Dominique Dawes is inspiring kids to stay healthy—and active. The Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics is now a co-chair for the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, where she motivates kids to eat healthier foods and focus on an active lifestyle. We spoke exclusively with Dominique about keeping kids moving and the multiple benefits of exercise.
What has life been like after retiring from the Olympics?
After I retired from my third Olympics in 2000, I did a lot of motivational speaking. It’s something that I’ve been doing for 16 years now. I’m passionate about impacting others in a positive way, to plant a seed that I would love to see blossom, is a highlight for me. A lot of my focus has been on leadership and building healthy self-esteem in women as well as young children, and also living a healthy lifestyle.
How did you team up with Hormel?
Being a three-time Olympian, I learned a little about the importance of physical activity, not only physically, but psychologically, as well as good nutrition. That’s why I’m so thrilled to team up with Hormel Natural Choice to promote their Raising Little Champions program. There are so many preservatives in food, so this is a natural option. Being a working mom yourself, you know the importance of being a role model for physical activity as well as good nutrition. Putting all natural foods into your diet can make a huge difference. I want to be someone who is not only talking the talk, but also walking the walk.
Or for you, flipping the flip. Or vaulting the vault.[laughs] Yes, exactly!
How can parents keep their kids physically active and healthy?
It’s autumn, which is an amazing time to have quality time with your kids. It’s an opportunity for families to converse a lot more, and while quality time is important, make sure that you’re moving while you’re doing it so that you’re killing two birds with one stone. When you’re talking, you should be walking, or going down to the local basketball court and shooting a basketball. You can play nice leisurely activities, play, and find out what’s going on in your children’s head. It doesn’t have to be hardcore or competitive, but it should be physical and fun. It should be a family affair.
With my own kids, we make a game out of cleaning up. I’ll give them things to put away, so they’re both running up and down the stairs all the time. I put music on and we make it a race.
Oh, how fun! I used to do that as a kid. You know, I’m a big advocate of positive thinking and controlling your thoughts. When I was younger, I used to put up positive sayings around my bedroom and on the mirrors.
Obviously, it worked.[laughs] Yes, it worked, but I still have a lot of negative thoughts. But I recognize that they’re negative and they’re not helping me, so I take them out. The point of the story, though, is that when my sister’s kids were very young and I was an Auntie, I would tell her to have them post up little exercises that they could do. They would do little froggy jumps and push-up positions. I told her to put these exercises up throughout the house, so that when one of the kids passed through a certain area, they would then do the exercise. Then you’re doing it together as a family, as a team. It’s all about working together and motivating each other.
How much exercise would you recommend for kids?
I’m the co-chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. The President has come up with this criteria and I think it’s great. Kids should get 60 minutes of exercise a day and adults should get 30 minutes of exercise a day. The importance of kids being active is crucial. It’s not only for physical health but also psychological health. I know when I was a child I looked forward to recess, to P.E., and I trained in the gymnastics gym 5-7 hours a day. But I honestly think it kept me sane. I was able to focus and concentrate better in school and get great grades because I was able to burn off a lot of that energy. Everyone can benefit from exercise and staying healthy. It’s one of the best ways to live a happier life.