Back To School Health Tips

Although my days in formal education have ended, I will always think of September as back-to-school time. For over 20 years, September marked the beginning of a new school year and a time of change, particularly my years in university when I lived in a different apartment/house every year. Even now, I feel like Labour Day is my New Year’s Day, although it’s no longer a guaranteed holiday for me and there’s nothing different on the other side of it except cool nights, falling leaves, snow, and flu season. Whether you’re a parent of a student, or a student yourself, the change in lifestyle from summer to fall, in addition to the change in environment, can lead to an increased vulnerability to the onslaught of cold and flu viruses in the fall. There are ways to fortify yourselves and your little ones to keep your immune system strong and decrease susceptibility to illness, in addition to keeping their minds sharper and maximizing potential at school.

1) Frequent Hand Washing – I know, it sounds so simple, but this is truly the best way to prevent the spread of illness. There are bugs everywhere and all the time so if you’re not washing your hands after every trip to the grocery store, mall, and especially the bathroom, and after every patient, client or customer you come into contact with, you’re increasing the chances that you’ll become infected with whatever cold or flu is going around. Antibacterial gel is handy to have around in a pinch but it is not a substitute for frequent hand washing.

2) Stay Home – It can be tricky, but when your kids are sick you need to keep them home from school, just like you need to stay home from work when you’re sick. We’re all guilty of it; just last winter I went to work when I had a strong feeling that what I was suffering from wasn’t some food poisoning or the stomach flu but the Norwalk Virus, and I work in healthcare and know better. Stay home when you’re sick, you’re not doing anyone any favours by taking your germs out in public, particularly during the first few days.

3) Diet – Hopefully during the summer, everyone in the family has had a healthier diet. Fresh fruit and vegetables are more widely available, and it’s easier to be satisfied with a cleaner, fresh diet. Regardless of whether or not this has happened, it’s not too late to start cooking a better, more balanced diet, optimizing your family’s health and teaching them how to eat healthily. I know there are different concepts of what makes a diet healthy, whether it be low fat, sugar-free, low-carb and so on. To me, a healthy diet is one that includes fresh fruits eaten whole and not as consumed as juice, vegetables that are prepared minimally if at all with olive oil and natural seasoning, whole grains, lean meats, preferably organic, and minimal processed foods, white flour, and sugar, whether it be natural or artificial. It is particularly important for little brains to include a high amount of essential fatty acids in their diets and even consider a supplement. This will improve their focus, aid their digestion, and improve their immunity.

4) Exercise – Moving your body is good for everything. It improves circulation, decreases fat and increases muscle mass, improves mood (as effective as anti-depressants in treating mild to moderate depression), improves brain function, increases immunity, enhances digestion, and helps to prevent such diseases as many types of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Heart disease and diabetes in particular are on the rise in the younger population, in large part to poor diets and inactivity. Video games have their purpose (such as letting me belt out my favourite Pat Benatar song in Rock Band) but as this generation moves towards spending more and more time indoors playing video games, they’re spending less time outside, playing, biking, running, swimming and moving in general. Additionally, developing bodies need adequate rest to allow their bodies to recuperate. Our bodies do a lot of work while we sleep so it’s important for everyone to get adequate sleep but this is doubly true for children and young adults.

5) Overall Health – Having a well-balanced diet is a great start but many growing kids (as well as adults) have certain foods that they should stay away from based on their genetics, environment, and overall composition. If your child suffers from food allergies or sensitivities, it could result in ADHD, skin disorders, asthma, digestive problems, fatigue, and mental fogginess. The most common allergies in children are dairy, wheat, soy, eggs, peanuts, and corn so pay attention to what your child is eating and how it affects them. Processed foods are harder to track because most of them contain a little of everything. If you suspect that your child has allergies that are contributing to significant health problems, you should see an appropriate healthcare provider for assistance.

These are just some small ways to get you and your families prepared physically and mentally for the onset of the school year and fall. Everybody has different needs and certainly some of these may apply more to some than to others but the bottom line is that eating healthy, being active, having good hygiene, and getting adequate rest go a long way towards creating optimal health for all of us.

Happy Autumn!