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Tuesday, October 1

Play Hard, Eat Healthy, Sleep Well:
3 Ways to Help Your Children in School & Life

If you really want to help your kids excel in school, it's relatively easy: Run with them, feed them well and pack them off to bed.

That's according to a couple studies reported in Reader's Digest that are gaining renewed attention in scientific communities. Exercise, good nutrition and proper sleep may be more important that homework, flash cards and praise for trying hard.

Play More Often

The simple truth is that healthy bodies lead to healthy brains, and healthy brains are better prepared to learn. Rather than adding to your stress and theirs about getting top grades or completing homework assignments, encourage your children to go outside and play. Sign the kids up for a sports team, implement a family run before dinner or go bicycling with them twice a week.

The authors of "The Winner's Brain," neuroscientist Mark Fenske and Harvard Medical School cognitive-behavioral psychologist Jeff Brown, contend that exercise stimulates blood flow to the brain and releases a brain protein which leads to growth of new brain cells. Brain scans show that the areas of the brain which deal with cognitive control and relational memory are larger in children with higher fitness levels.

Require after-school active playtime rather than after-school homework. As little as 90 minutes a week of exercise can lead to an improvement in math, reading and spelling, the American College of Sports Medicine found.

Eat Real Food

Take the children grocery shopping with you, and instead of reading labels, make a game of picking fresh vegetables. Plant a backyard garden, and let the kids pull weeds, water and pick the harvest. Insist that even young children help prepare dinner. When your older children opt for fresh fish and healthy snacks, you’ll deserve the high grades for teaching them well and keeping them fit.

Fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, nuts, beneficial fats and lower levels of sugar fuel the body and the brain. "Eating properly can also boost your child’s ability to resist distraction, avoid emotional outbursts and otherwise regulate behavior," Fenske wrote in The Globe and Mail. You will also teach them respect for the producers of food, decrease your family’s reliance on processed foods and empty calories and increase family interaction.

Sleep Well, Relax

Insist on an "early to bed, early to rise" routine that will have them up and ready to go to school each morning. Kids may rebel at first, but enforcing strict bedtimes during the school week goes a long way toward improving grades. "Morning people” also consistently score higher on motivation scales.

Continue to encourage empathy, good citizenship and school spirit. We all want our children to be honest, respectful and aware of the feelings of others, and one good way to foster this is to encourage your children’s concern for teachers and classmates. Send get-well flowers or a homemade card if a teacher is out because of illness, and encourage them to stick up for the underdog at school.

Then, try to relax regarding their progress and their grades. Let them experience the joy of being children more than the stress of being students.

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