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10 Things I Want My Daughter to Know About Working Out

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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.

905 Comments Post a comment
  1. Betty #

    Bravo!

    August 29, 2014
  2. Joel #

    I agree too except as a former golf professional the article seemed to through golf under the bus. It would have been nice to see golf included at the end of the article as one of the activities in nature that were healthy for women to participate in also, especially after implying riding a bike was a better option than golf as a way to network with other people.

    August 29, 2014
  3. This article is very ableist, and I particularly have problems with items 3 and 7. I find it very troubling to associate work performance and networking abilities with the level of extreme “fitness” promoted in this article. The article overall seems to present the idea that one should be fit for THEMSELVES, and be defined in terms of one’s self. Items 3 and 7 argue that fitness is a desirable quality in the eyes of others, shifting the locus of control externally and assigning value and worth to one’s fitness level on a social level. It’s almost a scare tactic, implying that these opportunities are denied to those who don’t mountain bike, hike, or swim all the time. That is patently untrue, and to workout with those goals in mind is little different from working out to fit into a dress. Both are done to adhere to covert (and overt) social contracts that many people simply cannot honor due to disability or lack of access to the outdoors/fitness opportunities. Think low-income inner-city dwellers. Think of those suffering from arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, etc. Think of fat people, who already experience a high degree of discrimination, who CAN work out but certainly cannot ride a mountain bike. Even if they could, even if they worked out AND dieted would still experience workplace discrimination because they are perceived as lazy or weak-willed.

    Short-sighted article, exclusionary tone, tying one’s self-esteem to what they are physically capable of doing. No thanks, not sharing that message with the kiddos in my life.

    August 30, 2014
    • Absolutely agree

      September 15, 2014
    • John Smith #

      As a fat person, I can tell you that this is absolutely true. If you are overweight, there is a much greater tendency for people to assume that you are also lazy. It doesn’t matter how good of a worker you actually are if you’re not give the chance to prove it.

      September 20, 2014
    • Leigh #

      Absolutely; this was a great article except for those two (as if you can network while puffing up a hill on two wheels, anyway!). I don’t blame the author too harshly, though: unless you have lived as a fit hard-exercising nature lover and then watched a chronic illness turn you into a couch potato utterly against your will, you may not ever realize that inactivity is not always a choice.

      I encourage more people to learn that lesson WITHOUT having to have a chronic (usually invisible to others) illness or disability teach it to you.

      September 28, 2014
  4. Jessica Ada #

    Great article and strong points made. However, I disagree that people who work out, run marathons, climb, etc., are hard working and better employees. That line of thought is discriminating towards people perceived as “out of shape”. I am a mother of three, work a 30 hour a week administrative job, and attend graduate school. I walk, hike when I have time and garden. I am a size 16 and have perfect cholesterol, blood pressure of a teen, and eat healthy. I work with a 27 year-old single woman who works out every morning and then comes to work complaining about how she feels so tired. Recently, we had a project that required us to move several full file boxes and she complained about the hard work the entire time.
    Be careful making snap decisions about anyone who doesn’t use a stair climber every day. They may be your boss one day.

    August 30, 2014
  5. Gina Zaffke #

    I truly believe in everything you said. We have a 27 year old son and a 23 year old daughter in which both were bought up this way. Our son is in the army for the last 10 years, and climbing the ranks rapidly. His last tour to Iraq he was in charge of his guys bought them there, brought them all back. To me that says a lot he was 25 at the time.
    Our daughter is a social worker and working on her masters 6 months into the field she received employee of the month. There again at 22 that’s saying a lot.
    They were both brought up with the word (can’t) not allowed in their vocabulary.
    They both work out, our daughter is a black belt and can fix her own car and motorcycle. Our son works out religiously and has the 6 pack and arms to show.
    There is a lot to be said about the discipline that is learned, they carry that with them in their careers and personal life.
    It has formed them into strong, confident, reliable, positive thinking young adults.
    In which we are very proud of both!
    Your children watch and learn from you, every parent should want to set an example like you stated to give them the opportunity to make the best of their life.
    Hopefully a lot of parents will read your blog and work it into their lives.
    Think of how this would shape the next generation and prevent a lot of unnecessary illness.
    Great work!

    August 30, 2014
  6. Beautiful piece about something that often gets overlooked. Working out is so much about a feeling you get on the inside and should never be a sacrifice for some two dimensional reason that basically adds up to “you aren’t currently good enough”.

    August 31, 2014
  7. Reblogged this on Corporate Skirts and commented:
    Love her list … and I certainly agree that we teach more by example then by instructions!

    September 3, 2014
  8. Fantastic article!! Every parent should be teaching their children this!!

    September 11, 2014
  9. Awesome piece. I think this applies to everyone, of all ages, male and female. I see it all the time: People work out in the spring and then let it go for the rest of the year.

    September 18, 2014
  10. Thank you! I lost a lot of weight a few years back and my goal was always a number on the scale not realizing all the changes I would experience along the way. In the end, your list pretty much sums up how I felt. For me the biggest thing was finding self confidence, self esteem, and self worth which made all other aspects of my life even that much better.

    September 19, 2014
  11. Reblogged this on and commented:
    This is great.

    September 23, 2014
  12. MARY WATT #

    Love the article. For most of my life I didn’t have the stamina to work out because of an undetected heart condition. Now that I have had that corrected I am thankful that I can work out . I feel much better and have the added benefit that I do fit into my clothes better.

    September 25, 2014
  13. Paula #

    Excellent article! Everything I hope to have demonstrated with my lifestyle but didn’t covey it with words the way you have.

    September 26, 2014
  14. Some great points. so much focus on losing weight and changing shape for events for summer, for xmas. Instead maintain progress all year round.

    September 29, 2014

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