Several years ago I attended a public health leadership conference. You know the type: your employer pays several hundred dollars and flies you across the country to fall asleep for several days in a hotel conference room. I was completely prepared for a week of team building exercises and judging my colleagues as they did their best Usain Bolt impression whenever the cookie trays were replenished. And then, just as I sat down and began preparing for a mid-day nap, the introductory speaker posed a question that would change my life: What will be your legacy?
Outside of having completed my doctoral dissertation researching epidemiological trends in obesity, specifically childhood obesity, and making my living as the health manager for an organization that worked exclusively with children, I was the newly minted father of a beautiful daughter. Overnight my priorities changed. That extra rep, skipping the after dinner ice cream, these decisions were no longer about my abs, but about being a healthy lifestyle role model to my Adaline. My legacy? Being a healthy lifestyle role model to my children and as many other people as I can reach.
We are just beginning to understand the power of social modeling and how our behaviors affect and influence those around us. You truly never know who is watching and following. This is never more evident than with lifestyle habits. One of the landmark obesity studies of the past decade showed that one of the greatest factors in your weight was the weight of those around you. Can you imagine the influence your lifestyle behaviors have on the little people who cry every time you leave the room? If you are asking your children to do as you say, not as you do, you are wasting precious breath.
Let’s serve up a heaping plate full of science. It’s not food advertising or the amount of parks in the neighborhood, but familial, particularly parental, obesity that is the greatest risk factor for childhood obesity. For a child with two obese parents, the chances of following their footsteps towards weight-related health issues is as high as 95%. In laymen’s terms, children who are raised by two obese parents are 10 to 12 times more likely to be obese in adulthood than one who grew up in a household of two parents with healthy BMIs. Certainly genetic predispositions play a factor, but heredity doesn’t load the plate or turn on the TV. What your children eat is not only greatly determined by what you pack into that brown bag each morning, but also what they see you munching on as you walk in the door from another stressful day at the office. Food preferences are greatly heritable, especially in regards to acceptance and consumption of fruits and vegetables. Likewise, as countless studies have exhibited, physical activity habits are developed very early in life, with the primary factor being the activities modeled by parents. Exercising yourself means your children are exponentially (like eight times) more likely to prioritize physical activity.
I’m not in the business of imparting parenting advice, nor am I in any way qualified to do so, but I’ve never been one to shy away from overstepping my bounds. If there is one thing I have learned as a parent, it’s that we all want our children to be better than we are. The best way to ensure your children will be better, is to be better yourself. Set the example, every day.
Pics or it didn’t happen.
Before you upload those workout pics to Instagram or share how you slayed today’s workout on your Snapchat story, show your kids. No, really. If you think your progress is inspiring to your friends, can you imagine the influence it has on that little person who thinks you are Mr. or Mrs. Incredible? Along with allowing me to bypass the chaos of a commercial gym, the biggest reason I prefer to train in my own garage is that my kids get to watch me. And they love to watch daddy “Hulk smash”. Nothing tells the munchkins that exercise is something that is done—every day—like having them see you do it.
What’s for dinner?
Sick of hearing me say it yet? Restaurant dining is unequivocally one of the primary contributing factors to obesity. Research has shown that the frequency of shared family meals at home has an immense influence on eating patterns and risk for obesity. Not only do you have control of what’s on the menu, but you get to model portion sizes and talk about it. We like to sit around the dinner table and discuss, well, food of course. Allow me a proud dad moment: my five-year-old can now spout off basic nutrition facts with more accuracy than the tunes of the Moana soundtrack.
Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.
Exercising, proper nutrition, sleeping, healthy lifestyle habits are all about routine. Nothing provides a better example to your children than what you do day-in and day-out. Make sure they see you prepare a healthy breakfast each morning, make physical activity a priority, and develop a consistent bedtime routine to coincide with theirs.
Every meal, every workout, and every good night’s rest is an opportunity to improve your health and that of your entire family for generations to come. Take action. Be the example. Leave your legacy of health.
Dr. Damian Rodriguez is the health and exercise scientist for doTERRA International, LLC. He holds a doctorate in health science, a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and countless professional certifications. He has spent most of his life researching nutrition, exercise, and the lifestyle behaviors associated with optimal health. Along with his passion for health, as someone who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is also involved in bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorders. There are varying opinions about many health and fitness topics. His opinions are his own and not necessarily that of doTERRA International, LLC. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to diet and exercise.