I love how in the past year Re-Discovered Washington has developed into a full-fledged community. I get e-mails and Facebook messages daily, from people who simply want to connect with me or have ideas for the blog. Such is the case with Lauren Reynolds, who contacted me to say how much she loves the Re-Discover Washington community. I offered her to write a guest blog post, and I was delighted to get an almost immediate response. Health and Wellness is a topic I feel strongly about, because I believe that when people are healthy and happy, they can develop good relationships, make smart choices and help enrich the community. That’s why when I read Lauren’s blog post, I wanted to publish it right away.
Photos and Captions: Me
Text: Dr. Lauren Reynolds
Missouri ranks #42 in national health rankings, but can we rank higher in Washington, Missouri?
According to a national news article recently published by USA Today, our hometown state of Missouri rolled in at an embarrassing #42 in the yearly 2012 health rankings. It was reported that while our nation is living longer, there is an overabundance of lifestyle-related chronic conditions and diseases plaguing our nation, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. While the emphasis appears to be on exercise, diet and weight-related issues, we have to stop and consider that these are only a few pieces of the puzzle. How did we really end up here at #42? Do we eat too much fast food? Yes. Do we avoid the physical activity? Often. However, we also need to look closer at societal and cultural changes, including advanced technology and increased social media use, that drive the health of our nation, as well as the health of our community here in Washington, Missouri. This includes the way we live our everyday lives – the lifestyle choices we make for ourselves and subsequently encourage our children to emulate. We may not be able to directly impact how the government defines healthcare, budgets money, or enforces gun laws, yet, there are many things we can control and work on fixing a day at a time in our own lives, therefore, impacting the overall health of our community here in Washington.
I grew up in Washington. I spent 1st grade through senior year in the Washington School District, and had a great childhood spent with neighborhood children with whom my siblings and I would play with after school until dark. My sister and I were heavily involved in competitive gymnastics, however, in the times that we were not at practice, we would join our brother and the other children in jumping on the trampoline, riding bikes, making forts, exploring the woods, swimming, building snowmen and having snowball fights, playing tag or hide and seek, making up plays and dances, and climbing trees. My family had a computer since the time I was born, and I did have access to it. However, my parents tended to err on the side of being quite strict about computer use, movie ratings and other exposures (I really could not watch PG-13 until I was 13!). When we were allowed to spend time using the computer, the criteria included one of two things. My siblings and I could either play the educational spelling, math and reading games we had, or make use of the print shop program we had that allowed us to be creative and make ‘family newsletters’, scripts for our plays, or write short stories and put pictures in them. We did have the Internet when it became available in Washington, however, it too was limited to use with a parent until later in high school. My parents caved on getting an Nintendo 64 toward the end of high school (after we begged for years because “ALL the other children had them”), but again, we only had car racing and Mario games (no violence allowed), which we had time limits for use. Most of the time though, we were too busy to play video games because there was just so much to do and explore in the real, physical world around us.
Maybe you can relate to the description of my childhood, maybe not, however, one thing I think we can all agree on is that today’s children have a VERY different childhood experience from the ones we lived. There has been a major shift in our societal culture with the advancement of technology and influx of social media that envelopes our daily lives. I will be the first one to admit that there are many benefits and conveniences that we can now enjoy that were not available in the past. I read the news on my smart phone in the morning, free of charge. I have a Kindle HD that I adore and store countless books on. I use my laptop to update my blog and write all of my research manuscripts for work. I pay my bills online. In addition, I believe there are many educational opportunities for today’s generation of children, such as motivational games that facilitate learning, having textbooks available online at discounted prices, or being able to see and talk with relatives that live on the other side of the country. That being said, I also see a darker side to unlimited access to social media and technology for today’s youth when it is introduced to early, or there are no balances or limits provided.
Whether parents are giving their children early and free access to the Internet or social media due to educational purposes or to solely entertain them, this phenomenon of greatly increased ‘screen time’ and sedentary behavior (or what I like to call ‘sedentary technology’) is beginning to produce a few side effects. One of these is specifically reflected in Missouri’s low national health rating (and it is NOT #1 on the list!):
- Possibly smarter children (although I think we all turned out just fine without iPad and Leapfrog games at age 2)
- Children who are acquiring adult conditions and diseases like sleep apnea (snoring), diabetes, unhealthy weight, and high blood pressure.
- Strong fingers and thumbs
- Additional consequences that may not show up for some time such as increased vision problems or cervical spine/neck issues due to eye strain and poor posture during use of smart phones and tablets, etc. We just do not know yet what the long-term effects of so much screen time will actually be.
- Children who have unlimited access and exposure to materials that are not age-appropriate. Gone are the days of having to ask parents for information and having it explained with compassion, truthfulness and a filter! Children and most adolescents are not emotionally ready to handle the overload of information on the internet without having a responsible adult to explain and guide what they are seeing and reading. You may think you can put restrictions on computers and other devices, but this generation of children is WAY smarter than we are when it comes to getting around those barriers!
- Children are now spending much of their time exploring a “virtual world” instead of actively using all five senses to explore their physical world (which as an Occupational Therapist, makes my heart hurt for these little ones!).
- Decreased social interaction skills. Yes, they can make connections online and through texts. However, in the land of LOL and BRB, spelling takes a back seat, children do not have to consider their appearance and facial expression, build non-verbal skills for face-to-face interaction, learn how to connect in a real conversation, etc. I could go on and on, but you probably get the idea. Things are very casual online, and early social media seems to encourage free expression, even when it is inappropriate. We are seeing the unfortunate effects of this through online bullying and the tragic consequences that accompany it.
I threw in the strong fingers and thumbs as a joke, to see if you were still paying attention, but to me, it seems that the overabundance of technology use is contributing heavily to the health of every community in our nation due to the other six points. I do not see this improving, unless we each individually take responsibility for how we use technology. It is not to say that you should not take advantage of the benefits or conveniences that technology has to offer, such as pre-set bill paying. For example, use it to accomplish tasks and free up time to spend having a real sit-down dinner with your family, going on a walk down at the riverfront trail, or playing tag at the fairgrounds. Also, consider ‘active technology’ – use a fitness app to keep track of your goals or look up some active games on Pinterest to play with your family. The world is your oyster in this situation – for adults, unlimited media and information gives you the chance to educate yourself and find ways to raise your children in the best ways possible.
Consider limiting use so that the majority of time during the day is not spent sitting sedentary staring at your smart phone, tablet, laptop, e-reader, etc. Surprisingly, research shows that being sedentary (the amount of time you sit) is just as dangerous for your health as smoking! Limits could include reading the news in the morning or before bed on one media source, picking a book you want to read to yourself or children on your e-reader or tablet at night, limiting internet checking to 2-3 times per day, cutting off social media surfing to 15 minutes per day, or committing to supervising your children every single time they need to use the Internet. If your family likes video games, play an interactive game that requires you to dance or sing.
The bottom line is, pick a few technology-related activities and limit it to those for the day. Try to avoid mindlessly internet surfing or marathon video games that cause you to sit for extended periods of time. A good rule of thumb is no more than 2 hours of screen time per day, which is actually recommended by pediatricians across the nation. Pay attention to how much time you and your family spend staring at a screen in the next few days (and this also includes television!) and see how you measure up. Encourage your children to explore their real, physical environment as opposed to the fake, virtual online world doing activities such as playing board games (facilitating fine motor, face to face interaction skills and rules), playing in the yard, painting, writing, building, climbing, running and racing, and biking).
In conclusion, I challenge each and every family in Washington, Missouri to step back and consider the many ways in which you can return to the basics. Aim for what I like to call ‘retro-parenting’ or ‘retro-living’ – focus on the good, simple and true. Eat whole foods, engage in real social interactions, spend time outdoors, and utilize the beautiful parks and trails in the community. Invest in your family’s future by building a real support system in the community, rather than reveling in social media and false connections where, if we are honest, we spend most of the time mindlessly wandering the picture albums of people we barely know and checking out what someone’s status claims they are eating at that moment. Consider becoming as well-rounded as possible and take advantage of the resources your community has to offer – many of which are inexpensive or free! The following list categorizes community resources as a springboard to help you and your family brainstorm ways to get back to exploring the physical world, become more active, less inclined toward chronic disease, make more meaningful connections within the community to increase your support system, and moving our state of Missouri up higher in those health rankings!
Ideas for Building a Healthy Lifestyle in Washington, MO
– Take a walk or ride your bikes on the Riverfront Trail
– Visit the Farmer’s Market downtown (go for those 7-13 servings of fruits and
vegetables per day – they are proven to reduce chronic disease and illness)
– Join a gym that has a good family rate (your health is the best investment you will ever make!)
– Check out crossfit (short, intense cardio exercises that are adult and kid appropriate)
Crossfit can be done ANYWHERE, you just need the workout of the day and you can find
them online for free.
– Start a neighborhood walk, even if just once a week with one family
– Make and eat dinner together as often as possible (this is an predictor of physical and mental health)
– Purchase inexpensive pedometers for your family and hold set goals for steps, utilizing the parks and trails in town
– Check out the local playgrounds
– Visit local parks and enjoy the outdoors
– Join a yoga relaxation or meditation class (stress is a cause of disease due to inflammation!)
– Volunteer or donate your time with local organizations (acts of kindness are under-rated these days!)
– Check out local community events sponsored by Downtown Washington Inc. and the Chamber of Commerce to meet new people
– Enroll your kids in youth sports at the YMCA or other leagues in town; encourage school sports
– Check out the youth program or adult classes focusing on making and maintaining quality friendships/marriage at your local at church
– Check out the local classes downtown or at ECC that are offered to learn about topics you enjoy
– EXPLORE the community you live in!
Dr. Lauren Reynolds (Strnad), OTR/L, is a native of Washington, Missouri and a 2002 graduate of Washington High School. Lauren works at Washington University’s School of Medicine as an Occupational Therapist/Clinical Researcher, currently investigating the relationships between maternal lifestyle factors and premature infant outcomes, focusing on early brain development. In her spare time, she promotes overall wellness and skin health through Juice Plus+ and Rodan and Fields Dermatology products, and writes a healthy lifestyle blog, which is available at http://OAProject.blogspot.com. Lauren can be contacted at email@example.com.