Lake Travis ISD Wellness Watch


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By: Coach Z (Danielle Zibilski)
Physical Education and Health Teacher, Serene Hills Elementary School

As a parent and educator, I strive to get nature back into my own children’s and our student’s lives. But just how much nature is needed to benefit our kids? There is plenty of research showing the benefits of the outdoors for kids, but it’s not exactly clear how much nature is needed. Is recess enough outdoor time for a child to experience the benefits of nature or is much more necessary?

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Will a few moments do the trick?

Is just getting a look at nature enough to help a child's body and mind? Actually, researchers found that getting a view of green space, even for a brief period, gives the brain a chance to restore attention and reduce fatigue. But just having green space around isn’t enough. You need to take the green space in.

In another study, it was found that adults with high anxiety levels slightly lowered their levels after looking at a plant. And almost 30% of adults saw a significant drop in their resting heart rate after looking at a plant.

Need another reason to ensure your child’s bedroom window or even better a classroom window looks out onto nature? A growing body of evidence has found that simply viewing beautiful natural scenes can result in people being demonstrably more cooperative and generous to others, even in the presence of strangers.

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Five Minutes

For a little more of a commitment but nothing too demanding, a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who spent just five minutes sitting in nature experienced an increase in positive emotions.

Twenty Minutes

A headline-making study last year provided us with a magic number: 20 minutes. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that spending 20 minutes in any urban green space can improve happiness and wellbeing, regardless of whether the time is spent exercising.

And in a study of the effects of nature walks on children with ADHD, kids each took three different walks: one in a green space, and two in quiet, urban settings with minimal levels of foot traffic. The researchers found that the kids showed enhanced concentration abilities after the 20-minute nature walk "roughly equal to the peak effects of two typical ADHD medications.”

One Hour

One hour per day is the recommendation of the UK’s Wildlife Trusts, who have called for every child in the UK to spend one hour outside in nature, every day, as part of the school curriculum. The National Wildlife Federation likewise recommends that parents give their child an hour of unstructured play outside every day. NWF calls this time the "green hour” and says, whether in the backyard, the local park, or a green space farther afield, time spent outdoors is essential to the healthy development of young minds, bodies, and spirits.

From the health sector, the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children have an hour each day of moderate physical activity to burn calories, tone the muscles and keep their weight under control. Though the CDC does not specify the physical activity that should be spent outdoors, outdoor play is, of course, an ideal way to meet the recommendation.

Three Hours

If you really want to get serious about your child's nature time, the folks behind 1000 Hours Outside challenge us to take our kids outside for 1000 hours a year or just about three hours per day. Their reasoning? It’s the amount of time the average child spends on screens each year. The entire point of 1000 Hours Outside is to attempt to match nature time with screen time. If kids can consume media through screens 1200 hours a year, then why not shift this time to a healthier outcome?

Pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom calls active free play outdoors, “the most beneficial gift we as parents…can bestow on our children.” Hanscom says ideally kids should be playing outside 3 hours each day, and that doesn’t include organized sports.

Of course, spending time outdoors has to be balanced with many other priorities so determining how much nature is best for your children will depend on many factors. Your child's "just right" dose may be close to 20 minutes per day or several hours. Regardless, we know that kids who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors, especially when that indoor time mainly consists of screen time. My consensus: a "just right" dose of nature is really an “as much as you possibly can" dose.

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Romaine Calm: Nutrition and Stress Management

Marissa Albers, MPH, RD, Dietitian & Marketing Coordinator

Stress levels are at an all time high. On top of daily stressors - traffic, parenting, deadlines, (and the list goes on) - there’s also a looming pandemic that can’t seem to get the hint; You’re not welcome! If you feel overwhelmed, rest assured, you are not alone. In fact, one study reported that 38% of participants have experienced some degree of distress related to the pandemic, and a recent survey found that parents were disproportionately experiencing decision-making fatigue and stress due to constant uncertainty and changes in daily routines, work, and school. Parents, we see you, and thank you for bearing the brunt of this mess. However, it is important to make sure you are caring for yourself in the midst of all the chaos, because chronic stress can result in negative health outcomes.

The Stress Response and Nutrition

Whether you are being chased by a lion or you are running late to soccer practice, your body reacts with the “fight or flight” response triggering the release of hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol that increase heart rate, blood flow, and mental alertness. However, repeated and consistent stress events cause hormones to remain elevated which can increase certain health risks such as digestive issues, weight gain, elevated blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and infertility.

How Stress Affects Eating Behaviors

Stress causes a perceived lack of time to prepare well-balanced meals or may result in skipped meals altogether, reducing intake of key nutrients.

Chronic stress can disrupt sleep which leads to elevated hunger hormones and increased appetite. People may also compensate for lack of sleep with high-calorie stimulants like energy drinks, sugary coffee drinks, or processed snack foods.

Elevated cortisol levels also trigger cravings for foods high in sugar and fat.

A Recipe to Manage Stress

Eat a balanced diet. Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats provide the energy and brain power to cope with stressful events and even helps regulate cortisol levels.

Plan ahead. If you find yourself relying on highly processed convenience foods, try meal planning and preparing foods in advance to save time and ensure a quick healthy option.

Eat mindfully. Stress eating (using food as a coping mechanism or eating mindlessly) can lead to weight gain. Ask yourself “why am I eating” - is it to feel better, or am I truly hungry? Try sitting down to eat at a table, not in front of the TV. Focus on your food, make thoughtful choices, chew slowly, and think about the flavors.

Eat together. Family meals are a great way to give and receive emotional support with your loved ones. This sense of security can help counteract the stress response.

Move. Regular exercise regulates stress hormone levels, lowers blood pressure, and

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SLEEP - It’s just what the doctor ordered!

By: Becca Harkleroad, RN, NCSN

Lead Nurse, Lake Travis ISD Student Health Services

If somebody asked you to tell them a few ways to keep our kids’ bodies healthy while they’re growing, most of us would list many of the same things:

  • Eat healthy food

  • Drink lots of water

  • Exercise

  • Limit screen time

  • Get ‘plenty’ of sleep

Exactly how much is ‘plenty’ when it comes to sleep? And why is it important? The American Academy of Pediatrics has answered these questions, and many more, when it comes to sleep. Below is a quick list of the reasons sleep is important, plus a list of things that might help your kids get to sleep.

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  • Your bones and body grow and develop

  • Your brain recharges so you can learn, think, play, and remember better

  • You can better control your emotions

  • Your immune system gets stronger to help keep you from getting sick

  • Getting enough sleep can make you happier!


  • Your brain doesn’t get to rest, so it’s not ready to work

  • Your emotions feel like they’re out of control

  • You might feel angry or irritable

  • It’s harder to pay attention and do well in sports

  • Your body doesn’t get a chance to really grow and develop like it should

  • You are at risk of getting sick


  • Turn off TV, computers, pads, and games at least an hour before bedtime - make your bedroom a no-screen zone

  • Don’t eat sugary treats before bedtime

  • Pick out clothes and pack your backpack for the next day

  • Create a night-time routine, such as bath, pajamas, brush teeth, take medicine if needed

  • Read a book or listen to calming music

  • Pick a blanket or stuffed animal that you like to snuggle

These are just a few ideas for your kids. There are plenty of other things that work in a bedtime routine. Find what works for your kids, and - importantly - try to stick to a routine.

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3 Ninja Steps to Manage Stress for Kids, Teens & Adults

by: Jennifer Lyon, M.Ed.

Director of Health and SEL, Lake Travis ISD

The uncertainty of the world we live in today is causing increased stress and and the need for better coping skills. In case you missed our December workshop with Jonathan Hewitt, author of the award-winning book, Life Ki-Do Parenting: Tools to Raise Happy Confident Kids from the Inside Out, he has provided some great information below on how to connect your body, breath, and brain in such a way as to calm yourself and your family to better deal with the struggles we are facing during these hard times. Here's what he has to say:

Stressed, Burned Out, Overwhelmed?

For kids, teens, & adults, unfortunately these are all too common realities today.

Our nervous systems aren’t designed to be living with such chronic amounts of stress, tension, and feelings of being out of control. So, what can we do to help ourselves & our loved ones?

I’ve created a simple, kid-friendly system that the whole family can practice regardless of age. There are 3 Ninja Steps to manage your stress and I call it the 3Bs:

  • Body
  • Breath
  • Brain

Remember that song “Dry Bones” that goes something like, “With the leg bone connected to the knee bone, and the knee bone connected to the thigh bone, and the thigh bone connected to the hip bone . . .”?

The 3 Bs are something like that. The Body, Breath, and Brain are closely connected to one another. I tell children that the 3 Bs are like good friends and that if you help one B, you help all the Bs!

With simple practices for each of the 3Bs, you can always find something to ease your stress and bring you calm and ease.


Our busy, stressed-out lives can put the Body into an SOS alert mode. Our bodies often hold excess energy that we need to do something with or it will create havoc in our entire system. I train under a world-famous ninja who has taught me how to transform stress in the Body into relaxation and power.

Ninja Body Practice – Anywhere, anytime you can use your body to release tension. Simple take the tension you are feeling and squeeze your muscles. You can squeeze your whole body or just your legs, just your arms, just your hands.

You can squeeze any muscle or combination of muscles. Exaggerate the tension. Squeeze tight, tight, tight. Hold. Then let go! Release the tension & melt. Repeat as necessary to release more tension.


When we are stressed out, our Breathing tends to be fast and shallow which can decrease blood flow to our Brain feeding more panic and lowering our ability to use the logical part of our Brain. Obviously, this can have an adverse effect on school, work, and family life. I have been teaching Ninja Breathing to children, teens & adults for more than 28 years, and it's by far one of the most powerful and empowering tools that I teach. It can be used in a moment of great mental, physical, or emotional upset, and it can also be used continuously throughout the day to bring overall calm to our systems.

Ninja Breathing Practice: Begin by s l o w l y exhaling out your mouth. Then s l o w l y inhale through your nose. Breathe out through your mouth, in through your nose. Out through your mouth, in through your nose. Slowly and with each Breath, let go of stress in your Body and Brain.

Tip: I like to make my exhale longer than my inhale to really encourage the letting go of stress feeling in my Body & Brain.


Our Brains are hardwired for survival so chronic stress notifies our Brain to be in a high alert, survival mode at all times. This is exhausting and very unhealthy for our Brain. The Brain functions best with a calm focus on the task at hand. With our busy lives and inundation of input, our Brain tends to frantically jump around to thoughts, feelings, and a variety of outside stimulation. So how do we go from chaotic Brain to a calm, focused, mindful Brain?

Ninja Brain Practice: It’s simple - focus your Brain on the task at hand. Put all your attention, your focus, and your heart into the moment instead of getting pulled away by the past or future, or your thoughts and feelings. How do you put your Brain into the moment? Look around. What do you see with your eyes? What sounds do you hear? Can you feel anything with your Body – the chair underneath you, the floor? If you can smell or taste something, do that fully. What is your task right now? Put your full focus on that. Again and again, bring yourself back to the moment and pull yourself out of the fog and stress swirling around.

So, remember your 3Bs – Body, Breath, and Brain. They are always with you. You can always harness their individual power and their connection to each other to help you de-stress and find incredible inner power and calm.

Jonathan Hewitt - Founder of Life Ki-do Martial Arts, Parenting & Life Education in Lakeway, Westlake & Circle C and author of the award-winning book, Life Ki-do Parenting: Tools to Raise Happy Confident Kids from the Inside Out

Every Parent's Worst Nightmare: A Mom's Heartbreaking Reality

by: Jennifer Lyon, M.Ed.

Director of Health and SEL, Lake Travis ISD

I recently had a heartbreaking conversation with an Austin area mom, Becky Stewart, who tragically lost her son last spring. I asked her to share her story with you in her own words.


On March 20, 2021, my world was turned upside down when my beautiful 19 year old son, Cameron, died from fentanyl poisoning. He bought what he thought was a valium off of snapchat but unbeknownst to him, it contained a lethal dose of fentanyl. Cam’s story has been featured on KXAN a couple of times to raise awareness amongst the community. The links to two of the featured articles can be found here and here.

What is fentanyl? It is an extremely powerful synthetic opioid produced in mass quantities and is being included in multiple forms of substances (e.g. fake prescription pills - Xanax, Oxycontin, Percocet, Adderall, Valium & even in marijuana, among many others). In fact, it only takes a dose equal to 2 grains of sand to be lethal. In Cam’s case, it was made to look (colored, scored, imprinted and formed) like a legitimate prescription Valium pill. He had no idea he was taking something that would kill him. According to U.S. Government data, fentanyl has recently become the leading cause of death of those aged 18 - 45.

Shortly after that fateful day, I knew I couldn’t let my son’s death remain purely a statistic. Educating students, parents and communities on the dangers of fentanyl seemed to be a crucial piece of making a change in order to save lives. I quickly teamed up with a non-profit called Song for Charlie (, whose main purpose is to raise awareness of fake pills through various avenues. I had no idea of the dangers surrounding fentanyl and I quickly realized how many others had never even heard of fentanyl. As a result of my drive and passion to get the word out, I have launched a mission called A Change for Cam. The focus has mainly been on students as I have presented at local area high school convocations telling Cam’s story and educating students on the dangers of fentanyl and how it, literally, just takes one pill to kill. Please hear this…it is NOT just a substance abuse or addiction issue. Kids experimenting for the first time are losing their lives from just ONE pill! Education is key!

In closing, it is my hope and prayer that you will educate yourselves and your children on the horrific crisis we are faced with so that no other parent has to experience what I have experienced. Don’t let MY reality become YOUR reality. If you have any questions feel free to email me at

Becky Stewart

Please remember that if your child is struggling with mental health, substance abuse, or other social emotional, personal, or academic concerns, please reach out to your child's school counselor. We are ready to help!

What's WSCC?

"The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model is CDC’s framework for addressing health in schools. The model focuses on the student and emphasizes the collaboration between schools, communities, public health, and health care sectors to align resources in support of the whole child." -U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

Notice at the center of the WSCC model is a child. We believe every child should be safe, healthy, challenged, supported, and engaged. This is achieved through the supportive structures of family, school, and community surrounding the child.

Lake Travis ISD's School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) decided to create a quarterly newsletter to share information that will help families and the community support student health in the areas of nutrition, physical activity, social and emotional wellness, and health education. We will focus on these areas to support and encourage families to implement simple habits that are important for healthy development.