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

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July to December

JULY: Go Play

The long days and loose schedules of summer make it the perfect time to exercise as a family. "Show your kids that leading an active lifestyle can be fun and joyful; it's a lesson that will help them stay healthy for their entire lives," says internist Gary Rogg, MD, of Montefiore Medical Center, in the Bronx, New York. Just be sure that you avoid the word exercise -- playtime shouldn't seem like a chore or work. Instead, schedule fun physical activities that the whole family can do together such as biking, hiking, swimming, or playing hide-and-seek, capture the flag, or a lively game of kickball. Being active together is not only good for your health, it's also a terrific way to get closer to your children.

AUGUST: Visit Your Farmers' Market

A healthy diet that fights disease includes at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day -- an amount only 11 percent of Americans eat, according to a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study. Right now the stalls at your local farmers' market are piled high with ears of corn, squash, ripe berries, peaches, plums -- even early apples. Try varieties that don't show up at many supermarkets, like heirloom tomatoes and unusual melons. "People are often amazed at how flavorful a just-picked locally grown tomato or peach can be," says nutrition expert Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, coauthor of The Ultimate Diet Log. "It can make you look forward to eating veggies."

SEPTEMBER: Get in Focus

The odds are good that your kids get an annual eye exam -- a standard part of a well-child visit. But what about your eyes? If you (or your spouse) haven't been to an eye doctor recently, make an appointment. Every adult needs a periodic vision and glaucoma exam; your doctor will tell you how often. From age 40 on, you should get checked for presbyopia -- the natural gradual loss of lens flexibility -- especially if you're holding books farther away, can't see the computer clearly, or get headaches after close work like checking e-mail on your PDA. Solutions include reading glasses or special contact lenses.

OCTOBER: Ward Off Colds and Flu

To keep sick days at both school and work to a minimum, everyone in the family should get a flu shot (or two -- last year an additional H1N1 vaccine was recommended for many Americans). Your second line of defense against viruses and other bugs: frequent hand-washing. Since it's hard for kids to lather up regularly when they're at school, tuck travel-size bottles of hand sanitizer into coat pockets, gym bags, and backpacks (yours, too). Studies show that these alcohol-based gels can be as effective as soap and water in reducing the spread of germs.

NOVEMBER: Scale Back on Sugary Drinks

Eighty-four percent of teens chug at least one sugar-sweetened beverage on a typical day, notes a recent Columbia University study. Cavities aren't the only concern: Research shows kids (and adults) who regularly drink soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened iced tea are at greater risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes. Switch everyone to water, low-fat milk, and diet soft drinks. And don't be fooled into thinking that 100 percent juice is okay, says Larry C. Deeb, MD, past president of the American Diabetes Association. "You get vitamins, but fruit juice still has lots of sugar and no fiber. Stick to one small glass a day."

DECEMBER: Be a Volunteer

Giving back is good for you. Volunteering lowers rates of depression and may decrease your risk of disease as well as extend your life by several years, according to a review of more than 30 studies from the Corporation for National and Community Service. As little as one or two hours a week of helping out can improve your health. So get your whole family involved. And start your commitment right now: It's a great way to celebrate the true holiday spirit and escape some of the season's frenzied consumerism. For suggestions on how to begin, go to thevolunteerfamily.org.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2010.


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