Back to School

Originally published in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, September 2010 (link) The new school year is off to a fresh start and like the beginning of the new year, this is a great time to make and strengthen health resolutions. The Latin quotation “mens sana in corpore sano” means a strong mind in a healthy body. There is no better time than when school starts in the fall to resolve to help our children achieve this. I'd like to focus on how we can best prepare our kids to get the most out of the school day in a healthy way.

A successful school day starts the night before. As adults we often find it hard to get enough sleep, and kids have greater requirements — the younger they are, the more they need. Kindergarten-aged children require 11-12 hours per night for optimum health. Skimping on sleep leads to decreased concentration and learning, along with health problems including increased susceptibility to infection and metabolic shifts that promote fat retention and obesity.

Help your kids get the sleep they need by setting clear bedtimes and minimizing stimulation in the preceding hours. It's important to wind down before sleep by avoiding sugar, caffeine (don't forget chocolate), bright lights, and other sensory stimuli. Making these changes in a household pattern will help your sleep, too.

In the morning, breakfast sets the tone for the whole day. Unfortunately, there's so much that needs to be done in the morning that it's easy to compromise on convenience over nutrition. Plan ahead to have quick options ready to supply a balance of protein and nutritious carbs. Eggs can be hard boiled and peeled in advance or cracked in a storage container with chopped veggies all ready to go for a speedy scramble. Have whole grain options available (not whole wheat — these are usually just refined white flour in faint disguise). Unsweetened low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese mixed with high-fiber fruits like apples and berries are also a great start. Make similar choices when planning lunches.

Sugars and other refined carbohydrates cause a quick insulin burst and subsequent crash. Both make it hard for your children and their teachers to have a productive morning. This pattern of insulin spike and crash is also highly associated with rising rates of obesity, insulin resistance, inflammatory conditions and diabetes.

Make sure your school has up-to-date emergency contacts, the name of your pediatrician and a full list of allergies and health issues.

It seems many kids are preparing for a polar expedition when loading up their backpacks. Help them weed out non-essentials and keep the total weight to under 15 percent of their body weight. Select a well-fitting pack with wide, padded straps. Encouraging children to wear both straps helps keep it safe, too. If this is too “uncool,” suggest your kids at least alternate which shoulder gets stuck doing the carrying to avoid stress to their neck, shoulders and back.

Finally, more important than anything else our kids carry with them is their attitude and expectations. Help support our schools and teachers by encouraging positive and healthy thoughts about the exciting school year ahead.

—Dr. Rebecca Gelber is an Incline resident and graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She practices locally at Tahoe Aesthetic and Integrative Medicine, 775-298-1750.