Only time will tell if we can bring our crazy, hyperextended family together...BETTER! Come share our laughs and struggles as we test tips, tricks, and tools-of-the-trade in our quest for a more fabulous family life.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hugging for Health

This is actually my own son, as a toddler,
hugging his best buddy.
    Though National Hug Day was yesterday, January 21st, hugging, snuggling, and cuddling have all been shown to improve health and happiness when practiced regularly, throughout the year.  According to Andrew Weil, M.D., studies show that "physical touch to promote contentment and comfort... increases happiness" and "optimizes health for the body".  In his most recent book, Spontaneous Happiness, Weil also has several other suggestions that have been shown to improve, not only happiness, but also physical health.  As our weekly focus challenge, our family thought it might be fun to try out Dr. Weil's tips for physical health and happiness and evaluate it at the end of the week.  Though Weil discusses these actions as ones that individuals can do, I've added some information and suggestions geared just towards families:

Of course, number one on the list is to regularly hug, snuggle, and cuddle with your family members--I'd have to add "as much as is comfortable, not stressful, for each individual family member" as each person has his/her own comfort level with physical touch, even at certain times of the day or in certain situations, that needs to be respected.  I'm thinking especially of my middle-schoolers.  If I were to hug, say "I love you" or even look at my middle-schoolers when I take them down to the bus stop (in front of several of their peers), they would not be happy at all! LOL!  However, in addition to Weil's research, another study which promotes the physical benefits of hugging family members shows that hugging lowers stress, and therefore promotes heart health: .  So, this week, we will see what our family thinks of hugging regularly as a health and happiness promoter. 

Aim for some physical activity every day.  Again, my instinct is that if this can be done as a family by doing activities such as biking, hiking, ice skating, etc., not only are we helping our family's physical health and happiness, but we are connecting and bonding as a family and teaching a valuable life skill to our children about maintaining their own physical health as they get older.  We've already seen many of the benefits of family activities that involve physical activity together so it will be interesting to now hear everyone's evaluations on this suggestion.                                              

*Adopt a diet low in fast food, junk food, food made of highly-processed flour and sugar.  Add more fish, other non-red-meats such as chicken, fruits, vegetables, brown rice, and complex carbohydrates.  Weil mentions his Anti-Inflammatory Diet, which he also says is similar to the Meditteranean Diet but with several additions that he feels can improve health and therefore, happiness.  Basic information on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet can be found at Andrew Weil's website ( at: .  Information on the Meditteranean Diet can be found here: .  My husband and I have tried the Meditteranean diet, the DASH diet, the SouthBeach Diet, and we have not included our kids too well, I have to say.  It will be interesting to teach the kids about healthy eating through the Meditteranean diet and the Anti-Inflammatory Diet, with appropriate modifications for them, and see what we think. 

*Sleep--in total darkness, as much as possible.  Darkness at night and light exposure during the day, as shown in several studies, helps to set a healthy circadian rhythm--which then increases a person's happiness and health. These studies are valuable and do seem to have very helpful findings.  However, for a mother with children who are afraid of the dark, my instinct is that this suggestion would not increase their happiness, their sleep, or their health.  So, I have to say that it might be best to add, "as much as comfortably possible--and dim, strategically placed nightlights are okay!".  We'll see what everyone thinks...

* In conjunction with sleeping in the dark, Weil feels it is just as important to get out in the bright light when possible during the day.   I'm thinking that for family members, this could mean just getting outside to play.  As well, I'm betting that getting outside, better yet, getting active outside as much as possible can help family members to get fresh air, fresh oxygen, and sunlight--which has been shown to activate vitamin D in humans, a vitamin that has been shown to increase happiness and healthn in appropriate quantities.  As well, for some reason, when my own kids are able to play outside (with appropriate supervision, of course), they tend to be more calm when inside and tend to sleep better.  My own mother used to say that about myself and my own brothers and sisters as we grew up as well.  I don't have any research or studies, but it's like moms telling their kids to eat vegetables all those years and then researchers found out moms were right--playing outside as much as possible is healthy for ALL family members--including the adults!  Yet, as it is darker and colder outside right now, I'm wondering how my family will feel about getting outside, as much as possible, despite these obstacles...

So our plan the end of the week, we'll evaluate what suggestions seem to help us (as a family) to feel healthier and happier, what suggestions didn't work for us, and what adaptions we'd add--all in our journey towards a BETTER FAMILY!  (...yay...!)


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