Being active and making healthy choices has been a hot topic in our Varsity classroom this year! We have been having lots of discussions about drinking water, eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising, and getting enough sleep. I recently re-read The Guide to Good Health for Teens and Adults with Down Syndrome by Brian Chicoine, M.D. and Dennis McGuire, Ph.D. and found many helpful tips for promoting good health in the home and community. While the book is tailored to individuals with Down syndrome, I think the information is useful for everyone.
Here are some of my favorite tips and reminders:
*Health promoting activities work best if they become part of our usual, customary day. To achieve success with healthy behaviors, we need to do them over and over. Often it doesn’t take great big changes, but rather, little changes done repeatedly.
*For hygiene, washing, rinsing, and drying are all important. Many adults with disabilities seem to have the “zip-zip” approach to drying and don’t get in between toes, skin folds, etc. Washing and rinsing are obviously important, but often completely ineffective if the drying is left out. Fungus and bacteria love to grow in warm, moist, dark places. To help encourage good drying skills, it can be helpful for someone else to demonstrate good drying techniques outside of the normal shower time. In addition, a timer or certain song choices can be used to help the person devote a reasonable amount of time to drying.
*To assist with taking medications more independently, pill cases with compartments for the time of day and day of the week can be very beneficial.
*Research shows that adults with Down syndrome were more likely to be closer to their ideal body weight if they had opportunities for recreational and social activities. We should encourage activities that involve lots of walking and movement, such as taking stairs when possible, visiting museums, dancing, and going to parks. Generally, turning off the TV and being more active is beneficial.
*Making activities fun is an important part of an exercise program—otherwise the person is not likely to sustain it over time. Social activities seem very successful at motivating adults to exercise. Variety as well as repetition can promote ongoing participation. While variety helps maintain interest and improves the fun, the repetition is reassuring, easier to follow, and helps the individual keep track of his/her own activities and remain self-motivated to participate.
*Persistent life-long participation in exercise is important. Look into mentor programs with local colleges, Club 321, activities through Green Oaks, or the Down Syndrome Partnership for continued activities regardless of age. A few ideas include a Taekwondo class tailored for individuals with special needs in Keller, Miracle League baseball, and a free fitness class every Saturday morning in the fall and spring for individuals with disabilities at TCU.
*Be realistic about exercise benefits. A two-mile walk (that burns 250 calories) to Dairy Queen won’t lead to weight loss if 800 calories of ice cream are eaten at the destination.
*Regarding nutrition, portion control is an essential part of healthy eating for everyone. Showing the person models of an appropriate portion can be helpful. For example, a deck of cards may be shown as the appropriate size for a piece of meat. Also, measuring out servings of food (such as one cup of cereal) before the meal is helpful. Purchasing smaller bowls or plates that just hold one serving can also be helpful.
*Consistency and constancy are important aspects of the nutrition regimen. Drinking a can of soda or eating a candy bar every day can contribute greatly to weight gain over an extended period of time. Over a year’s time, one can of soda per day adds up to 65,700 calories and represents 18.5 pounds gained. Diet soda, while not containing calories, also has ingredients that are harmful for the body over the long-term.
*Small changes over time can result in significant weight loss. For example, eliminating a glass of apple juice every day (about 150 calories) and replacing it with a glass of water would result in eliminating calories equal to more than 15 pounds per year.
*Dietary changes should be made both at home and as part of the person’s social life. Better results can be obtained if the entire family agrees to try to eat healthy foods, limit problematic food choices at home, and support each other. Families should also seek out activities that they can do together that aren’t centered on food.
*It is recommended that everyone drink 6 to 8 glasses of water per day. Not only is drinking water a healthy habit, but drinking plenty of water can help reduce caloric intake.
*Sleep is a crucial aspect of health. Generally, all adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Good sleep hygiene can help people optimize their sleep. The elements of good sleep hygiene include a nightly bedtime routine, regular sleeping hours (going to bed and waking up at the same time every day), sleeping quarters that are free from bothersome noise or light (including TVs, phones, iPads, and computers), regular exercise, avoidance of caffeine in the evening, and avoidance of exercise right before bed.
*Having friends and family who love, support, encourage, and advocate for us, no matter what our age, stage, or situation, is critical to our health and well-being. It is important to ensure that adults with intellectual disabilities continue to have meaningful, consistent relationships in the face of changes that occur as they age. Relationships with parents are not enough. It is crucial to ensure the support of additional people who have a committed, ongoing relationship. These relationships can broaden the adult’s sense of connection with others as well as soften the impact of future losses.
*We all need to encourage everyone to be as independent as possible in pursuing healthy behaviors.