that each family member is grateful for in his or her life.  If morning is too hectic, make it a dinnertime tradition.

Teeth Whitening Tips. Certain food and drinks can stain tooth enamel.  These include coffee, tea, soy sauce, curry, cola, balsamic vinegar, tomato sauce, blueberries and beets, says Anastasia Turchetta, RDH and coined America’s Oral Health Expert.  Try drinking through a straw to limit the amount of liquid that comes in contact with teeth.  No need for expensive whiteners.  You can whip up your own home whitener by dipping your toothbrush directly into baking soda. Or combine lemon juice and one teaspoon of salt to make a paste-like substance.  Brush your teeth and rinse. The taste might not be to your liking, but your teeth will sparkle. For a tastier whitener, rub a strawberry directly on the teeth. The enzyme in the berries naturally whitens your teeth.  Smile.

Upper Body Proper Position.  Mama always says, "Stand up straight!" Most people do not have correct posture, according to American Chiropractic Association (ACA). Good posture decreases abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could cause degenerative arthritis and joint pain, prevents muscle strain, overuse disorders, back and muscular pain, and reduces the stress on ligaments holding the spinal joints together, which decreases the likelihood of injury.

ACA offers these steps to correct poor posture.  Weight should be primarily on the balls of the feet, shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent. Let arms hang naturally down the sides.  Stand straight and tall with stomach tucked in and shoulders pulled backwards. Keep head level with earlobes and in line with the shoulders. If standing for several minutes, shift weight from toes to heels, or one foot to another. Your upper body will thank you for good posture.

Vibrant Skin Care.  To make your skin glow eliminate the dead skin cells. Sounds gross, but all you know to do is exfoliate with a soft natural bristle brush while you’re in the shower.  Next, drink your share of water each day. (See Quench Thirst.)  Increase your fiber intake.  Activate sluggish circulation by stretching each morning, taking a walk, or working out at the gym.   As a reminder, moisturizer and sunscreen protect your skin from air pollutants and the sun.

Wash your hands.  Sure, this is another one of Mama’s rules and with good reason. Bacteria and germs are commonly spread through hand contact. Think about the hands that have touched a grocery cart, a restaurant menu, or a magazine in the doctor’s office.  To rid any pesky germs, wash your hands as often as possible. Scrub with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Don’t forget the back of your hands, under your nails and your wrists.  When using hand sanitizer, rub a dime-size amount in your hands for 20 second or until hands are dry. Make sure the sanitizer has 60 percent ethyl alcohol, ethanol or isopropanol to kill germs effectively.  

X-ray Vision. Alright so these tips will not give you x-ray vision.  However, they’ll provide tips for good eye maintenance.  First, American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends regular check-ups for children up to 19 years of age.  Then, have one exam during your twenties and two exams during your thirties. When you hit 40, exams should be every two to four years.

SPF isn’t just for skin only.  Wear sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection year round. Heat and air conditioning can dry out eyes so turn the vents away from your face in the car.  Over-the-counter tear drops can alleviate dry eyes. If you’re overdue for an exam, Eye Care America offers free eye exams and up to one year of care to U.S. citizens who qualify.  

Yucky Mr. Yuk. The bold green stickers warn little ones not to touch and were the creation of a grade-school student back in 1971.  Since then, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh's Poison Control Center has adopted Mr. Yuk as its mascot.  You can request a free sheet of Mr. Yuk stickers by sending a self-addressed stamped business-size envelope to Mr. Yuk, Pittsburgh Poison Center, 200 Lothrop Street, BIR020703, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.

To keep children safe from poisonous products buy child-resistant packaging.  Also, keep all medicines, cosmetics and chemical products out of reach. If your little one should get his hands on a toxic product, the Pittsburgh Poison Center is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-222-1222.

ZZZZ away.  Sleep, as well as rest, allows the body to restore and renew itself, says sleep expert Dr. Matthew Edlund, author of The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough. With enough sleep and rest, people look younger, heal faster, lose weight more effectively and experience greater joy in their work and relationships.  Edlund suggests going to bed and waking up at the same time, including weekends. Your bedroom should be cool, calm, dark and at least an hour before sleep time free of electronics (no TV, cell phone, video games, Internet access). A hot bath before bed can improve deep sleep. Reading and simple yoga exercises can be part of a one hour pre-sleep ritual, too.  These simple steps can help your family sleep their way to good health. Good night!