Waking up in my parents’ house as a child the conversation always included a discussion of the weather conditions and what physical activities were on the agenda. Frequent reminders not to forget a swim cap or pair of tap shoes in your bag for the day were constant. My mother had the weekly routine down to a science of lunch boxes and ballet uniforms. On the weekends the weather discussion led directly into an appraisal of the cross-country ski conditions, or opportunity to go for a hike after breakfast (depending on the season).
Today nothing has changed. Calls to my mother (and father) usually begin with a discussion of whether they are on their way to or back home from yoga class or some other activity. If the weather is not good for a run on the mountain or a tennis game there will no doubt be a Zumba class as a last minute substitute. I consider myself extremely lucky to have grown up in a household where going for a walk around the neighbourhood was a nightly routine in the summer and my parents led by example in terms of physical fitness.
I was too young to remember going to aerobics classes in a baby carrier (apparently I was happy to kick my feet to the beat of the music) or to “mommy and me” swimming classes at 6 months of age but these and all the other activities no doubt left a lasting impression on my attitudes towards physical fitness.
Physical activities were not something that you did grudgingly out of a sense of duty but the fun things that made the car rides and going out in dreary Canadian winters fun. Some of my closest friends to this day are the ones I made at dance class at an age that I can barely remember and because are accustomed to doing activities together we still meet up for bike rides, runs and for dance workshops as our main drivers of socializing.
What, if anything, does this have to do with having an active mother? Research shows that having a positive female role model is especially important for girls in a way that it is not for boys. Linda Bunker has found that “Girls’ involvement in sports is largely impacted by the attitudes of parents and other role models.” It is not clear why boys do not require the same encouragement to engage in sports (it may be that they are expected to like sports and that the pressure to conform is already a big enough driver). Given that childhood habits are a good predictor of future involvement in sports and fitness activities, it would seem that it is extremely important for girls to have positive associations with physical activities at a young age.
My mother certainly does not think of herself as an athlete (or runner or yogi) in spite of her constant physical efforts and I am by no means an athlete myself but the fun that we had and continue to have doing physical activities is the backbone not only for a healthy lifestyle but it is also how we continue to socialize together and with other friends. This social aspect to “activities” points to some of the reasons that I never liked going to the gym or any other activity that I thought of as “exercise”.
Most if not all of the activities that I have done over the years have had a large social element and this is one of the main drivers that has always motivated me to get out the door and go. The activity has to be fun too, of course, but I am much more likely to push myself to do physically demanding things with my body if there is someone else doing it with me. I am not in competition with my friend or family member but the mere fact of having someone else doing the same thing motivates me to a. Show up when I said I would and b. Push myself harder to keep up.
Running alone on a treadmill indoors does nothing to make me want to improve. Chatting with a friend while jogging I don’t even notice the time and the kilometers passing. Having great friends and a sense of community at my activities has been the best part of being active. My mom is definitely my number one partner as well as role model.
Do you have fond memories of physical activities with your mother or other role model? I am looking forward to many more bike rides, hikes, yoga retreats and dog walks with my mom. Thanks for being an inspiration through your healthy habits and for making exercise fun!
Aviva is a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Western Ontario. She is a yoga enthusiast, dancer, cyclist, foodie and animal lover. She lives in Montreal with her Kung-Fu devotee partner and their dog and two cats.