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tips & maintenance

Back to school: Best ways to give your kids a healthy start

It's that time of the year when long, leisurely summer days give way to the often too busy and chaotic routine of returning to the regular school schedule. Instead of fun in the sun and staying up late, it's time to shop for school supplies, go to bed early and get ready to buckle down for long nights of homework. Talk about stressful!

Here's how to make sure your kids will get the most out of the new school year, with tips to give them a healthy start and improve opportunities for success both in and out of the classroom.

1. Encourage them to exercise

Whether it's in the morning, after school or even a late night routine, have your kids aim for 20 minutes a day of aerobic exercise at 60% of their estimated maximum heart rate. Studies show exercise can improve mental function by up to 10%. They also indicate improved performance on tests following aerobic exercise, due to its ability to increase attentiveness.

2. Take them for an annual checkup

Routine exams and screenings help track your child's development and identify any potential problems. Vision and hearing tests are essential: Check with your school to find out about immunization requirements and recommendations, as well as any free exams they may have available throughout the year. Schedule a dentist appointment every six months, too.

3. Prepare healthy lunches

What your kids eat for lunch will give them the fuel and energy they need to finish a long day in the classroom. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low- or non-fat dairy products, in addition to protein, are essential. Limit sugars and juices. Search online for fresh ways of preparing old favorites, as well as new ideas for items to pack.

4. Establish a routine

Getting back into the swing of things after a long summer can be difficult, but a steady schedule will help kids thrive. Tips: Don't stray from the sleep schedule unless absolutely necessary; Set up a school area for sports equipment, library books and anything else the kids may need on the way out the door; Plan clothing and prepare lunches the night before for an overall smoother routine.

5. Serve a healthy breakfast

You've heard it before — breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But preparing a healthy meal can be a challenge in the midst of a busy morning routine. Don't skimp here: Not only does eating breakfast help improve math, reading and standardized test scores; it also makes children more likely to behave better in school, get along with peers and perform problem-solving tasks, in addition to improving memory and increasing attentiveness. Plus, children who eat breakfast on a regular basis are less likely to be overweight. To help your kids gain the maximum benefits, avoid high-sugar, processed foods and aim for 1/4 of the recommended amounts of protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C for the day.

6. Send them to bed on time

Quality sleep goes a long way in helping kids stay alert, energetic and ready to learn. Aim for 10 hours for children ages 6-9, and just over 9 hours for pre-teens. If they tend to do well on less rest, however, use your best judgment — every kid is different.

7. Let them have a little downtime

Stress and anxiety are a normal part of the back-to-school routine — for kids, as well as the rest of the family working to balance a full schedule. Allow them to take a little downtime when they return from school — whether it's outside play, a 30-minute television show, free time online, exercise or even a nap — engaging in a relaxing activity will help them do better when it's time to tackle the homework load.

8. Create a comfortable environment

Who can concentrate when it's too hot or too cold? Keep home temps set between 68°F-72°F, the optimum comfort level for most people. Limit noise levels, too-loud music or rambunctious toddlers roaming about may interfere with your child's ability to concentrate. Finally, help everyone breathe a little easier with a high-performing indoor air purification system. Minimizing indoor pollutants can improve your child's concentration, as well as help to alleviate allergies and respiratory symptoms, headaches and nasal congestion, which equates to better overall classroom performance and less days missed due to illness.

9. Balance their backpacks

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids should carry no more than 10-20% of their body weight. Help them distribute the weight of the items in their backpack evenly, too, to help maintain posture and balance. Encourage them to carry the backpack with both straps, and purchase bags with padded straps when possible.    

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