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Fit Mom, Happy Mom by Lauren Dell 'Olio

Why do you exercise? In my case, the answer is: my children. There are three of them, aged six, four and 19-months, and when I have to convince myself to go the gym, they are my biggest motivator. Why?

1) I want to be a healthy role model. There’s abundant evidence that one of the best things we can do for our children is serve as good role models. If they’re going to have fit, healthy futures, they need to see a mom who stays fit and healthy, even in the midst of a busy life (I work full-time).

2) I want to stay young for them. Parenting makes some people old before their time, and they’re often those who, believing they have no time for exercise, let themselves get out of shape. This is foolish.

Regular strength and cardio workouts are the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth, and it’s available every day. I go to the gym because I want to grow old with as much youthful energy as I can get. I want to be around to see my kids grow into adults. When I dance at my son’s wedding, I want his friends to say, “Wow, James’ mom looks awesome for her age!”

3) I need a break from them. There, I said it. It might sound terrible, but every parent knows what I’m talking about. We love our children more than we can say, but they are also a handful and a source of stress. Take this morning: With five minutes to go before the school bus arrived, there was a little coat yet to be found, a backpack not fully packed and a toddler screeching as I retrieved my laptop from her peanut-buttery hands.

Science tells us exactly what happens to our bodies in stressful moments like that one: Heart rate and breathing increase. Metabolism slows down. Muscles become tense. The body starts producing the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to over-eating. Collectively over time, these effects can do real damage: weight gain; tight, injury-prone muscles; high blood pressure; tension headaches; colds, flu and other illnesses.

Fortunately, our bodies have a built-in way to counteract the negative impact of stress. Exercise is like meditation in motion, and it has the same stress-busting benefits. Working out allows the mind to focus on a single task, a rare gift in this multi-tasking world, and good for both mind and body. It also produces endorphins, hormones that make us feel peaceful and happy. Result: we come away refreshed, with the energy and optimism to be a calm leader for our children.

A fit mom is a happy mom. And kids with happy moms are more likely to be happy themselves. So next time you flee the chaos of parenting for a workout, don’t feel guilty. Remind yourself: This isn’t just for me, it’s for the kids.

~Lauren Dell'Olio is a Fitness Life Correspondent and Managing Editor of The Stronger Blog for Koko FitClub. Lauren brings her perspective as a working mother of three, lifelong fitness enthusiast, marathon runner and "foodie".

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