Doctors’ Notes


Healthy Habits & Getting Fit

Dr. Maddalena wrote this Note as a follow-up to Stacey Stratton’s Note on Obesity Prevention 

It’s a good time of year for all of us to restart, or to begin for the first time, some healthier eating, drinking and moving habits. With gym classes now being relegated to only part of the school year, and with food portion sizes always increasing, it’s no surprise that 1/3 of children are considered overweight or obese. Even if your child is not in that category, childhood is an important time to start some healthy habits that will take them into adulthood.


Sometimes it can seem a little daunting to tackle a project such as “exercise more” or “eat better.” I frequently recommend to patients trying to start a difficult habit that they plan in some rewards. Let’s face it: it’s hard to start exercising if you’d rather be a couch potato! Keep a sticker chart or log on your calendar the days your child follows through with the habit. After a few successes, reward him or her with a non-food treat such as extra time with you reading stories, something from the dollar store or a movie night. Sometimes that extra motivation can make a big difference in the beginning. Over time you can phase out those rewards and reap the benefits of the healthy habits.


We recommend 1 hour of physical activity a day. If you’re starting from zero, that can seem almost impossible!

Here are a few ideas beyond the obvious organized sports…


One of the easiest things is walking. It’s free and available wherever you are! Even if your neighborhood isn’t the safest, it may still be possible. Try walking to the bus stop instead of driving. Or use the stairs instead of the elevator. If your child is watching TV (remember: less than 2 hours of screen time a day!), have them get up during commercials and go up and down the stairs a few times. Park your car at the far end of the grocery store parking lot. Visit the school track– the kids can walk or run with you, or play around in the grass while you get some exercise! It may not seem like much, but even 10 minutes here and there adds up over time.


Yes, even doing chores might count as physical activity! Doing yard work or taking out the trash are good ways to foster responsibility as well as get your child away from those screens, and you might enjoy a clean house as a result!


I probably don’t need to elaborate here. To mix it up a bit, join your kids on the monkey bars, or play chase instead of using the time to text and check your emails!


If you’re stuck inside on a rainy day, turn on the music and have a dance party.

The possibilities are endless for family-friendly activities: visit one of Pittsburgh’s fantastic parks and hike or ride bikes together, walk around your neighborhood playing I Spy, or walk the dog together.


Don’t forget those 5 fruits or vegetables a day! Get in the habit of serving fruit with breakfast (the most importantmeal of the day). Stay away from drinks that have sugar in them (ie: almost everything but water!) and avoid super-sizing your meals. Here’s a great guide for portion control and portion sizes.

Consider starting a garden this summer — even a few tomato plants in pots — as a way to get the family outside and growing healthy food together.  Check ou KidsGardening or Gardening With Kids for some ideas.


Once again, don’t forget: less than 2 hours a day of screen time — that includes TV, video games, computer, phone screens, iPads, and so on! Unplug and see what the great outdoors has to offer.

Kids who are active and maintain a healthy weight are much less likely to be overweight as adults, and can avoid obesity-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, many types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.

If you’d like more guidance or are concerned about your child’s weight, please call the office, or let your provider know at an upcoming well visit.

We’d love to hear about the healthy habits you begin. If you get started, let us know in the comments. We may even throw in a reward or two of our own…!

Dr. Amy Maddalena, a Kids Plus Doc since 2006, teaches a monthly Expectant Parent Orientation at our Pleasant Hills office.