Back to Fitness: Model the Life You Want Your Children to Live


By John Andersen

When I was growing up, my dad was a big runner. I remember seeing him stretch on the driveway after his runs, and being dragged with my brothers and sisters to the track while he ran with a group. As a kid, I neither admired this nor was upset by it; it was just a part of who “dad” was and what he did. It was normal. In middle school and high school, he would drag my siblings and me to run some 5Ks with him, which again I neither liked nor disliked. It was just normal. In college and beyond, my dad was still getting us to run 5Ks and 10Ks with him, or to come to a group track workout or trail run.

The older I got, the more I started to gain an appreciation for the fact that my dad was still active, and could still smoke me in any race or distance. This was just normal. Now, though he is no longer able to run comfortably, at the ripe age of 75 my dad is still tearing it up on no fewer than three extended ski trips each winter, and he stays active with regular cycling.

Fast forward to when I got married and had a son of my own. That first six months was a hard adjustment. I’m pretty sure I did not exercise even once. I was just happy to get a shower in on some days.

But I recall a moment when I was sitting on the couch with our baby in my arms and I considered my own upbringing. I started realizing just how amazing it was that my dad was able to run and stay active during my entire childhood and even now as a grandfather. I decided then and there that I wanted to be like that for the baby I was holding in my arms. In the previous year I had not focused at all on my own physical fitness. Everything was focused on the baby. I again realized why it was so great that my dad was always so active as I grew up.

Instead of telling me I should go outside and be active, he went outside and was active. Instead of telling me to watch what I ate, he ate healthy and avoided junk food. With zero words exchanged, he demonstrated an active, fit life and as a kid, that was simply my normal.

Remember the commercials back in the ’80s and ’90s?–Parents who use drugs will have kids who use drugs. Well, parents who are inactive will have kids who are inactive. And parents who eat poorly will have kids who eat poorly. Likewise, parents who eat well and are active will have kids who eat well and are active.

This entire thought process entered my mind that day as I held our sleeping son, and that was all the motivation I needed to commit to a lifetime of fitness. I suddenly understood a fitness goal that was above my own personal desires of looking fit or avoiding health problems. I set my fitness goal: that when I was 50 years old, I would be running circles around my 20-year-old son; and when I was 60 years old, and he was in his thirties, I would be an active companion; and that when I was 70 years old, I would be a healthy grandfather, able to go hiking and skiing without significant physical limitations.

So, I signed up for a race a few days later. I knew I needed little goals to keep me focused on the big goal—a healthy life as a healthy role model.

Many parents have lost this perspective, this “big picture” as our kids’ main role models. Life as a parent is invariably hectic and time and energy are always in short supply. We often make excuses that we are too busy or too tired, when the truth is that we simply are lacking the motivation and commitment. That’s tough to hear, isn’t it? Next time you hear yourself getting ready to say, “I just don’t have the time” regarding exercise, think how it feels when you instead say, “I’m just not really motivated.” Ouch.

Getting back into shape is quite simple really. The world complicates it by advertising new diets, new workout plans, and “6-minute abs.” Fitness is simpler than that. It is about having a motivation to do the work and then persevering through rough patches.

So parents, use this as your motivation: Your kids are watching you. Every minute of every day. Their basis of “normal” is based on the way you live your life. That has a host of sobering implications, but let’s stick to fitness and wellness. Will you be a role model for health, or sit for the status quo? You will be a role model either way; you are deciding which path to take.

My now-8-year-old son has a very skewed version of normal. His dad runs ultramarathons. Although I have found much personal fulfillment in running and endurance activities, they are merely stepping stones in my greater plan to be running around for the next 20 years and dragging him on runs with his old man.


  1. Great article. The scenario you present is a carbon copy of me and my son. It is nice to know that such a lifestyle has some positive implications. One sometimes wonders if you’re setting a positive example, or serving as a turn-off to your progeny. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. I think this is a good article. My father used to run and I grew up enjoying the runs we did together. He was in the military and was not around a lot and being one of six kids, it became the only time I had him all to myself. My husband also runs and our two girls are both active, but in different ways. One prefers dance classes and yoga, the other likes to run, play soccer, and swim. It is important to encourage your kids to find the activity that they enjoy by letting them try lots of different sports. Modeling good eating habits and the virtues of self control will pay off in so many ways as your child becomes an adult. Moderation is not just about alcohol consumption.


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