There is no better time to focus our minds on healthy living than when the world is immersed in a sanitary crisis and the word “health” is on the tip of everyone’s tongues.
No one is offering a magic shortcut to good health, of course. Rather it’s the usual suspects – diet, exercise, plenty of sleep and minimal stress.
Straightforward as this might seem, we appear to need constant reminders and ever more inventive ways to take the advice on board and turn it into a lasting reality.
When it comes to the very young, it’s all about stitching the message into fun activities that will keep their defences strong and capable of defeating a myriad of pathogenic aliens and their bodies and minds operating at full throttle.
King’s Infant School Chamartín and King’s College Madrid have run with this timely theme as the school year comes to a close, staging a Healthy Living Week that covers food, exercise and mindfulness, using a variety of engaging challenges.
“The idea is for the children to develop the understanding that healthy living is not just looking after our bodies it’s looking after our minds too,” says Joanne Grigg, a Primary teacher at the school. “Therefore we are doing a range of activities to highlight the different factors we need to consider when keeping healthy.”
Eating healthily is key to a high-functioning body and mind and the sooner good habits are instilled in our children, the more likely they are to take root and flourish.
Over the past 20 years, there has been an increased awareness of good nutrition but unfortunately, due to consumer trends, this has been coupled with an increase in weight issues in society as a whole, not least its youngest members.
In the UK, a shocking 34% of 10 to 11 year olds are said by the UK government to be carrying more weight than is healthy while in Spain 32% of children between seven and 13 fall into the same category, according to a report in the magazine JAMA Pediatrics.
There are several cornerstones to getting your child to eat well, one of which might seem obvious but is often ignored due to busy schedules and sheer frustration. According to research published by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), while children are predisposed to go for high-energy foods packed with sugar and salt, repeated offering of healthy alternatives “can modify innate preferences.”
Another essential aspect is allowing the children to have a hand in their own diet while guiding them towards healthy choices, an approach known as “parental structuring”. This could be taking your child shopping and allowing them to pick several healthy products from the shelves, involving them in the preparation of meals and giving them a choice between two healthy options when it comes to snacks, which they can put together themselves.
King’s Infant School Chamartín and King’s College Madrid used Healthy Living Week to promote this kind of participation. Not only were the children asked to make their own smoothies, fruit kebabs and healthy picnics they could bring to their virtual class, they were also encouraged to draw on their creative resources and invent a “healthy” song and imagine they were setting up a wholefood restaurant, complete with a menu the customers might like.
As active learning is far more effective than passive, it makes sense to give children a degree of responsibility in the care of their body and mind. In fact, when it comes to maintaining good health, keeping active is quite literally key.
King’s has been particularly conscientious about incorporating physical activity into the virtual curriculum in general but, during Healthy Living Week, the focus was dialled up with children asked to make up dances to their favourite songs as well as rising to a range of challenges involving squats, push-ups and star jumps.
Eating well and exercise goes a long way towards a healthy lifestyle, but what about building a healthy attitude towards food and exercise? According to the research published by NCBI, relating good nutrition to a better performance in sport is a good way to avoid body image issues.
According to one of the authors of the research, Jackie Burning, “Learning early in their lives to focus on the positive impact food can have on their bodies’ performance—rather than concentrating on things like body fat percentages and ideal weights – might help prevent some children, particularly young women, from developing unhealthy attitudes that could sabotage not only their on-field success, but also their health.”
Another of the pillars of healthy living, which is often overlooked in our high-octane society, is of course mindfulness and King’s College Madrid and King’s Infant School Chamartín broached this aspect with morning yoga sessions and Origami, a Japanese art which can be traced back to the 6th century BC when it was thought to be practised by Buddhist monks.
With increased concentration comes more listening and thoughtfulness, enabling students to measure their response to situations and make more considered decisions; in short, the building blocks of emotional intelligence.
Art in general is the perfect way to develop mindfulness and both King’s Infant School Chamartín and King’s College Madrid kept it at the forefront of Healthy Living Week.