Saturday, November 30, 2013

10 Things I Want My Children to Understand About Exercise, Health and Body Image

What is a perfect body anyway?

Every day, we all receive conflicting messages. Messages on how we should dress, what we should eat, even messages on how we should look on the outside and feel on the inside. As a parent, helping our kids sift through the minefield of messages they take in at school, through the media and even unwitting family and friends is down right overwhelming. As I watch my kids receive these cues about their bodies, exercise and health and from these external sources, I feel more and more compelled to give them a little advice.

Here are the 10 things that I hope that my children will remember that I have taught them about fitness, health and their bodies:

1) Don't allow someone else to define what your perfect body is.
Who do you allow to determine what your perfect body should look like? Glamour Magazine? Marketing agencies? I am sure if you asked many professionals who use their bodies as their livelihood, they would not agree on what a perfect body is. Even amongst elite athletes, I would guess there would be disagreement. An Olympic sprinter and an Olympic gymnast have very different needs for their body, thus different ideals. What do you want your body to do for you? Complete a marathon? Take you to the summit of every mountaintop in your state? Backpack through Europe? Your body is your vehicle in life. If you want it to take you through life to neat places and do neat things, your ideal body is one that is prepared to do so. If you don't mind spending life on the couch with a litany of medications to get through the day, there is a perfect body for that too.

Where do you want your body to take you?

2)  I know you are watching me.
I know you watch me when I work out. I know you watch what I eat. I know you watch me everyday and learn from my behavior. I want you to know that I love myself, with all of my imperfections and talents. I want the same for you.
The kids having a crack at the traverse wall at a Spartan Race. Turns out, they want to be like me.

Spartan Fenway race
3) Know the difference between real food and junk food.
You are what you eat. Just like any machine, if you fuel your body with junk on a regular basis, what you will get from it will be junk. Know that real food does't come in packages.

4) Avoid self-deprecating conversations.
I have never understood the custom, but it is seems as though there is an expectation for reciprocity of self-criticism, often with near strangers. The conversation often begins with "oh, how I dislike my...(insert body part)". The second person responds with a criticism of themselves, often harsher than the opening comment. I have seen this escalate, or to be resolved with reassuring commentary from each party toward the other. I have no idea what social role this behavior plays. There is no good time or place for self-loathing. Don't waste your life worrying about some silly little imperfections that bear no role in your health. Every time we say something negative about ourselves, we are one step closer to believing it. If this type of conversation is the only way to make friends, find different people to hang out with.

5) You will only be given one body.
Your body is a privilege. The sole responsibility of taking care of it lies on you and only you. Don't expect that it is someone else's job to decide what is right for you. Take ownership.

6) I don't go to the gym because I ate cheesecake.
Working out isn't a one-time event. I don't workout because I think I am fat. Fitness is part of me: a habit that I do everyday because it makes me feel good. It is as simple as that. Enjoy the piece of cheesecake. Enjoy the run. Enjoy the journey.

Do what you love. Love what you do.

7) Don't be afraid to push yourself.
Life should be about fun, but sometimes fun is a result of hard work and sweat. Nothing is impossible: no dream is silly. The best of life is always worth working for and is not always found on the path of least resistance.

8) No one defines your limits but you.
It is ok to determine where your own boundaries are, but they should never be defined by anyone else.

9) Train to your weaknesses, but don't obsess about your imperfections.
The best way to improve at something is to take on what we are naturally weakest at. If you are long distance runner and short distances are your kryptonite, engage in more sprint work during training. With that said, a long run can be therapeutic and should always be part of your training regimen for no other reason that it feels good. When you feel strong, you are strong.

10) Don't be a bystander.
Death racing is not crazy. Neither are having Olympic dreams or wanting to run 100 miles. Dream the biggest stage you can imagine and then go for it. I hope you find something in life that you love and choose to go for it.

"...And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance."- L Womack
...and never stay on the dock when you can jump into the ocean.

" One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While its still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; you will outlive the bastards."- Edward Abbey

live on the edge a little...

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