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In early spring I met Sandra Stephens, a vivacious, knowledgeable sales rep for Wildtree, a natural foods company. Only four years prior, Stephens, a Coatesville resident and mother of a seven-year-old son, tipped the scales at nearly 300 pounds and couldn’t run around with her son for more than five minutes, catapulting a huge lifestyle change that started with gastric bypass surgery.

Through her business she advises others about healthy living. She eats and prepares for her family fresh, natural foods and exercises regularly. She’s even participated in some races. Reflecting on that time in her life prior to her 2009 surgery, 44-year-old Stephens says:

“What kind of example was I setting for him?” Stephens euphemistically questions, referring to her son. “I didn’t want him to have the physical struggles that I had through my life. I needed to show him how to be active, how to eat and how that can improve your life. I made a decision to change the way I ate and moved.”

Her story isn’t all that unusual, like many of us who struggle similarly in a society filled with fast food and packaged products containing genetically modified ingredients, added salt, sugar and preservatives. Combine this with more hours in front of our electronic devices, television and driving to work, and it’s a recipe for weight gain and other health problems. Long gone are the days when we walked to the local market and moved more frequently throughout our daily lives. Reflecting modern society’s sedentary lifestyle, we can’t escape the cascade of promotions for gym memberships, personal training sessions and even modifications for office workers to use standing workstations.

A healthy lifestyle requires even more. Exercise isn’t the only important step we should take, yet such activities aren’t always on the forefront of our “to-do” lists as parents. Sure, some of us schedule regular exercise, but don’t neglect those trips to the doctor for dreaded tests like mammograms and colonoscopies. These measures ultimately help us become better parents, even if we don’t consider them parenting victories.  

In order to be effective parents we need to be emotionally and physically strong and available to our children in the years to come. In Stephens’ situation, she knew if she didn’t make a change her son could be facing a childhood without the right role model or, even worse, without the memories of playing with mommy.

I made a commitment to a healthy lifestyle a long time ago, after seeing my father go through a complicated coronary bypass surgery when I was a child. I’m definitely an exercise junkie, but I usually shy away from sermonizing on the subject because I’ve slipped off the wagon more than a couple of times myself. My husband has witnessed me grabbing a stash of Twizzlers and eating them in front of the TV, and if my only option for a workout requires me to awake in pre-dawn hours I‘ll likely pull the covers up to my chin and stay in bed. Despite those moments of temporary bad judgment, I do enjoy scheduled workouts because they give me immediate energy while helping me release some of the tension in my mind and body. I set some personal goals for myself after my third child was born, and I love being able to tell my children that mommy’s completed three triathlons. And some days the camaraderie with fellow parents in my spinning classes is like a mini therapy session alone. And yes, I get some of those dreaded health tests regularly. It’s worth the peace of mind.

The job of parenting is by its very nature a selfless endeavor, one that often makes us question those moments we choose for ourselves. Yet, whether it be a trip to the gym, doctor or just some meditative alone time, being good to ourselves can help us become better parents. Our children are more than enough of a reason to stay healthy or make that needed change.

Julia Sherwin is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chester County. She is a former college journalism instructor who enjoys running, biking, swimming, traveling and cooking.

Email her at jsherwin73@gmail.com  and followe her on Twitter @JuliaSherwinPoPYou can also follow her other parenting articles at juliasherwin.wordpress.com.

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