For This Week, a Simple Challenge: Step It Up, and Add Some Calcium

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Staying active can sometimes take creativity.

Just ask Becky Mihalovich, a busy mother of five. Mihalovich was recently trying to squeeze in a workout on a stationary bike in the family's unfinished basement when her daughter, Eva, woke from a nap.

Mihalovich jumped off the bike, picked up the baby, then sat back on the recumbent bike and resumed riding while Eva nursed -- giving new meaning to the notion of multi-tasking.

"I figured out how to do this with baby number three," laughs Mihalovich, whose husband, Matt, is a police officer in Prince William County. "I've been doing it ever since."

Then there's Stefanie Schmidt, a Lean Plate Club member in Las Vegas. She noted in a recent e-mail that "my most creative way to stay active is during housecleaning. I love to put on a CD and dance and sweep at the same time! It is a great way to not only get a clean house but get my workout in. . . . Music makes the cleaning more fun."

In the District, a Lean Plate Club member reported in an online chat that "my family, which includes my husband, my 10-year-old daughter and myself, have a 30-minute dance contest each night after dinner. We take turns choosing songs. . . . The prize is just plain old pure laughter!!"

There's also the husband and wife who are using pedometers for movement motivation. "Whoever has the most steps at the end of the week wins," this Lean Plate Club member reports. "We haven't decided on the reward yet, but it will be something healthy. Perhaps a back rub, or the winner gets to choose the next movie selection."

Welcome to Week Three of the Lean Plate Club Fit for Fun Family Challenge -- a four-week program designed to help you and your family get ready for summer fun. Whether you're a family unit of one or an extended clan of 100, you and your family can join the challenge any time. Each week, you'll get one food goal and one activity goal to help you and your family eat smart and move a little more.

Moving more is something that a lot of people need to do. About 60 percent of Americans are sedentary, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That puts them at increased risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, diabetes and being overweight or obese.

The good news: Numerous studies show that even bouts of activity as short as 10 minutes can produce significant health benefits. So this week's activity goal is to explore a local park, trail or playground. (Check our interactive guide to local recreation areas in the Washington region at

In Dale City, the Mihaloviches often meet their extended family at a nearby school. The adults walk the track and talk while the kids play in the grassy center or walk with them.

Combining exercise with needed nutrients is crucial to long-term health. One nutrient many people lack is calcium, according to national food surveys. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee identified calcium as a shortfall nutrient, especially for children. So this week's Family Challenge eating goal is to add more calcium-rich foods. This key mineral not only helps strengthen and preserve bones, but also is good for your heart. It helps control blood pressure, and there are some hints that it may help protect against colon cancer.

Dairy foods are a prime source of calcium. A cup of skim milk provides about 300 milligrams of calcium -- about 25 to 30 percent of the recommended intake, depending on your age and sex.

But what if you don't like milk, or are among the millions of people who are lactose-intolerant and can't drink milk? Here are easy ways to add calcium:

Eat more sesame seeds and almonds. An ounce of almonds -- about 22 -- contains 170 milligrams of calcium. An ounce of sesame seeds packs about as much calcium as a glass of skim milk. Toss them on salads, in oatmeal or on noodles.

Reach for more asparagus, leeks and garlic. They're rich in inulin, a carbohydrate that can be only partially digested. A 2001 pilot study at the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine found that inulin helped kids absorb more calcium and build more bone. The researchers noted that eating foods rich in inulin -- such as onions, artichokes, bananas, wheat, rye, barley and chicory -- could help boost calcium absorption. While you're at it, choose more calcium-rich vegetables, including broccoli and spinach.

Look for calcium-rich foods. Options include yogurt dip, pudding made with skim milk, calcium-fortified orange juice and calcium-fortified almond, rice or soy milk.

Treat yourself to chocolate milk. A tablespoon of chocolate syrup has 50 calories and less than a gram of fat. Add it to skim milk for a treat. Or make hot chocolate. A cup provides about 306 milligrams of calcium. ยท

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company