Exercise That Mother Nature Provides

Now that Halloween has passed, and colder weather is coming, exercising outdoors becomes less and less appealing. For those who don’t want to go to a gym or who need a different kind of motivation, look to Mother Nature to keep you healthy.

The leaves are busy falling right now and while it might seem like a chore to pick them up, raking provides great exercise for you and fun for the kids! Raking leaves engages your abdominal, arm and back muscles while burning calories. Once raked, the leaves provide simple entertainment for the kids. Little ones love to run around and jump into them, and throw and push them around. This simply means you get to rake them again and get more exercise! The whole family gets to be active thanks to a yard full of leaves.

Snow in November is not unheard of in Colorado either. Snow also brings exercise and entertainment value. Building snowmen requires that you pack and roll large balls of snow, which can really increase your heart rate! Snow forts entertain the kids as well. Shoveling snow in your yard to form the snow fort delivers similar benefits to raking: stronger muscles and more calories expended. You will be your children’s hero, providing them hours of entertainment while getting some exercise at the same time.

In addition to snow, winter weather provides opportunity for other forms of exercise and fun. There are several local places to try ice-skating that include the entire family. Both outdoor and indoor skating provides health benefits like walking, but it is a low-impact activity, so it’s easy on the joints. While burning calories and having fun, you can also reduce your stress during skating!

Another fun winter activity is sledding. Walking through snow up hills and sledding down is a fun workout. Try carrying one of your kids up the hill to increase your energy expenditure! Sledding engages your leg muscles and increases your heart rate. By increasing your heart rate through regular exercise, you can improve your mood (via endorphins that are released during exercise), decrease stress, and improve your immune system, in addition to improving your heart health and increasing muscular strength. Exercise is a simple way to stay healthier and happier during the cold months ahead.

As always, with any exercise, moderation is key. If your body is not used to physical activity, start slow to avoid injuries that are common with raking and shoveling, and talk to your physician before beginning any exercise routine. Enlist your kids to help, and have fun being healthy together!

Written by Darby S. Petitt, Ph.D.

A Healthy Halloween: It’s Possible!

If you think that trick-or-treating and eating tons of candy are the only ways to celebrate Halloween, think again.  There are many ways to celebrate Halloween without gorging on sugar, which affects kids’ behavior, their appetite for healthy meals, and their teeth!

The web is loaded with spooky and healthy snack ideas – for some great ideas, check these. Dried fruits can be made to look like eyeballs, cheese sticks or carrots like dismembered fingers, and melons like brains!  These healthy ideas are fun to look at, which might even encourage your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables!

In between eating fun, healthy snacks, kids can play exciting Halloween-inspired games.  Games like these encourage kids to play and be active, which helps behavior, attention spans, attitude, and overall health. You can also take a family trip to your local pumpkin patch or corn maze, carve or paint pumpkins, or try apple picking. In addition to getting outside and moving, you might come home with some healthy snacks; and kids are more likely to eat a food if they get to pick it. For some activities for “quiet times,” there are many printable coloring pages, games, masks, decorations and cards that will keep a child busy.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with snuggling in to read your favorite Halloween story – but you may have to leave the nightlight on!

Halloween candy is everywhere, and celebrations begin earlier and earlier every year.  Incorporate some healthy treats in your basket to minimize sugar consumption.  Try offering play-doh, stickers, pencils, erasers, and other non-candy items to trick-or-treaters this year.  You will be surprised how excited the kids are to get something other than candy!

This year, try celebrating Halloween in healthy ways. You may even start some new family traditions!

Have a healthy Halloween!

Written by Darby S. Petitt, Ph.D.

Healthy Teeth, Happy Smiles!

What is the first thing you notice about a person? Is it their smile?

Healthy teeth begin in the womb even before we are born!  After birth, children can acquire bacteria that cause cavities from caregivers who share spoons, test food before giving it to children, and any other action where saliva is shared.  Once dental caries (the disease process that leads to tooth decay and cavities) sets in, a child is more susceptible to cavities throughout his or her life.

Follow these five steps to give your child the best chance for healthy teeth:

1) Encourage healthy eating habits – plenty of fresh veggies and fruits, with infrequent snacking between meals.

2) Brush her teeth twice daily (with fluoride toothpaste for children who can spit) and floss before bedtime!

3) Drink tap water (that has fluoride in it!)

4) Discourage sharing of utensils and straws, and other actions that share saliva.

5) Seek early and regular dental care for your children.

The better you care for your child’s teeth early on, the better chance they have to avoid tooth decay and have a happy smile into their adult life.  That way, the first thing everyone will notice about your child will be his brilliant smile!

For more information, you can see the CDC Division of Oral Health, National Maternal and Child Oral Health Policy Center Trendnotes, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Children’s Dental Health Policy.

Written by Darby S. Petitt, Ph.D.


P.S. Support kids’ health (including dental hygiene!) around Colorado by making a donation to Healthy Learning Paths today. The first 100 people to donate $10 or more are automatically entered to win a Family Four (4) Pack to the Denver Zoo! Donate here.

The 1-2-3 for Successful Learners

Families are happiest when the kids are happy, and when kids are healthy, they are more likely to be happy as well.  Tired, undernourished, or sedentary kids are not given the opportunity to thrive. When kids reach school age, it is vital that they go to school ready to perform at their best.  Healthy kids get a full night of sleep, eat a healthy diet with a wide variety of foods, and get at least an hour of playtime a day.


1) Sleep

A good night of sleep results in better behavior, better school performance and reduced risk for obesity.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers (1-3 years) need about 12-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, while preschoolers need 11-13 hours of sleep per night.  Once children reach school age (5-12 years), they need 10-11 hours of sleep per night.  For more information on the effects of sleep on growth and learning, along with tips on how to foster healthy sleep habits for yourself and your child, see Waking up on the Right Side of the Bed and Back to School!  The Importance of Sleep.

2) Nutrition

In addition to maintaining a healthy body weight, a healthful diet can reduce risk of heart disease, Type II diabetes, and some cancers, while also improving energy and reducing stress.  The National Health Information Center released dietary guidelines in 2010 to help Americans focus on eating a balanced, nutritious diet. In these, a table with data from an NHANES study lists the top sources of calories in children and adults. For children ages 2-18 years, these included include grain-based desserts, pizza, and sodas!  It is important to give children a good variety of foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, to ensure they receive all the nutrients needed to play and learn at their best.  And don’t forget, a healthy lifestyle includes both a healthy diet and physical activity!

3) Exercise

In kid terms, exercise simply means play!  Children need at least an hour of physical activity per day.  This isn’t about going to the gym or hopping on the treadmill – for children, think about playing on the playground, riding bikes, playing tag, and jumping rope.  While active video games (video games that involve movement of the upper and lower body) may appear to you as exercise, studies have not found that these activities deliver the same benefits as regular play.  If you have ever been near a school while kids are at recess, you can hear the squeals, chatter, and laughter as kids run, jump, climb and chase.  Nothing beats the old-fashioned kind of exercise…play!

There is a lot of pressure on kids to excel academically from elementary to high school.  Without a solid foundation of sleep, good nutrition, and exercise, kids cannot perform optimally in school. Forming those healthy habits will ensure that kids’ brains are ready to learn, and that starts with you: the parents.  Lead by example, and your kids will reap enormous benefits.  Healthy kids are happy kids!


Written by Darby S. Petitt, Ph.D.


Food-Borne Arsenic: How to Reduce Your Family’s Exposure

Consumer Reports recently released a review of arsenic levels in 200 every day foods, including rice and rice products such as Rice Krispies cereal.  Earlier this year, they also reported on arsenic levels in apple and grape juices.

Arsenic, a chemical element in the environment, is a known carcinogen and is found in two forms, inorganic (of most concern) and organic.  Trouble is, arsenicnaturally, and sometimes unnaturally, occurs in soils and waters in which foods are grown.  While found in fruits, juices, vegetables, and seafood, rice in particular absorbs arsenic more readily from soil or water than other plants.

How can you reduce your exposure to dietary arsenic?  The FDA is weighing in and suggesting not changing dietary intake of rice.  However, they do support a balanced diet so that consumers do not suffer consequences of eating too much of a particular food.  On the other hand, Consumer Reports suggests taking a few measures to reduce your risk of arsenic exposure.  First, test your drinking water or find out your city’s water levels and find alternative drinking and cooking water if necessary.  Second, rinse raw rice thoroughly and cook rice in 6 parts water to 1 part rice, draining after it is cooked.  Third, clean vegetables thoroughly and limit your children’s juice consumption.  Last, eat other grains such as oats, quinoa, millet and amaranth, while limiting rice consumption to one and a quarter servings per week for children and two servings per week for adults.  Further, they recommend just one serving per day of infant cereal for babies.

Consumer Reports and the FDA want to inform consumers of their possible risks and to offer research-based information.  The FDA will release further information, based on their study of 1200 samples of rice and rice products in the U.S. marketplace later this year.  The FDA, Consumer Reports, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry offer further information.


Whether your child is just starting school or returning to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones, she is bound to make countless memories this year. The first day, a favorite teacher, best friends and captivating field trips – kids carry these with them for years to come.

Unfortunately, children might bring along other things from the classroom as well: germs. Schools are exciting, full of information and imaginations; but they’re also stocked with bacteria and viruses, some of which can make children sick.

Of course, not all germs are bad. For children, though, hand washing is the first step to preventing sickness from those unwanted germs so easily spread on desks and playgrounds.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics have sites dedicated to hygiene and hand washing. They contain important information for any parent. We at Healthy Learning Paths have condensed these recommendations into the following kid-friendly, easy to remember graphic.

Keep your child germ-free by following these steps for hand washing!

Soap and water are always your best options before hand sanitizer, and for schools with air dryers, kids need only turn off the water with an elbow and dry hands thoroughly. In general, though, following this simple sequence can make your kid an excellent Germbuster – with memories of being healthy, happy and ready to learn!


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Waking Up on the Right Side of the Bed

How do you feel when you don’t get enough sleep? Tired, sure…but what else?

Sleep determines much more than just your sense of exhaustion. Going to bed too late, waking up too early, or midnight disruptions can contribute to a range of problems, including irritability, lack of concentration, and even increased risk of depression or anxiety.

What’s more, an article published on Get Sleep™, a resource from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School also notes that the connection between sleep and mood goes both ways. It states, “Not only does sleep affect mood, but mood and mental states can also affect sleep. Anxiety increases agitation and arousal, which make it hard to sleep. Stress also affects sleep by making the body aroused, awake, and alert.” Not getting enough sleep can turn into a vicious cycle, and not just for you; we often forget that children experience stress and anxiety as well.

However, it’s not all bad news. A good night’s sleepcan quickly improve or even reverse these problems.

Getting a good night’s sleep is good for both you and your child’s mental and emotional health.

Setting a consistent and healthy bedtime routine for your child can dramatically improve your own patterns. The article highlights the experience of one Boston working mother, saying, “When she got both of her children on a consistent sleep schedule, she herself started sleeping an average of seven to eight hours a night and her mood improved considerably.” Try our High Five for Sleep listed here.

Also, be sure that both you and your child aren’t going to sleep holding onto thoughts or troubles from the day. Encourage conversation with your kiddo; ask her if there’s anything she’d like to talk about. Be sure you have support systems in place as well.

Sleep is critical for emotional health from childhood to parenthood. While it may seem that becoming a parent is synonymous with fatigue, small changes in your and your child’s sleep schedule can dramatically improve emotional and mental wellbeing for the both of you. Remember, it’s not just about feeling awake – it’s about feeling happy.

Back to School! The Importance of Sleep

It’s August, and parents know that means back-to-school!

This is certainly an exciting time – especially if your little one is just starting school. New friends are made, new information is absorbed, and new routines are set. However, there’s one old routine that may be more important than all the rest.

Your child’s sleep routine.

An article in the New York Times on April 16th, 2012, covered a study published in the journal Pediatrics linking inadequate sleep to the symptoms of A.D.H.D (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).. Researchers found that kids experiencing disrupted sleep were 20-100% more likely to exhibit behavior problems.

What may be most striking are the implications of such research. While the study focused on breathing disorders during sleep, such as sleep apnea and snoring, the author also states, “sleep experts note that children who lose as little as half an hour of needed sleep per night — whether because of a sleep disorder or just staying up too late texting or playing video games — can exhibit behaviors typical of A.D.H.D.”

Even if your child does not suffer from a breathing problem, he or she may be losing sleep. The following are some common causes of inadequate sleep:

  • Screen time before bed
    • Avoid TV, videogames, computers, or cell phone use.
  • Bright lights in the bedroom (a dim night light is fine, though!)
  • Sugary foods or beverages
  • Caffeine
  • Inconsistent bedtimes/wake up times
  • Loud noise

“Sleep is vital for learning, brain development and emotional health,” explains Dr. Chris Marchioni, family medicine physician and executive director of Healthy Learning Paths.Sleep improves memory and retention, productivity, alertness, and attitudes!” Young children need 10-12 hours of sleep each night – even on weekends. When a child’s sleep routine is disrupted, it can take days to weeks to get back on track. To keep your child healthy, happy, and ready to learn, establish a consistent bedtime routine.

Kids have the power to make healthy choices for restful sleep every night!

Try our “High 5 of Sleep:”

  1. If she or he is hungry, eat a healthy snack.
  2. Take a bath or shower.
  3. Put on clean pajamas.
  4. Brush and floss teeth.
  5. Read a book.

Help your child start the school year with healthy sleep habits for success in health, learning, and life.

Healthy is the New Happy for Kids!

To bring our “Let’s Dream” program to your child’s preschool or school, contact us at info@healthylearningpaths.org.


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Community Rallies for Healthy Kids

12/02/10 Broomfield Enterprise letter to the editor

Community Rallies for Healthy Kids

“No one who achieves success does so without the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude,” writes Alfred North Whitehead, an English mathematician and philosopher. These words ring true as I reflect the support Healthy Learning Paths has received from so many individuals and businesses in Broomfield.

Only a month ago, we hosted our second annual conference addressing the emotional health of the young child. As we searched for a place for educators, medical professionals and parents to gather, we explored partnerships with hotels, hospitals and conference centers. Who would have guessed the leader who stepped up to the plate to offer their facility was neither a hospital nor a hotel? The community at the Stratford at Flatirons extended an offer to share their facility and their services.

Why do I call the Stratford at Flatirons a community? They treated us like family with caring, compassion and impeccable service. The facility was absolutely gorgeous and staff tended to our every need. The food was delicious and plentiful. The meeting rooms were comfortable and welcoming. Each staff member was pleasant and provided personal service. The Stratford truly is a community committed to its residents and to the needs of Broomfield. They wanted to give back to Broomfield by partnering to help our children. This partnership joined the power of the young and the young at heart. How could we not be successful with such collaboration?

On behalf of the board of directors, staff and volunteers of Healthy Learning Paths, I want to express my sincere appreciation to Tina Dickhoff, Kathy Burdge and the entire staff at the Stratford at Flatirons for making our annual conference a huge success. Thank you for making a difference for kids by providing a place for medical professionals, educators, child-care professionals and parents to share best practices for emotional health.

I also want to thank the Mental Health Center of Broomfield and Boulder Counties for providing us with excellent speakers as well as a silver sponsorship. A big thank you to Eric Harris, chair of Healthy Learning Paths and bronze sponsor. Special thanks to our child advocate sponsors, Broomfield Pediatrics & Internal Medicine, Dr. Nancy Greer, Lafayette Dental Excellence, Dr. Mitchell Friedman, The Wellness Initiative, Dr. Brian Stafford, Dr. Terry Katz, Dr. Ian and Yorlenny Brickl, and all of our speakers who shared their expertise.

Finally, I want to thank Bette Erickson and the Enterprise for the wonderful article about our conference and their ongoing commitment to children.

So you see, success really does require a team effort and Healthy Learning Paths is grateful to have each of you on our team.

Tom Mahoney,

Board of directors,

Healthy Learning Paths