The Family Elder In an Uncertain Time Part III : Wisdom for families
Claire Barnes  415.203.8278

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The Family Elder In an Uncertain Time Part III

by Claire Barnes on 09/02/19

Welcome to Part III of The Family Elder In An Uncertain Time.  This series, taken from I'm Still Your Grandma I'm Still Your Grandpa, is designed to help grandparents soothe family members (and themselves) during a frenetic time in our country.

This final installment focuses on overall health and well being of family members. I hope the ideas are applicable and valuable to the situation of each reader.

Overall Health and  Well-Being

Food is a tremendous agent of socialization.  We eat when we are happy, sad, celebratory, lonely, in love – any human emotion or life experience is easily tied to food.  Think of the image of a hovering mother who says, eat this, you’ll feel better.

Unfortunately, industrialized countries are experiencing obesity in epidemic proportions. The cheap and easy accessibility of fast food and sugary sodas contribute to children who struggle early on with weight gain.  Recent studies also suggest, a diet overly dependent on fast food can contribute to depression in youngsters. Food and drink portions are supersized, snacking has increased up to six times each day, and our caloric intake has increased by one third compared to the previous generation of children.  Lack of access to nutritious foods (especially in lower income communities) paired with a reduced interest in exercise (everyone is glued to technology) are additional elements adding to the spike in the numbers of childhood diabetes and eating disorders

The gender differences reflected in eating difficulties are notable.  Girls are bombarded with media role model images of stick thin models and actresses. They are simultaneously exposed to advertising for foods which cause their weight to increase (pizza, burgers, sugary drinks).  These conflicted messages create a clash of desires for young girls and complicate their self-image during their adolescent and teen years.  Is it any wonder concerns with weight affect 40% - 60% of girls ages 6-12 in the United States? And these concerns continue throughout much of their lives.

The long-range problems experienced by obese youngsters include academic difficulties, increased medical costs, self-esteem concerns (victims of bullying), and a population that is sicker and more lethargic than previous generations. Like socialization, the first place children learn healthy eating habits is the family.

Maintaining healthy dietary habits and routines can be helpful to both Boomers and their grandchildren. You can easily involve your grandkids in meal planning and food preparation when they are with you.

·       Keep your focus on low fat, low carb menus which are high in fiber.

·       Stay away from heavily packaged (processed) foods.

·       Read labels – added sugars are lurking in foods under a variety of names: Anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener and fruit juice. Many sugar names end in ose.

·       Shop in the outer aisles of the supermarket where the fresh foods tend to be displayed.

·       Snacks like chips and sugary cereals can be saved for a special treat.

·        Fresh fruits and veggies (with hummus dip) can become tasty, familiar staples.

Be aware of the role food plays in your house and in your family.  Try to avoid associating food with a reward (extra food) or punishment (taking food away). Grandparents and grandchildren can focus on the healthful aspects of food together and both generations will be better off for it.

Let's Move   If you are not inclined to initiate a formal exercise routine, there are other options.  Obviously, exercise helps us burn calories, stretch our muscles and keep our bodies flexible.  What you may not know is movement increases oxygen to the brain and thereby stimulates brain functions in children and adults.  Movement also encourages nonverbal activity and expression (dancing, pantomime). If you have a hard time finding thirty minutes daily to move with your grandchildren, here are some alternatives:

1.    Gardening.  Not only are you outside and moving, you are communing with the earth and bringing something organic to life;

2.    Swimming.  Go to a local water aerobics class and get moving in the water.  Swimming is easy on the joints and can ease arthritis discomfort.  Then take your grandchildren to the pool and teach them your aerobic routine;

3.    Walking. Thirty minutes daily is the recommended standard.  Walk the dog; walk to the store; walk over to see a neighbor; walk in a park; take the stairs. If the weather does not cooperate, walk or march to music around your house.  Buy an inexpensive pedometer to count your steps and measure how far you walk.  Gradually challenge yourself to increase the distance;

4.    Bike Riding.  Bike riding is easy and offers a good muscle workout.  It improves balance and can even reduce stress and melancholy.  When riding with your grandchildren, be sure and be a positive role model and wear your helmet;

5.    Move to music.  Put on some upbeat music you enjoy and dance, move or march with your grandchildren.  Belly dancing is currently a popular activity for women.  You can take lessons then teach family members.  Belly dancing has no limits on age or body shape;

6.    Play an active Wii or Xbox game. The unavoidable technology games do offer opportunities to move.  There are dance games, sports games (ex: tennis, golf, basketball), and fitness games.  Some systems are sophisticated enough you can even track your burned calories and weight loss.  If you are shy about technology, let your grandkids show you how the games work;

7.    Learn Yoga.  There are many introductory free yoga videos online.  And although we may not think of yoga as exercise, the American Osteopathic Association notes the following benefits of yoga:

·         Maintaining a balanced metabolism

·         Weight reduction

·         Cardio and circulatory health

·         Improved athletic performance

·         Protection from injury

·         Increased flexibility

·         Increased muscle strength and tone

Running is deliberately left off this movement list.  Unless you have been a lifelong runner, taking up running in retirement can be difficult on the joints of a sixty-something grandparent.  Run if you can, but also remember there are lots of options to get you moving with your grandchildren.

In summary, by making exercise a priority in your own life, then sharing it with your grandchildren, you are encouraging overall health and well-being in your entire family.

 There is a whole new body of work in psychology suggesting we are only happy when we are striving for something.  Once we meet our goal, we move the goalpost resulting in a constant struggle to find satisfaction and happiness in the moment.   How to find contentment in the immediate moment, rather than tying it to a goal which constantly changes, is a challenge for many people.

Harvard lecturer Shawn Achor is developing a contemporary approach teaching skills to develop what he calls the Happiness Advantage. 

Based on his studies and publications, Shawn has promoted the following five steps worldwide helping people build skills leading to happiness as a benefit:

  • Write down three things you are grateful for each day.  By doing this you train your brain to focus on gratitude and optimism;
  • Write for two minutes daily describing one positive experience you had within the past twenty-four hours.  This exercise helps your brain remember an event with a positive meaning as an alternative to a ‘to do’ list;
  • Exercise for ten minutes daily;
  • Meditate for two minutes daily, with focus on your breath going in and out. By focusing on your one body function, you can transition your attention away from multitasking
  • Write one quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praise a friend or loved one.  This encourages your social support network.

Remember Mr. Wilson in the ‘Dennis The Menace’ cartoon?  We all laughed at his grouchy demeanor in his retirement.  He and Dennis were at constant odds with one another. 

Now, here we are, aging like Mr. Wilson. No one wants to be tagged with a sour, grumpy grandparent label. The role of the Family Elder is a big responsibility.  By embracing it you fulfill your own life and the lives of family members. By maintaining an upbeat demeanor, embracing each sunrise as a gift, we spend life’s third act as a positive, optimistic Family Elder.




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