Lace Up! It’s a Girl Thing

Great news! Researchers have discovered that regular exercise for teens can reduce the risk of breast cancer later in life – especially the more-aggressive, usually-harder-to-treat, pre-menopausal kind of breast cancer. How much exercise are we talking about? Not an extreme athlete kind. The study found the lowest risk among girls who did 3 and 1/4 hours a week of strenuous exercise, or 13 hours a week of walking – that was the most extreme levels. Studies have long shown that exercise reduces breast cancer rates in middle age (and beyond), but this is the first study (and it was a large, overall well-done study) to show protective benefit in girls. The biggest impact was among those girls who started youngest – age 12. So how do you put this information to use?

1) Exercise with your daughter. Studies have also shown that women will do things for their kids that they won’t take the time to do for themselves. This one is a double-dip – you BOTH benefit and get protection from breast cancer! Instead of going to a movie, or eating out, lace up and hit the bike path. Stick the potatoes in the oven to bake and head out for a walk. Just like when you’re stuck in the car with your teen, you may be surprised at the conversations you can have while you’re walking with someone who, otherwise, might be kind of silent or prickly.

2) Build exercise into your regular day. If you can, give up that car. Walking (safely) to and from school is a wonderful way to not have to plan (or make time) for exercise – by the time you get home, it’s done.
Can’t walk to school? How about another regular activity – can you walk to and from that?

3) Give the gift of exercise. Does someone in your house have secret dreams of being a swords-woman? How about a kayaker? Paying for exercise can be expensive, but giving it as a gift is a decadent treat. Trying something new is good for all of us – keeps the brain humming along. If your teen is feeling awkward about it, set an example. Get yourself padded up and go take that tae kwon do class you always wanted to try, and drag a girlfriend along with you. Worse happens, you get to giggle at each other as you move around.

4) Make a pact. Set a goal (all our daughters will be doing some activity by July?), pick a reward (dinner + DVD at Sue’s?), and pick a punishment/consequence (last one to get their daughter signed up has to bring dessert from Toot Sweet’s?). The more you rope your friends into a plan, the greater your chances of success. Use the same approach with your daughter – help her set a goal, pick a reward, and pick a consequence – all of it geared toward low-cost fun. Talk her friends’ moms into signing everyone up for a team. It takes time and emotional energy – but keep in mind you’re investing in building a community, and spreading health across many families.

5) Let her pick. How do you negotiate this kind of thing with a 12-year-old? Well, there’s no one answer to this question. Each child and parent combo is different. All I can talk about is what we do chez moi. The rule in the Gurleygirls house is – I don’t care what you choose, but pick a sport. Any sport. No one’s going to the Olympics, I don’t care if you win or lose, the goal is fun. And if you don’t pick…(ominous Hollywood soundtrack) then I pick for you. Each season my girls fret and stew, kind of like picking that one big holiday present. So what happens if the sport is not a good match? You still show up. You make a commitment for one season, that’s all. If there are “discussions” about “I don’t want to go/I have too much homework,” etc. I drive them there and tell them to discuss it with their coach/instructor/parent volunteer. Yes, I have sat in a parking lot and told them they MUST get out of the car. They have, in fact, quit a sport on more than one occasion, but the rules are that she has to discuss it herself face-to-face with the coach first (not just fail to show up), and she has to have a plan in place to replace it with another physical activity. Enforcing all this is hard – and I sometimes have to chant to myself – who’s the mommy? I’m the mommy. But, at 13 and 16, I have to say, my girls are pretty good about taking responsibility for their exercise and enjoying it. It works (with bumps along the way) for them.

If you have any tips, please share with us in the comments section!

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