Monday, October 19, 2009

Healthy Habits -- and a Happy Kid -- by Jamie

I was not a very active kid. I preferred cookies to cartwheels, and reading to running. And it showed: I was a rather chubby child, who struggled with a weight problem throughout much of my youth. It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I truly discovered the joys of exercise; I joined a boxing gym, and, as I strived to succeed in the sport, found my endorphins flowing, and my energy increasing. After just a few weeks of boxing, I set off on a quest to become stronger and faster and added running and weight training to my routine. Ultimately, my body became leaner, my heart grew healthier, and I became a gym-rat.

I’m known at my current gym as “the woman who worked out until the day she gave birth”—and it’s true: I exercised about 6 times a week throughout my pregnancy, and would have been at the gym on the day I went into labor, but I had an early OB/GYN appointment that day that deterred me; I gave birth that evening.

Soon after my C-section, I was out walking again, with Jayda strapped to my body in a Baby Bjorn, and I returned to the gym less than a month later. Exercise and eating healthfully are important to me…and I want them to be important to my child. But, as I know from my own experiences, you can’t force exercise on a kid if you want it to become a habit for her; instead, she has to enjoy it.

Like her mom, Jayda has a passion for sweet things. For a long time, I could get away with giving her fresh fruit, Greek yogurt with honey, or homemade zucchini-carrot bread as a treat. But of course, as Jayda grew, her grandparents, daycare friends, and our shopping forays introduced her to cupcakes, ice cream, candy, and other not-so-healthy snacks. I still try to limit Jayda’s treats, and make healthy substitutions whenever I can. (For example, one of Jayda’s favorite places is the “ice cream store” where, unbeknownst to her, we both eat low fat frozen yogurt.) However, since I don’t want to create an eating-disordered daughter and deny her all the foods her contemporaries are eating, I’ve been simply focusing on getting Jayda to exercise more, instead.

When Jayda was about 18 months old, I signed her up for a gymnastics class—and a year later, we’re still attending once a week. She loves it at The Little Gym, and 45 minutes of climbing, swinging, and running around are never enough for her. Weather-permitting, I take her to the playground after daycare as often as I can, and while sometimes she just wants to swing, and sit and watch the other kids play, other days, Jayda is a real little monkey, climbing the jungle gym and racing around in circles. Regardless, the playground is a place she looks forward to going to, and that’s what’s important.

Because my little girl has been begging me to go to “dance school” for months now, I’ve signed her up for a class in January, and she can’t stop talking about it. If dancing brings her as much joy as I think it will, she’ll be twirling around incessantly once class begins. Add to that the yoga class that Jayda’s daycare starting offering a few weeks ago (and which Jayda loves—and constantly practices at home), and it looks like my daughter is turning into a pretty active child. More importantly, she’s enjoying her activities every step of the way.

Recently, I began taking Jayda to my gym with me on the weekends; it has a free daycare center and she adores the woman who watches her there. As soon as she wakes up on Saturday mornings, Jayda asks me, “When is mommy going to exercise?” and “Can I come, too?!” Having a toddler who begs to go to the gym must mean I’m doing something right!

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