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Although this is not the typical time of year when we think about New Year’s resolutions, we have come to the start of a new year, in more ways than one. 

Rosh Hashanah is a time for closing the book on the previous year and starting over, and it coincides neatly with the start of the school year. With that focus on starting over, this is the perfect time to rethink some of our unhealthy habits and focus on working toward a healthy, happy start to the new year.

One of the most important keys to good health is a good night’s sleep. The older kids get, the more they seem to push the limits of bedtimes. However, teenagers still need eight to 10 hours of sleep each night. Elementary school-aged children should get nine to 12 hours of sleep, with younger kids requiring as much as 16 hours of sleep, including naps. Good sleeping habits positively impact both mental and physical health, while lack of sleep can cause problems like anxiety, depression, obesity, diabetes, a weakened immune system, even hyperactivity and worsening ADHD.

The start of a new year is a great time to improve upon other bad habits, too. Along with back-to-school physicals, many kids are seeing a dentist around this time of year for semi-annual dental exams. Visiting the dentist can help encourage kids to improve dental hygiene by brushing teeth at least twice daily and flossing at least once daily.

This is also a good time to set limits on electronics and establish a media plan, directing the amount of time everyone in the family – parents included – spends on the phone, tablet, computer, video games or TV. Screen time increases significantly when children are out of school. New limits should be set at the start of the school year, balancing physical activity, school work, family time and occasional screen time.

Other poor habits that need to be improved include improper nutrition and exercise. As I have mentioned before, most kids are not getting the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Families can pledge to get more active together and to also improve some poor nutritional habits that may have popped up over summer break. Many children are picky eaters, and they may not be getting all the necessary nutrients. It is helpful for all children – especially the picky eaters – to consume a daily multivitamin, which will help maintain proper nutrition and boost growth and immunity.

Last of all, this is a good time to think about disease prevention. As children return to school and day care, diseases spread. Parents should work on enforcing proper hand-washing techniques – washing with soap and water for at least 15 seconds and washing hands frequently throughout the day (before eating, after going to the bathroom, after sneezing/coughing, when returning from playing outside, after touching pets and even more frequently when sick). Parents should instruct young kids on the technique of coughing or sneezing into a tissue or their sleeves/elbows to limit the spread of germs.  

Proper nutrition, sleep and vitamin intake will help boost the immune system, but the best way to stay healthy is to minimize exposure to germs.

I’d like to wish everyone L’Shana Tova Umetukah – a good and sweet new year – and I hope that we all find some personal resolutions we can make as we work toward a healthy start to 5779.

Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma. 

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