The approaching holidays spark a sense of nostalgia, especially this year as we try to recapture a holiday season closer to ones we’ve known before. This season is a chance to revisit and renew traditions and reconnect with family and loved ones.
Our holiday traditions make up a family legacy – an inheritance of sorts. Many of our first lessons are at home. We learn to be social and model behaviors; we develop habits and preferences. We learn how and what to eat, and that grandpa mashes potatoes better than anyone else in the family. We learn that Saturdays are a good time for recreational pursuits, and that Sunday afternoons are prime time for naps. We carry these and other lessons and habits with us and we teach them to our own families.
There’s a term called generational wealth that refers to inheritance, usually large amounts of money or property passed down from generation to generation. If you need an example of what that might look like, think of Downton Abbey. That’s firmly in the fiction category for most of us, but generational health isn’t fiction and need not be. The concept of generational health suggests that our family history affects our health, and not just in terms of genetic predispositions.
Children who see their parents being active, and enjoying it, are more likely to be active themselves. They’re also more likely to be active as teenagers, to carry the habit into their adult years and to teach their own children to enjoy an active lifestyle. Family dinners are a chance to pass down recipes that are important to your family and cultural history, and they’re also a chance to connect with each other face to face at least once a day. They’re also a venue to teach good nutrition habits. If healthy food choices and eating habits are the default options, we’re far less likely to develop and pass along unhealthy habits as we get older. Meals together offer communion as well as a chance for lively discussions and can provide a safe space to foster self-confidence and self-esteem.
This year, as you’re planning your holiday gatherings, I encourage you to notice and enjoy the traditions – both purposeful and unconscious – that you’ve carried forward. More than that, though, I encourage you to think about how you can contribute to generational health within your own family, both genetic and chosen, this holiday season and into the New Year.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Dr. Jonathan Rubens, former Chief Medical Officer, ActiveHealth