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10 Things I Want My Daughter to Know About Working Out


Mid-way through a recent group exercise class, the teacher lost me.  She didn’t lose me because of some complicated step sequence or insanely long set of burpees; I mentally checked out because of a few words she kept saying over and over.  “Come on!  Get that body ready for your winter beach vacation!  Think about how you want to look at those holiday parties!  PICTURE HOW YOU’LL LOOK IN THAT DRESS!

THAT DRESS?”  My brain couldn’t focus on an image of some random dress hanging in my closet.  All I could think about was my three-year-old daughter hearing and trying to process those words.

My daughter’s little brain is making sense of the world every single second, taking in verbal and non-verbal cues about how things work and what things mean.  And when it comes to exercise, I want her to grow up seeing it as a joy, and not a utility…as a gift, and not a chore…as an opportunity, not an obligation.  I want her to do it for the love of it, not to fit into a dress.  I want her to grow up knowing that…

  1. Strength equals self-sufficiency.  Being strong – particularly as a woman – is empowering.  It will feel good someday to be able to carry your own luggage down the stairs if the airport escalator is broken, and it will be important to have a solid shot at outrunning a stranger should you meet one a dark alley.
  2. Fitness opens doors.  Being healthy and fit can help you see the world differently.  The planet looks different from a bike or a pair of skis than it does from a car or an airplane.  Out in the elements you have the time and space to notice details and meet people and remember smells and bugs and mud and rain and the feeling of warm sunshine on your face.  And those are the moments that make up your life.
  3. The bike is the new golf course.  Being fit may help you get a seat at the table.  Networking is no longer restricted to the golf course, and the stronger you are – and the more people you can hang with on the road and trail – the more people you’ll meet.
  4. Exercise is a lifestyle, not an event.  Being an active person isn’t about taking a class three times a week at the gym.  It’s about things like biking to the grocery store and parking your car in the back of the lot and walking instead of taking a cab and catching up with friends on a hiking trail instead of a bar stool.
  5. Health begets health.  Healthy behavior inspires healthy behavior.  Exercise.  Healthy eating.  Solid sleep.  Positive relationships.  These things are all related.
  6. Endorphins help you cope.  A good sweat session can clear the slate.  You will have days when nothing seems to go right…when you’re dizzy with frustration or crying in despair.  A workout can often turn things around.
  7. Working out signals hard-working.  The discipline required to work out on a regular basis signals success.  Someone recently told me they are way more likely to hire marathon runners and mountain climbers because of the level of commitment that goes into those pursuits.
  8. If you feel beautiful, you look beautiful.  Looking beautiful starts on the inside.  And being fit and strong feels beautiful.
  9. Nature rules.  And if you’re able to hike/run/bike/swim/ski/snowshoe, you can see more of it.
  10. Little eyes are always watching.  We learn from each other.  You may have a daughter—or a niece or a neighbor or a friend – one day.  And that little girl will be watching and listening to everything she you say and do.  What messages do you want her to hear?

I’ll never talk to my daughter about fitting into THAT DRESS.  But I will talk to her about what it sounds like to hear pine needles crunching under my feet and what it feels like to cross a finish line and how special it is to see the world on foot.  I will talk to her about hard work and self sufficiency.  I will teach her the joy of working out by showing her I love it.  And I’ll leave the rest up to her.

762 Comments Post a comment
  1. Alli #

    Please also remember that the discovery of health and fitness does not begin at the same place for all people.

    For some, a dress (especially a graduation dress, a wedding dress or a reunion dress!) is very real motivation, a tangible goal they can focus on in order to achieve a feeling of accomplishment and then EVENTUALLY reach the insight you share.

    “That dress” is another way of saying your own Number 8… I understand what you are trying to say to your daughter, and I applaud you for it, but as a mom of 2 teenage girls I can tell you that they will also find that they feel beautiful when they look beautiful, and to deny them that could saddle them with shame and guilt for that feeling which could instead be the feeling that builds their confidence just enough to spur the actions and activities that we hope will build confidence on a more solid foundation. Feeling beautiful because we look beautiful gives us confidence to approach strangers and build relationships of all kinds, relationships which will hopefully reciprocate by building real confidence in our abilities as well as our looks. It is often a justifiable means to an end.

    Your daughter is very lucky to have you, a mom who is so beautifully self-aware and self-capable, but not all women in that class had you for a mom.

    As a group X instructor I can tell you that we need to be able to motivate all attendees, whatever their backgrounds and wherever they are in their fitness journey, and although it doesn’t sound like it from your article, I do hope the instructor you speak of ALSO pushed you to find the inner strength you needed to push through your momentary discomfort, encouraged you that you were going to be ok because you were all in it together, spoke to the benefits of getting a tough job done, explained the science behind what you were doing for your body and whatever else may appeal to or motivate a large group of individuals with different – but not incorrect – personalities and personal reasons for being there. And if a dress was on that list of personal reasons, that’s ok, too.

    December 27, 2013
    • Alli – Thank you for this thoughtful comment. I agree with everything you say. Achieving a goal is an empowering thing, and I think that can definitely be part of the picture. But I’d like to see us as a society start talking about the joy of the process first, showing that with hard work, great results and rewards will come. I am very lucky and was raised in a family that taught me to love the outdoors; I think some of this was hard-wired as well. I understand that people navigate this path in all sorts of ways, and I applaud you for giving people a range of motivations that speak to where they are in their journey. Be well!

      December 27, 2013
    • bernikay #

      As a mom of a teenager, and a physical therapist for 20 years, my thoughts on the intrinsic benefits of fitness were eloquently expressed in your article. As for “the dress” motivation, the comments above is quite correct that fitting in to a (smaller) dress could be a personal reason, but might not be the healthiest message for the whole class . It is more likely to have the result of negative thoughts popping into the heads of others in the class, instead of the motivations based on inner strength, body strength, and the beauty of money event itself.
      There is more than one size dress. Buy the one that fits you!

      December 31, 2013
  2. dshah96 #

    Every child should be told about your thoughts. Or else video games and television would achieve world domination. Not that they are not entertaining and educational, but nothing can be compared to the real thing. I guess a balance of both may be the best solution for a world where obesity rates are constantly increasing.

    December 29, 2013
  3. Beautifully written article! Thanks for posting!

    December 29, 2013
  4. Reblogged this on headtotoehealth83 and commented:
    Check out this inspiring article!

    December 29, 2013
  5. BALANCE is the KEY. . . . learning and practicing.

    December 30, 2013
  6. Thank you for a great post. I have two daughters and my wife shared your post with me.

    December 30, 2013
  7. Reblogged this on kwahtgrl and commented:
    Precisely why I am getting more determined to get myself off my butt more these days! LOLs

    January 3, 2014
  8. Yes, this resonated with me greatly. I hope to attain the fitness and guts to try adventure hike/trek overseas one day, some day. Lols

    January 3, 2014
  9. This is fantastic! This list is everything I am trying to share with my two young daugthers (3.5yrs and 1 yr). While on maternity leave with my second baby, our first daughter thought my job was to run…since I run a lot. Instilling good values and sharing a lifestyle of activities has been my motto! Thanks for this post.

    January 3, 2014
  10. snowmanlover #

    Reblogged this on snowmanpjslover and commented:
    I wish my father can tell me this.

    January 6, 2014
  11. I love this article. THANK YOU!

    January 8, 2014
  12. Reblogged this on boomdava and commented:
    Beautiful! This is exactly how I feel about exercise. You can do anything!

    January 12, 2014
  13. Reblogged this on Jake Kuyser and commented:
    This is a great way to look at why it’s good to work out. :)

    January 15, 2014
  14. Reblogged this on Back to Health Clinic and commented:
    We love this! It’s so true that girls who are involved in sports and are active suffer from less depression, are more confident, are more likely to leave a bad relationship and less likely to use drugs. Life is better when you spend it doing things you love.

    January 16, 2014
  15. Kat #

    I really liked this article until I got to number 8, which sounds a whole lot like everything we rallied against in the opening. Lots of different things feel and look beautiful to different people. Being fit and strong feels like different things to different people.

    January 16, 2014
  16. I love this. Perfectly said. Your daughter is blessed to have you.

    January 16, 2014
  17. Amazing wisdom.

    January 19, 2014
  18. Reblogged this on Avant-garde Coach and commented:
    Here’s a Mom that knows the meaning of love, inspiration and unconditional love.

    January 19, 2014
  19. “That Dress” could be seen as whatever is motivating you to get healthier but it is not… Note the word “Healthier” not thinner…. This is the distinction I want to pass on, not just to my kids but to anyone unhappy with their appearance.
    If you are unhappy with what you see in the mirror or with the fact you can’t walk uphill without killing yourself (physically AND emotionally!), then do whatever it takes to change it. Now.

    The problem I found trying to start that journey is “That Dress” that everyone was telling me about. No body mentioned that I needed to be motivated for the soul reason to look better, I knew it was not, but no body tells you that your mind will feel better, you become more emotionally stable and mentally stronger. No body told me that.
    No body told any one else that either it seems as I kept getting stared at for using gym equipment without the prerequisite muscle definition, stared at for walking up stairs instead of using the lift, stared at for buying clothes to work out in…. HOW THE HELL DO I GET MYSELF POSITIVE AND MOTIVATED IF THERE ARE HATERS EVERYWHERE???! The answer? Not to give a damn about anything but your health. Sweat, groan, eat and work yourself healthy….. it is so so worth it. Trust me…. my biggest I was 117kg… now 72kg and the best thing is how I feel inside. The numbers mean nothing compared to my self esteem lift… Dress size is irrelevant!

    It was hard to get mentally motivated, and it is so hard when all most of society focuses on is how you look and to have a literal “Dress” to get into… If you do, that’s awesome, but maybe focus also on the benefits you feel on the inside….

    For my Kids it will be about being happy with what you see and feel, and not being afraid to change if you need to. Be who you are, no compromises, no fear.

    It will happen if you make it happen.


    January 21, 2014
    • Lisa P #

      my family and i used to live in a small country town with a fitness studio in a finished apartment above a garage. we took great joy at listening to the instructor while we played catch with the boys or worked on the garden. “Those people are paying for the same exercise we are getting for free!” my young son would say…seriously! If a small child can see the world for what it is…why do we as adults struggle? Thank you for stating the obvious…outdoors we must go!

      January 22, 2014
  20. Aquafit #

    I really liked this article because although I struggle to keep fit…I keep struggling along–and am happy to be committed to do so. However Point 7 bothered me. I work for a woman marathoner and I find although she is hard working and dedicated she is not a good boss. She has no empathy for her workers (who are ALSO hard workers although they get low pay and have wide behinds). Basically an elite athlete who participates in a solo sport does not necessarily translate to good TEAM dynamics which is necessary in the work environment. If her bosses don’t mind results from narcissistic bullying vs. teamwork, then shame on them.

    January 26, 2014
  21. this is so enlightening, thank you for writing.

    February 6, 2014
  22. You will not only feel great, you will have an enormous influence on the people around you also. At every stage of a child’s growth, good oral hygiene can and should be encouraged.

    February 6, 2014
  23. Any suggestions for exercise to take off pounds put on from medicine?

    February 11, 2014
  24. Snappi #

    A good friend of mine posted this on my FB page….she did so, I’m certain, because I have shared with her the same experience of shutting off during a yoga class after similar comments were made…I understand that people have different motivations to exercise but what you point to here are the ones that are deep and soul-centered. Being motivated to achieve a smaller figure is a fleeting, externally-focused experience. Exercising to feel good, stronger, and create more opportunities is a sustainable lifestyle choice. I am grateful you put into words what I have felt so deeply.

    February 17, 2014
    • Thanks for this heartfelt comment, Susan. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Be well!

      February 18, 2014
  25. Great website. Lots of helpful information here.
    I’m sending it to several pals ans also sharing in
    delicious. And obviously, thank you to your effort!

    February 18, 2014
  26. Reblogged this on Zoe Says and commented:
    This is so wonderfully written and on point. Personally, I have never been motivated by “that dress” or a bikini, etc. I wish I’d been exposed to this kind of example as a kid. Read. Learn. Share. Do.

    February 19, 2014
  27. Lokyra Stone #

    I found this beautifully written, and the entire time I was mentally shouting, “Yes! That! Exactly!” I am a reasonably strong but overweight farmer. The type of work I do on farm tends to be the muscle-strain sort. In September I started running (well, more walking than running for awhile. I am getting better).
    I never thought I would love running. The way it makes me feel, even slogging through the snow, is incredible. I am losing weight, getting stronger, I am getting sick less.
    Working out is AWESOME.

    February 19, 2014
    • Thanks for the comment. Yup, that sums it up — working out is AWESOME. Be well!

      February 19, 2014
  28. Lokyra Stone #

    Reblogged this on lokyrastone.

    February 19, 2014
  29. Hey! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate!
    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this page to him.
    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

    March 27, 2014
  30. Jen #

    I really like this list but I would say – this is important for sons and daughters. Boys learn negative messages too (if we do not model these ideals appropriately) and that creates internal body image issues and issues about how they see women. Teaching our sons about health and taking care of ourselves sets them up to be strong, amazing men too. :-) Thank you for this inspiration.

    April 9, 2014
  31. Reblogged this on Leaping Lizard Cosplay and commented:
    An excellent article! Give it a quick read, and do something good for you today.

    April 14, 2014

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