Fostering An Active Lifestyle

As a father of two, I’m amazed at how physically active children are by nature. My three year old son would play outside all day if we let him. He loves to run, jump, climb, wrestle, ride his bike, hit the bag, and throw the ball.

He often tags along at the gym and keeps himself busy by making up his own games and “moves” (as he calls them). When it is time to pack up and leave, he does his best to delay the exit. He always looks to extend the gym stay by a few more minutes.

My 15 month old daughter is following closely in his footsteps. One of the first things she wanted to do after learning to walk was put on her brother’s gloves and hit the punching bag. She was obsessed with her big brother’s gloves. My wife and I finally broke down and bought her a pair to help keep the peace.

She now brings the gloves and mitts to me. She smiles and laughs as she plays with them. And just like her big brother, she too is sad when it’s time to put them away. I’ve learned to distract her when it is time to clean up, otherwise she would keep the gloves on all day.

Lead By Example

I am not writing this entry to suggest that we push our kids to become champion athletes. If my kids want to play sports when they are older, I will support them, just as I’ll support them if they want to play the piano instead. I will never push them towards something they don’t enjoy.

Yet based on my own observations, it is clear that children imitate their parents. Their view of normalcy is based on what they encounter each day at home. I happen to be in the business of training fighters. My kids have seen fighters training here, and at the gym since day one. They are surrounded by a gym scene. It is both normal and fun to them. I first bought my son boxing gloves so he would stop taking dirty gloves out of the gym. He wanted to imitate what he saw around him. My daughter now imitates her big brother.

When my son was two, I asked him what he wanted for Christmas. He asked for a pull-up bar. Initially, I thought I misunderstood what he had said. But in fact he wanted a bar to imitate what he saw at the gym. Almost a year later, my son and daughter both pull at my leg to ask for a turn on the bar. We can’t get upstairs without one of them asking.

My kids find these physical activities enjoyable. I’ve never asked or pushed them to do anything. Kids by nature do what is fun. They will not actively do something that they do not enjoy. It is their nature to seek out and do what they find fun.


As a parent, it is my responsibility to prepare my children for the world around them. I don’t care whether they participate in sport or not, but it is important to foster physical, mental, and social development.

Unfortunately, many parents seem to believe their responsibility ends in the bedroom. I’ve met parents whose idea of entertaining their children is to sit them in front of the television. They don’t want to be bothered playing with their kids. They are too busy to play, yet oddly enough find time to update Facebook, track their favorite sporting teams, and keep up with their favorite television shows.

How do kids go from laughing and playing at the park to becoming sedentary, overweight teens and adults? It certainly isn’t natural. By nature, humans were born to move. Unfortunately, as children grow older, they are often encouraged to do otherwise. It’s easier to plop your kid in front of the TV as opposed to taking him outside to ride his bike or throw the ball.

Clearly, there are other causative factors, but the inactivity of our children is without question a contributor to the continuously increasing rate of adult obesity. Consider the link below for some recent statistics:

The Cost of Treating Obesity

It is sad to think that children who by their own accord would gladly run around all day will eventually become overweight adults. All too often parents look elsewhere for solutions, rather than taking a moment to ponder their own responsibilities. No one is more responsible for a child than the parents. It isn’t the responsibility of the school or government to develop a healthy child. Parents must take it upon themselves. The ability to freely move and enjoy the world around is something that all kids should enjoy. No parent should deprive their children of this simple pleasure.

We as parents need to take it upon ourselves to foster an active lifestyle for our children. Making time for active play is the most enjoyable part of my day. I wouldn’t trade those smiles for anything in the world.

I’m amazed at what many consider to be such a complex topic (ex. childhood obesity) is actually so easy to correct. The first step is for parents to begin leading from the front. Is that really too much to ask? I can’t think of anything more important (to me) than my children and their health. How could any parent think differently of their own children?

Parents need to wake up and take matters into their own hands. They must put their children first and stop making excuses about what the world owes them. They should instead worry about what they owe their children.


  1. Great to see parents really parenting their kids!
    Unfortunately you seem to be a vast minority.
    I deal with hundreds of unfit teens daily and it really is a tragedy that they were not brought up enjoying their physical abilities.
    Keep on spreading some common sense!


  2. Hi Ross,

    Liked this piece. I have girls as you know, 4 and 2. Now they do watch some telly right now, the wife is suffering with sickness and extreme fatigue as she expects our third next April. However, both can throw a jab, cross and hook and love getting out in the garden, walking the dog, kicking a ball etc.

    And the youngest, has soaked herself through the last two days, jumping in puddles in her big-sisters school playground. Parents comment “rather you than me to my wife”, who replies “well if you can’t jump in puddles when your two when can you”. Suffice to say the little un giggles so much.

  3. It is indeed heart-warming to see someone strike the nail on the head and highlight the sad state of health our world is in today. The primary reason being poor up-bringing. Parents would tell their children not to play too much, not to go out and get ‘dirty’ and instead instill the culture of video games in them. Setting examples is the key like you mentioned Ross. How would you expect a kid to go out and play when the parent himself comes straight home to park on the couch and reach for the remote?

    Like your kid innocently asks “Why doesn’t everybody want to be strong?” Can anyone answer that question?

  4. Ross,

    Of course you are correct, children are preprogrammed to copy what they see. They learn by example. Too often that’s parents sitting in front of a tv with pizza and fries. This is part of why I exercise, I keep what I’m doing open so that they get the right idea. It’s up to them what they do, I lead and encourage only. It seems to work.

    I’d like to get your view on a related discussion I had last night. Apologies, but it was a critical comment on US society which suggested that in the US, winners are encouraged to participate in sport whereas the also rans are much more likely to be resticted to be armchair sports fans. The person suggested that European people for comparison are much more likely to participate for enjoyment rather than necessarily just winning and as a result there is more participation. I don’t know if there’s any truth in that but you guys (I’m a Scot) do seem more driven to succeed generally (that’s not a criticism). Perhaps this is a penalty for so much intense competition in your society.

    That said, you certainly promote what I see as real balance, so keep it up Ross.

  5. Great post Ross. I am sometimes guilty of feeling sorry for myself for not doing what I always want to do because of my responsibilities as a parent. Thanks for the kick in the butt and more importantly for the upright example of being a parent.

  6. Awesome read Ross…one thing you don’t have to worry about as a dad..When your daughter starts dating, it looks like she can take care of herself!

  7. Hey Ross, very well said. It’s so sad to see how our society is so quick to point the finger anywhere but themselves. As Eminem said in one of his songs, “where were the parents at? Look where its at” Great post Ross, keep fighting! Wish you lived down here in Texas!

  8. Ah you have the Iron gym :). I posted about this recently and it is good to see that you actually LIVE. That is true health. many of us muscle heads get caught up and actually forget how to train for a healthy life style.

  9. Children learn by example, and who do they look to to provide guidance and a good example to follow, their parents! Ross, you and your wife are doing a great job with your kids, encouraging them to do things they like, and providing a good example of maintaining fitness and health.

  10. Imitation..thats how kids become athletes, musicians, alcholics, and translates as well later in life, look at the crowd you hang around with and your more than likely headed in the same direction…great post Ross. I really enjoy your stuff

  11. Great post Ross! Its getting cold out here in Illinois but the first thing I did after reading this was take my 6 year old daughter for a hike in the woods. We were cold at the start and she complained a little but I told her that if we kept moving we’d warm up and… she loved it. 2 hours hiking in the woods and exploring instead of staying inside at home. Thank you for the reminder to keep moving and stay healthy, for ourselves and our children.

  12. If only there were more people as committed. To anything, really, but to their children in particular, and health as a second.

    We’ll see if our daughter asks for a pullup bar when she’s two. Or boxing gloves. Or a kettlebell…

    To Dave B: there’s a lot wrong with how we approach sport in the US, not least of which is that it’s just for kids and “athletes” who are somehow different from the rest of us. Our role models are the super-capable, which can be disheartening. It’s neat to contrast to parts of Asia, where the wizened kung fu master is a symbol of strength even at an advanced age. There are all these *old* folks out working out in the park every morning! I’ve even heard young guys say that doing martial arts (tai chi, swordplay, etc) is “just for old women.” It’s awesome.

    In the meantime, my wife and I can only hope that the apple will not fall too far from the tree.

  13. Excellent post. My wife and I were just talking about this a few days ago. Our daughter just got her first pair of sneakers and is so proud. She loves to run. Keep it up, Ross. Always inspired by your blog.

  14. My daughter is in the gym at least four days a week. She loves to rope climb, jump rope, pull up, push up, jump, run. We also spend a lot of time in the pool. My neighbors always ask how my daughter is so fit at such a youg age. It blows my mind. SHE PLAYS! That’s it, she doesn’t think of it as fitness, she just plays. Thanks for everything Ross…your books, your site, your drive. Keep it up.

  15. Great Post Ross!

    I once asked a diet specialist how to get my 4 year old to eat more vegetables and fruit. She told me NOT to try to force her or bargain with her.

    Instead, she recommended that I lead by example by putting plenty of fruits and veggies on MY plate. This way my daughter would learn by example and would be encouraged to try different foods as she grew older since she had been exposed to them earlier.

    I think the same principle applies to working out. When children see a dusty treadmill in the corner or a set of untouched weights in the basement, they assume that exercise isn’t important. However, if the kids are used to seeing Mommy and Daddy sweating and working out, they are probably more prone to see exercise as a natural part of everyday life.

    Well, that’s my comment… time to go eat some veggies!

  16. Hi Ross!

    It’s really amazing how good one can be when working out is included in one’s routine! Children should be taught how to get fit and eat healthy food since their early days! I hope everybody wakes up to see the responsability everybody has about their children’s life!

  17. Ross:

    *Excellent post.

    *One point, beyond parents, children are significantly influenced by their peer group. If their friends, cousins, kid brothers and sisters are sedentary, then the probability of them being active decreases.

    *I have a 14 year old son who swims competitively and skateboards regularly and a 10 year old daughter that does TKD. Much like you and your children, they have always seen me stretch, exercise, and eat well. They have also been lucky to have young adults around them training hard (fighters and swimmers). They are now old enough to encourage and challenge each other to improve performance.

    *But, I am most grateful when I hear from my son about his friends challenging him to skate harder or when I watch Master Kim send my daughter to teach forms to junior students. These interactions with peers that are similarly engaged do more to reinforce my beliefs on the importance of being active than my example alone ever would.

    *Parents responsibilities include setting the example and facilitating / reinforcing the positive interactions a child has with friends, classmates, teammates, etc.

  18. Ross,

    You article is great. One note though – I don’t think a parent can really lead by example if a goal is to be an example for a kid, rather than to be that example for oneself.

  19. Hi Ross & all,
    Great post as ALWAYS!
    When our daughter was a toddler, I realized that if I wanted to be around for her, rather than die of a heart-attack/stroke at an early age like my father, I had to make some changes. Overweight since I was a kid, I changed my diet and took up daily exercise. In the process I lost 60-plus pounds, and got a whole lot fitter. I love to work out- in fact I wish I could do it full-time…
    Anyway, she’s now ten, in her third year of year-round swimming- she’s chomping at the bit to go to practice and meets, and is a championship swimmer- because she wants to, and with our support. Her work ethic is top-shelf, and it carry’s over from schoolwork to athletics and visa-verse. Her school also recently began an “Assistant-Coach” program, to foster activity of all the kids during recess and lunch, and she decided on her own to volunteer. Many children, both boys and girls,volunteered. I believe not by coincidence they are the the ones that are into regular sports: swimming, gymnastics, soccer, baseball etc.
    Interestingly her observation is that the ones who are in the “best-shape/condition” are the mostly the girls, because they do the year-round activities (swimming and gymnastics) verses the boys and girls who do seasonal league activities (base-ball, soccer) and then not so much during the rest of the year.
    Exercise, nutrition, state-of-mind. They are lifestyle choices. Each with their own rewards or consequences. Our kids see with their own eye’s our examples (good or bad) and the effect it has on themselves and their peers.
    You lead by example- like it or not- It’s more a question of which direction are you and they headed ??? Don’t worry, even if you falter, but keep going, they will follow. And you’ll be very proud of them and yourself too.

  20. Awesome. I have four kids. 7,6,3, and a two month. I have home made rings in the based and the three love to play on them. (we call it playing, but they are really working out). I also have a boxing thing that we all punch. We do have a Wii, but limit it to an hour or two a week. We also are constantly outside playing soccer, dodgeball, etc….Sword fighting (for all new fathers, get yourself a sword, you would be amazed how much a 3 yr old can hit you). I also just implemented that we have to do 10 pushups, 15 situps and 10 burpees everyday for our exercise………Parents should lead from the front and quite worrying about being cool. Remember, it is later than you think!!!

  21. Great post! Sounds like you are an awesome dad. I believe that every parent would like to do this for their children, but unfortunately, due to time constraints and the demands of life, don’t feel they have time, or simply just don’t know how to get their kids more active. There is a great book titled, “Family Fit” written by Dr. John E. Mayer that teaches parents how to accomplish this- full of great nutritional information and offers a lot of great family activity ideas that involves the whole family.

  22. Excellent article.
    I am a Doctor of Chiropractic who sub specializes in Bariatrics(Fat Loss).
    Most parents simply do NOT care about their own fitness and bodyweight enough to do anything about it.
    They love their children but can NOT lead by example.
    99% of the obese patients I have also have obese or overweight children–and they get ANGRY at me for bringing up the fact their children need to change.
    Watch this video—almost 7 years old–and the problem is MUCH worse now.
    Keep it up Ross—but always remember 99% of the people who need the most fat to burn off simply DO NOT want to change bad enough.


    Dr.Bill Martin D.C.

    P.S.—87% of nurses are overweight or obese.The medical profession is VERY poor at helping correct the problem.

  23. Thanks for the constant inspiration Ross! I’m a father of 2 and sometime it’s hard to not just let them watch the toons when I get home from a long days work. But taking the path of least resistance yields fewer rewards, and I want my children to get the best out of life like you say. I appreciate all the wisdom you put on these pages, you’re really helping to touch lives!

  24. Hi Ross,

    The fact of the matter is people are just lazier these days more then ever. The other day a friend of mine simply asked, “Rico, when do we even use our legs?”. If you think about it, hardly ever! Aside from walking to the car. Even when we shop it’s not much of an exercise. Staying in shape is generally rare these days. Out of all my relatives (near and far) and friends I’m the only one who works out. The only other friends I know who work out are the ones I met at the gym! So it’s no surprise this sedentary lifestyle is taking place. I box at my local gym as an amateur. I’m 32 years old, most of the kids there are 18-22 years old and I’m in better shape than all of them. In addition, most of the little kids who show up (8-12 years) are mostly overweight! The general tone I get is that the overall work ethic is down, people in the gym complain when the coach is too tough while I continue my workout at another gym when everybody goes home. It’s not hard to see this negative attitude reflected in the way we raise our kids, I only hope people realise this growing problem before we have full blown health crisis on our hands.

  25. Hi Ross,

    I was working out yesterday in my driveway and my 7 year old son saw me and wanted to do some box jumps with me. I have a great sturdy homemade wooden box and when I was done doing my 24″ jumps, I turned it over on its side and my little guy did some 12″ jumps. He knocked out 20 straight with good form. To him it was just jumping and fun, but he was working and having fun at the same time. Thanks for your great site and all the information and inspiration.

  26. Great article, so many excellent points. Our kids learn more from us by watching our behaviors! I am on a mission to show my 2 little boys a healthy attitude towards food and exercise. Parents these days use too many excuses, being too busy…find the time for healthy food and exercise, show your kids they are important and extend your active years to enjoy them. Love you attitude and inspirations!

  27. Hi Ross,
    Hey man your ‘A no.1’ the best I love reading your blog and all associated articles, you’ve no doubt inspired millions of others as well as me.
    Thank you Ross, keep it up.

    England UK

  28. I couldn’t agree with you more Ross. I think that people forget that they owe it to themselves and to their families to stay fit and healthy. I know that it isn’t easy, I was there. Like you said the key word here is responsibility. Once you fully understand that you can make the change nothing can stand in your way.

  29. Excellent post – I also try to instill healthy eating and exercise habits in my young children by leading by example. However, sometime it is out of my control. My daughter recently started kindergarten and I was suprised to learn about the poor stardard of food they serve up in the cafeteria. We are therefore forced to send her in with a homemade lunch. Also, the kinds of things they pass off as “healthy” snacks include Goldfish (sugar) and Capri fruit juice (and more sugar) etc. Gym is only once a week. I guess a lot has changed since I went to school, but I think school system is definitely going to need to change if we are turn the tide of childhood obesity.

  30. Thanks for this Ross, this is very important to me. Maybe I’m morbid, but I constantly think, “What kind of legacy will I leave for my kids after I die?”. That is one of the major driving factors why I made my mustache-man, tough mudder training video. Long after I’m gone this will be the image they have of me and not some lazy oaf who sat on the couch, eating chips and watching Will and Grace reruns. Like you said, lead by example.

  31. I am very touched by your post. I myself was an active child and grew to be 400 punds at 25 years old!!!! Last year I felt a change in order and started to eat better, as well as become more active. Then my wife became pregnant and gave me more then ever a reason to improve my life style as i wish to be thebest rolemodel possible. I also want to be the dad that goes out and plays with my son, instead of plopping him in front of the T.V. Iam pleased to say I have lost 85 pounds and still going.

  32. I couldn’t agree with you more Ross. I think that people forget that they owe it to themselves and to their families to stay fit and healthy. I know that it isn’t easy, I was there. Like you said the key word here is responsibility. Once you fully understand that you can make the change nothing can stand in your way.

  33. Hi Ross,

    I agree that parents need to take responsibility for their kids’ health and happiness, but I would like to say that I see a danger of emphasizing individual responsibility as a way of evading collective responsibility; it is the responsibility of government and of society to create a situation where this is easier than the alternative, in my opinion. There is also the issue of culture: for most Americans particularly, but English people to a lesser extent, the idea of ‘getting fit’ means the gym, which means the treadmill. If you worked in an office all day would you want top spend the evening on a treadmill as well? It’s an exercize in futility!

    But the thing I really wanted to say was that I totally agree with encouraging the play of children – I think there comes a time to turn it into training and I also think it can be necessary to make a kid try harder at that time than he wants to at that time. But in general, when I look at children under 5, here’s what I see:
    Better flexibility than most adults by a long, long shot. Watch a kid in a supermarket queue, squat walk around her mother’s feet, drop effortlessly into the ‘swastika-legs’ position called ‘Bwiya’ in the stuff I do and crawl out of it without breaking the flow. Most adults couldn’t do this with a gun to their heads. In fact a training system that simply mirrored what healthy children like to do would be A: not as good as a really good training system, and B: a thousand times better than what most people are doing. Most kids can do at least one ‘skin-the-cat,’ and a 10 second handstand. Find that in an average gym? Yours maybe, but the commercial gyms don’t get people there.

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