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On Sunday April 7th, the World Health Organization will again sponsor World Health Day. Dedicated to global health awareness, World Health Day is the perfect opportunity for all citizens of the world to come together and highlight an important area of global health concern. The first World Health Day was held in 1950. Themes over the years have focused on mental health and depression (2017), food safety (2015), and urban health (2010) to name a few. The theme for 2019 is universal health coverage.

In addition to supporting global health advancements, World Health Day is the perfect opportunity to focus on personal improvements such as how to support health through balanced eating, steps to develop physical health habits, and actions to improve environmental health.  

Take this opportunity to discuss with youth what being healthy means to them and what they can do to make improvements in their lives.  

So, what does it mean to ‘be healthy’?

Simply put, being healthy is when you take care of yourself—your body and your feelings. This could involve eating a variety of foods, getting enough sleep, being active every day doing the things you like to do, and spending time with family and friends.  

For adults in search of ways to help youth improve their health, the best place to start is by modelling healthy behaviours.  If you want youth to make healthier choices, then show them how you do it.

It is also important to explain to youth that being healthy does not have to do with body size.  Healthy people come in all shapes, sizes, skin colours and hair colours.  

What is healthy eating?  

Food Guide SnapshotHealthy eating means choosing to eat a wide variety of foods every day. The new Canada’s Food Guide provides Canadians with an updated snapshot of how to make healthy food choices throughout their day. The interactive plate allows users to learn more about ways to incorporate healthy food choices, such as  how to eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, the benefits of selecting more whole grains, examples of protein foods like nuts, beans, seeds, and yogurt, plus suggestions for preferred beverage choices such as water and low fat milk.  

Healthy eating is more than the foods we eat—it also involves developing healthy eating habits such as eating meals with others, cooking more often, finding enjoyment in food, and practicing mindfulness when eating.  

When discussing healthy eating with youth:

  • explore the foods pictured in the snapshot and have them identify foods they have tried from each of the sections on the plate.

  • identify foods that are locally grown in your area, foods they have grown themselves, or would want to grow some day.  

  • get in the kitchen and cook together. This is a great way to help kids explore new foods!  One fun activity to celebrate the joy of cooking and eating together is to participate in the Hands-on Cook-off Contest.

What steps can you take to be more active?

Being physically active is not just about playing sports.  It can mean going on a walk, playing in the yard, lifting weights, or biking to school. Any activity or exercise that consists of moderate and/or vigorous intensity exercise, and that you enjoy doing, is perfect!  One tip is to vary what activities you do to keep up your level of interest in being more active.

  • Moderate intensity exercises include those that will make you breathe harder and sweat.  Examples include dancing, weight lifting, or playing at the park.  

  • Vigorous intensity exercises are those that will cause you to become out of breath and sweat.  Examples include jumping rope, walking uphill, or jogging.  

As we get older, the amount and intensity of physical activity our bodies need changes.  For example, toddlers (1–2 years old) and preschoolers (3–4 years old) should be active for at least 180 minutes throughout the day at any level of intensity.  This includes climbing stairs, playing outside, crawling, or walking.

At around age 5 is when we start to add in more load bearing exercises, sometimes referred to as strengthening exercise.  These exercises help build stronger muscle and bone. Target areas on your body should be the legs, arms, chest, shoulders, and back.  

  • Bone strengthening activities for children and youth include hopping, skipping, jumping, running, gymnastics, basketball and tennis. 

  • Bone strengthening activities for adults include running and lifting weights.

  • Muscle strengthening activities include push-ups, lifting weights, sit-ups and resistance exercises using body weight or resistance bands, and heavy gardening.

Simply put, get your body moving! For a list of more exercises you can do, click here.  

The 5 Rs of environmental health  

The old saying ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ has received a facelift. New steps to consider when trying to reduce one’s environmental footprint now include ‘Repair and Refuse.’  Examples such as using reusable bags during shopping, practice borrowing and sharing, and fixing broken items rather than throwing them in the trash are great places to start.  

Looking for other options in your home?  

  • Conduct a waste audit. It is a fun way to explore how much your family throws away, how much they recycle, and ways to improve.  

  • Reduce home food waste. With so much attention focused on what to eat to be healthy, it is also important to be aware of the environmental sustainability of our food choices. Wasted food is more than just about throwing away edible food—it also wastes energy, water and other resources used to produce that food.

  • Shop for local food, when possible. Supporting your local farmer is a great way to promote the use of fewer resources used to produce and transport food. In Canada, we proudly make a number of local foods, one being milk.  

In the end, World Health Day is just a starting point to make many more improvements moving forward. Enjoy exploring ways to improve your health and the health of the environment. It is exciting to see what you will learn on this day and on the many more to come.

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