Healthy Parents, Healthy Kids

Why busy moms need to take care of themselves.

When it comes to your kids' health, there's nothing you wouldn't do or overlook. You schedule annual physicals right on time and visits to the doctor in between when your child is sick. You buy organic milk, eggs, and veggies and look for the best sports classes. But, parents are so focused on their children's health needs that they often forget about their own.

According to a recent survey by the International Food Information Council, although parents with children younger than 18 are extremely focused on the nutritional needs of their offspring, they are far less likely to think about their own health. And, in another recent survey by the American Heart Association, 12 percent of its website visitors said that they were too busy taking care of others to take care of themselves.

Busy parents should realize that caring for yourself is just as important as caring for your kids. It's in the best interests of the children to care for your own health. The airlines have it right: Put on your oxygen mask before putting on that of your child. Neglecting your needs may not only lead you to feel depleted and exhausted, but it can also put you at risk for getting sick.

It's important to balance taking care of your children with taking care of yourself. Here's how to create that balance:

1. Be as conscientious about scheduling your own health screening exams as you are with your children's medical appointments.

Your calendar should include your annual physical exam, an OB/GYN exam, an annual mammogram (starting at age 40), and a colonoscopy if you are turning 50 and you're at average risk.

A colonoscopy should be performed earlier and more often for people at increased risk, including those with a personal or family history of polyps or colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or a hereditary syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome). The screening for colorectal cancer starts at age 50 because the risk for colon cancer increases with age, and more than 90 percent of cases occur in people ages 50 and older. Most colorectal cancers arise from polyps that are precancerous but progress to full-blown cancer in 10 years or more. A colonoscopy allows your physician to remove polyps before they become cancerous and to identify cancer early, when it's most treatable.

2. Eat a well-balanced, low-fat diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Choose a diet that's low in saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as moderate in sugar, salt, and total fat. Busy parents may overlook healthy eating and exercise, opting for convenience and processed foods. So, try to make more informed food choices for yourself and your family by reading nutrition labels and ingredients.

3. Be physically active for 30 minutes most days of the week.

Break this up into three, 10-minute sessions when pressed for time. Activities can include walking, dancing, yoga, running, or any other physical activity or sport you enjoy.

4. Learn to manage stress and recognize its signs, such as trouble sleeping, anger and irritation, frequent headaches, and stomach issues.

Regular exercise, healthy eating habits, and relaxation exercises offer good ways to manage stress, but it's important to see a doctor if you are unable to alleviate these symptoms on your own.

5. Get enough sleep and rest.

Adults need about eight hours of sleep each night.