Often, people come to my courses with a desire to not only improve their well-being, but also to create a health culture in their family: to influence their household members and let their children grow up in an environment where self-development, healthy eating, and sport are cultivated and encouraged. When we create such an atmosphere, it supports us and promotes the assimilation of the values of health automatically. If you grew up in an environment that didn’t pay attention to health culture, all this work must be completed from scratch. Hopefully, this book will help you with that.
Health is more than caring for yourself. Health culture is a social inheritance, a crystallized experience and practice that sets high standards for oneself and others and defines values and priorities. When you take care of your health and become an example for your friends and household members to follow, you transform their cultural environment, making it healthier.
We promote health culture by helping other people improve their health, as well as by supporting and teaching them. Good ideas won’t take the world by themselves; for this, personal examples and support are necessary. Create your influence groups and teach them — that’s an excellent way to learn something deeper for yourself. Of course, you shouldn’t “enforce good” by imposing it on others, but helping those who turn to you with questions is essential.
I have three sons growing up at the moment, and I often think about what I can teach them and give them. Like any other parent, I want them to grow healthy, smart, and active. By teaching our children health culture, we allow them to inherit not only genes, but also memes — healthy habits that contribute to prosperity.
The basics of health form during the early periods of life, when children unconsciously copy the behavior of important adults, primarily their parents. The main thing here is not just about words from books, but about your actual actions, your lifestyle. Teaching health is an investment in your family culture, which can be passed down to the next generations as a treasure.
By changing ourselves, we influence our environment. We want there to be more healthy people, cities, economies, and politics. Health culture is the movement from healthy eating to awareness, empathy, and mutual aid. It is a natural will for life, a survival instinct that fights against destructive tendencies aimed at lowering human values and dignity and against the destructive marketing of foods, pastimes, and hobbies that harm our health.
I am surprised that while a “green” party exists, there’s no “health” party. After all, as the ancient Greeks wrote in their time, “Where there is no health, wisdom is silent, arts cannot bloom, strength cannot fight, riches are useless, and the mind is ill.”
Soft inheritance. The term “soft inheritance” sometimes means changes in gene activity caused by epigenetic changes (epimutations), in contrast with “hard” inheritance, which is coded in the nucleotide sequence of the DNA. In this case, both negative and positive features can be transmitted equally. Curiously, soft inheritance can accumulate when the constant external environment stays the same, and the features gained will become more pronounced. The sum of epigenetic modifications can be called the “epigenome”. The peculiar characteristic of epimutations is that they occur due to the influence of the environment. The saying goes that a real intellectual can only be a person whose grandparents were intellectuals, and there is no other way.
There’s a famous study about stress and care in rats. It was shown that frequent contact with the mother during childhood leads to the epigenetic methylation of the gene promoters responsible for stress reactions. Subsequently, stressed mothers give birth to stressed children, who care for their own offspring even worse. However, if the mother rat is very caring, the offspring, similarly, will be caring.
Whereas the child inherits pregnancy and early childhood-related factors from their mother’s side, the situation with their father’s side is more complicated; the contribution of epigenetic inheritance from that side is even stronger due to the intensive proliferation of germ cells. Science proves that even without making contact with their offspring, fathers can transmit their fear of some smells. In an experiment, scientists developed a fear of the scent of cherries in mice, and it turned out that the fear was transmitted to the three subsequent generations — the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of the “scared” males were sensitive to that smell.
It has been proven that the propensity for cocaine addiction also transmits through fathers. That’s why addictions are so dangerous — they aren’t just incurable during the user’s life, but also become an “inheritance” for their descendants! Studies on animals have demonstrated that mice whose mothers overate preferred fattier food from childhood. However, the regular physical activity of parents can protect their children from metabolic disorders.
The period of intrauterine development has a considerable influence on our health. Any intense stress experienced by the mother, her hormone level, and the content of minerals and vitamins in her system have a long-term impact on the child’s health and development, establishing the development trajectory for their whole life. For example, if the mother does not eat correctly and the newborn weighs less than 2,5 kg, they will have an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. If their weight exceeds 4,5 kg, it increases the risk of obesity, as well as brain, colon, breast, and prostate cancer.
How can this knowledge be used? Of course, not for making complaints and accusations about the “ancestors who are guilty,” but for understanding that when you improve your health, income, and cultural level, you do it for future generations. This is a real, epigenetic gift that will be relevant for many years after your death.
The level of intrauterine testosterone also greatly influences brain development, personality behavior, and the risk of many diseases, including autism. The mother’s testosterone level is influenced by obesity, the presence of diabetes, chronic inflammation, and several other factors. You now reside at the breaking point of a generational shift from the past to the future, and what will be passed on depends on you specifically: diseases, addictions, and fears, or sound health, care, stress resilience, and a high level of life. By improving your health, you also improve the health of your descendants!
Health education. “There’s no need for other examples if you have your father as an example.” Along with the genome, epigenome, and microbiome, we also inherit from our parents a “psychome” — a combination of behavioral models, attitudes, and values — and we do so uncritically. Many parents think that if a child is dressed and fed, that’s enough for education. That teaching a child to sleep, move, deal with challenges, and set priorities is a task for the school teachers. Trust me, a child left to educate themselves will absorb the worst behavior models. If you don’t educate your child, others will teach them to be compliant, to obey, and to submit..
A. S. Makarenko has correctly noted that, “Your behavior is the most critical thing for your child.” The main principle of health education is starting with yourself. When parents are honest with their children, when they support high personal standards of behavior and morals, children automatically internalize it. After all, whatever you do, your children will become similar to you. We learn by using mirror neurons, by emulating and copying. That’s why it’s essential to have adults with desirable behavior models in a child’s life, and more than just the parents. If you don’t hold the same values you want to instill in your child, you shouldn’t deceive them by imposing those values; it’s better to find a third-party authority who follows the rules you wish to instill like, for example, a good trainer.
If you don’t educate your child, don’t be surprised when they behave differently than you. If a person learns certain behavior models that concern sleeping, eating, movement, and awareness as a child, they will follow them as an adult too. Studies demonstrate that when healthy habits are instilled from childhood, their effect is maximal. After all, in this period of growth and development, the future trajectory of the child’s life is set.
Study your family history with your child; they need to be proud of their background while understanding the importance of their efforts and self-discipline. After all, controlling your impulses is an important element of success. Expect success from your child, challenge them and provide them with reliable support while avoiding harmful overprotectiveness, cruelty, and emotional distance.
Pure time for a child. Seeing parents who spend time with their children while having their noses in their smartphones is painful. Pure quality time is when you can dedicate all your attention to the child one-on-one, so they won’t have to beg for these minutes. Even 15 minutes of such pure time can change everything.
As large-scale research demonstrates, the most important factor for a child’s brain development and future performance is their linguistic environment. Rational people like me find it hard to understand why actively talking to babies is necessary even though they cannot understand, much less respond, to anything. Brain tomography in newborns demonstrates that they actively process speech and even recreate answers in their minds when they are addressed, despite the fact that they cannot speak yet. Yes, baby talk and tunes help the child to absorb knowledge more easily. The number of words a child hears defines their learning trajectory, mathematical skills, and much more. By the age of three, children from low-income families hear 30 million fewer words than those from wealthy families, which noticeably affects their future fate.
Parents’ focused attention, warmth, and safety of communication are important; not only practical conversations are necessary, but also simple chatter. Not just “Eat, put your shoes on,” but also “What an interesting bird is sitting on that maple tree!”. The longer the dialogue is, the better it is for the child. Talk about how you believe in them — expectations have a strong influence. Talk to the child about their immediate and distant past and future; such conversations help them make better decisions in life. Parents should also pay attention to their own self-realization; read more books — they will do the same. Give your children more attention; not only when they start going to school, but also in the first years of their lives. The “Heckman curve” chart clearly demonstrates the results of making investments in human capital at different stages of development; investments in early childhood are much more effective than any programs aimed at older ages.
Sleep. On the one hand, maintaining a sleep routine and setting clear boundaries and rituals are essential. However, the excessive cruelty of some methods is dangerous and harmful; for example, leaving a child to cry alone until they cease to accept their loneliness is one of them. Children who sleep with their parents are happier and less timid in their adult lives. In turn, autonomy is important to a child, when they are ready for it.
Teenagers who sleep less than 6 hours per day are more impulsive, more prone to violence and suicidal behavior, and more likely to undertake risky actions (including consuming alcohol and drugs) than those who sleep normally. Some parents use sleep as a tool: for example, encouraging and rewarding their children by allowing them to stay up late or punishing them by forcing them to go to sleep earlier. This system can lead to sleep disorders in the future.
Eating. The situation with food is similar; many parents use food as a pacifier, shutting the child up when they cry. Food is used as a reward, and many children are being forcefully fed — probably, due to the opinion that the more the child eats, the more caring the parents are. In the future, this can lead to eating disorders. Don’t force your children to eat; give them a choice within your boundaries. Strangely, many parents either acquiesce or complain that they cannot do anything. Eating rules can be reinforced easily and simply, just like any other habit. Parents shouldn’t place the responsibility of eating on their children, excusing themselves with words like “He doesn’t eat it,” or “He doesn’t want it.”
Movement. Restricting children’s movement and separating them from their parents starts as early as when they are in maternity wards, which are known for treating mothers with cruelty and aggression and for swaddling children tightly. Next, the growing child is restricted in their movements and scolded for climbing, getting dirty, running, jumping, and making noise. But the child that doesn’t play is likely an ill child! Movement for children is a way to develop not only their body, but also their brain — there’s even such a term as a “physical intellect”.
With every ten years that passes, teenagers’ endurance falls by 10%, and 80% of them don’t even participate in a minimum amount of physical activity. Every additional 15 minutes of daily activity increases children’s grades by one point. Children with attention-deficit disorder only need 20 minutes of daily physical training to improve their learning performance.
Don’t interfere in children’s games and activities; give them an opportunity to play alone. The exceptions to this are the situations where real (I emphasize, real) danger to their safety arises. Encourage children to be active from an early age, offer them different types of activity, but don’t force them if they don’t want to do it. Don’t reprimand or scold children for becoming dirty while running around. The best kind of sport for children is a game. Games teach children to interact and find common ground with each other.
The more parents move, the more active children are. For every thousand steps their moms and dads take, children walk an additional 200 steps. Parents can teach a child to enjoy movement, as well as develop both good posture and the ability to control their bodies. Sometimes, giving children an opportunity to move around means resolving their problems. For example, in one study, a chance to move during classes lowered children’s hyperactivity and increased their concentration and performance. Not coincidentally, developing posture was always considered a priority. As Yu. M. Lotman said beautifully, “The ability to stumble is caused not by environmental conditions, but by a person’s character and education. Mental and physical grace is connected and exclude the possibility of imprecise movements and gestures”.
In Silicon Valley, parents who are top managers and founders of popular start-ups create gadget-free schools for their children. Uncontrolled use of gadgets by children leads to a lack of sleep and higher risks of depression, diabetes, obesity, and lower bone density.
Now, more and more people remain infantile. An essential part of a child’s education is the development of autonomy and independence. Many billionaires will donate most of their estates to charity, leaving only a small amount to their children to avoid making them hostages of their money. Growing up means developing independence when a child understands clearly that no one owes them anything, and they need to provide for themselves instead of begging for something from other people or waiting for help from the government.
It’s important for parents to develop the child’s independence and teach them to respect other people’s boundaries, avoid claiming other people’s things, and be polite and sensitive. After all, nobody can take what actually belongs to you!
Questions and Assignments
1. Which healthy and unhealthy habits have you copied from your environment? What have you taken from your parents?
2. Would you like to develop a health culture in your family? Have you tried to do it before?
3. Which of your habits would you want to pass on to your children? And which ones wouldn’t you want to? Make a list.