12 Months of Good Health: Your Family's Wellness Calendar

Tackle one stay-well strategy per month and make this the year your family gets serious about healthy living.
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January to June

JANUARY: Breathe Easier

Indoor allergies can get worse in winter, thanks to tightly closed windows, which seal in furnace fumes, dust, mold, smoke, pet dander, and other triggers. The symptoms are easy to mistake for a hard-to-shake cold: sniffles, wheezing, itchy eyes, persistent cough, or chest congestion. If you suspect you've got an indoor allergy, have it diagnosed with a skin test. Treatments range from allergy-proofing your home (learn how at epa.gov/asthma) to vaccine therapy -- something parents should consider if medication doesn't control a child's allergies, says Todd Rambasek, MD, a pediatric allergy and asthma specialist in Cleveland. Overcoming allergies can prevent or lessen the severity of asthma, a chronic lung disease that kills about 4,000 Americans every year.

FEBRUARY: Get Heart Smart

Moms and dads aren't the only ones in the family who need regular cholesterol checkups. Children between the ages of 2 and 10 who are at high risk for heart disease should also get a blood test for cholesterol, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Other than obesity, high-risk categories include having diabetes, a strong family history of heart disease or high cholesterol, and high blood-pressure readings, says Stephen R. Daniels, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at the Children's Hospital in Aurora, Colorado. If the results are normal, kids -- like adults -- should be retested every five years. Doctors are looking at whether all children should be tested at least once, but no new recommendations had been released as of press time.

MARCH: Put the Kids to Bed

Bad sleep habits can become even worse when it's time to set the clock ahead for daylight saving time, which begins this year on March 14. "If your kids already stay up too late, the extra hour of evening sunlight may encourage you to push bedtime even later," says William C. Kohler, MD, medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute, in Spring Hill. Sleep-deprived kids don't perform as well academically and are likelier to have behavior and discipline problems. Dr. Kohler recommends setting bedtimes so children and teens log about nine hours before they wake up for school. And plan ahead for the "spring forward" time change: Starting three to seven days before the change, gradually make their bedtime and wake-up time about an hour earlier.

APRIL: Protect Your Smile

Regular exams and cleanings, plus fluoride treatments and orthodontic care for kids, keep minor dental problems in check. Cavities, for instance, are easy to fix if caught early -- ignore them and you may need an expensive root canal. Your dentist may encourage everyone in the family to come every six months, but your insurance (if you have it) may not cover visits that frequent. The good news? A recent review found no significant evidence that twice a year is best. "As long as your teeth and gums are healthy and you brush and floss daily, it's probably safe to stretch out visits to every eight months or so," says American Dental Association spokesman Richard H. Price, DMD.

MAY: Take Care of Ticks

It's time to defend against Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis. Ticks gravitate to shade, leaves, and long grass where it's damp, so keep lawns mowed, remove brush, trim trees to let in sunlight, and consider applying pesticide around your yard's perimeter. After being outdoors in a tick-infested area, check everyone's skin, including armpits, scalp, and groin; remove any ticks with tweezers and freeze in a plastic bag to show to the doctor, if needed. Wash clothes with hot water and dry on high at least an hour. Contact your doctor if you have symptoms such as fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, or a circular rash around a bite (see cdc.gov/features/lymedisease).

JUNE: Safeguard Your Skin

Applying sunscreen should be a year-round habit, but summer is a key time for everyone in the family to apply a product with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. All that fun in the sun increases the risk of skin cancer, not to mention painful sunburns and premature wrinkles. To get enough protection, you need to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, so keep a bottle handy in your purse, your car's glove compartment, and your kids' backpacks. For added protection, wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays. Using a UV-blocking laundry rinse on clothing will up the sun protection of an average T-shirt from a rate of 5 to 30 -- and it's far cheaper than stocking up on special UV-protective clothes.

Continued on page 2:  July to December


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