Mary Lou Retton first vaulted into our hearts in 1984 when she won the gold medal in the women's all-around gymnastics event at the Los Angeles Olympics. She was the first American woman ever to win an Olympic gold in gymnastics. Today, Retton is the mother of four daughters and travels the world to promote the benefits of exercise and nutrition. Parent & Child magazine talked with her about her cause.
Parent & Child: Why is it important for people, particularly women, to exercise and eat right?
Mary Lou Retton: It's important for everyone to eat healthy and exercise, especially women. Women are usually the caretakers of their families and make sure their children's and husband's needs are met. Then they tend to themselves. I've learned over the years that if I take good care of myself first, I am a much better mother and wife to my family.
P&C: How do you keep yourself fit and healthy, both mind and body?
Retton: Eating clean! I try to stay away from all processed foods. I use fresh ingredients and high protein meats, like chicken, and prepare my meals without butter and heavy sauces. Exercising is a great stress reliever that leaves me energized and ready for my crazy days of caring for my large and active family.
P&C: Why is it important for kids to keep fit? How early should parents begin teaching their children about exercise and nutrition?
Retton: Childhood obesity is at its highest rate ever! It's a major problem with this generation of young people. I don't think it's ever too early to instill good eating and exercise habits in our children. When my daughters were infants, I introduced them to as many different kinds of food as I could. And to this day I believe that is why my children have good eating habits. My kids know the importance of eating well and incorporating protein into their snacks and meals. We have a rule that each child can participate in 2 activities per semester, and one must be athletic.
P&C: What are some fun ways parents and kids can exercise together?
Retton: Our family takes regular bike, scooter, and in-line skate rides together through our neighborhood. My daughters, my husband Shannon, and I really look forward to these rides. We also go to the park and walk our two dogs. Families can also get moving by playing the simple game Twister! We have so much fun moving our bodies into weird and wacky poses!
P&C: How did you teach your children about fitness and movement? How do you encourage them to keep their minds healthy, too?
Retton: My children don't know anything else but fitness. They are growing up in a very athletic family where exercise is a normal part of our daily lives. Being physically fit gives them more self confidence and a clear mind.
I would really like to take this opportunity to express to coaches, trainers, teachers, etc. not to use exercise (like running laps, chin-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, etc.) as punishment! This is one of my pet peeves. It puts a negative vibe on something that is good for us all.
P&C: What did your Olympic career and successes teach you about taking care of your health?
Retton: My Olympic and athletic career taught me so much: the lessons of hard work, perseverance, dedication and discipline are attributes I carried over into my life now as a mother and wife.
P&C: Is there such a thing as too much exercise and nutrition?
Retton: Of course there is such a thing as "overdoing it." Anyone can abuse a good thing. This is something I had to work at myself. Training for the Olympics, I worked out eight hours every day. When I retired from competitive gymnastics, I obviously did not need to exercise that much. I had to slowly re-program myself to an exercise program that was less intense.
P&C: How can children and adults dealing with physical injuries or illness keep themselves fit?
Retton: This is a tough one. Ask your doctor or physical therapist for simple exercises you can do while injured. For me that was one of the most frustrating parts of being an athlete . . . injuries! I have very little patience when it came to injuries. But the most important thing to remember during these trying times is to remain with a positive attitude. Don't get down and depressed. Believe in yourself.