Staying Fit as You Age: Advice From Olympic Gymnast Dominique Dawes

Gold medalist Dawes is helping kids and parents get fit as part of Obama's "Let's Move" campaign.

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Wearing high heels and a rhinestone-spangled "President's Challenge" T-shirt, Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes dashed across the blacktop at Maury Elementary School in Washington D.C. last Wednesday in a relay race with students. Not exactly the kind of workout that keeps the 33-year-old former gymnast in shape. She was there as co-chair of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, a group that's trying to implement Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" initiative to prevent childhood obesity. While the grade schoolers sprinted past her in sensible sneakers, she told me what she does to maintain her svelte physique now that she's no longer doing double backflips.

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"I went through a tough stage at the end of my gymnastics career," she admits, "where I put on that freshman 15." Now she does yoga and pilates several times a week because she says they're "good for my mind as well as my body." She also enjoys taking a "boot camp" class at her gym that uses military-style training techniques—think pushups and a lot of yelling. And she's got a secret for her neighbors who hire lawn service companies: To burn calories, she mows hers herself. Her next step is to incorporate planting and weeding into her workout routine, but she first has to learn some gardening skills. "I'm going to get some tips from Michelle Obama the next time I visit the White House garden," she says.

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Since you may not be able to stomach boot camp or get gardening advice from the first lady, what are some practical ways to maintain your fitness as you age? If you don't have time for formal workouts, squeeze in activity whenever possible—like walking to the post office during your lunch break instead of driving there after work, Dawes says. Sometimes exercise can be a time-saver, like parking farther away at the mall and walking for five minutes instead of taking 10 minutes to hunt for a close spot.

If you have young children, use them as a built-in incentive to get active. "Be creative, make it fun, and get your kid involved," says Dawes. She recently visited a town that had a "walking school bus," where a rotating group of parents walk all the neighborhood kids to school. If you're able to set aside an hour for playtime, choose freeze tag or frisbee over a board game. Parents can even formalize these activity efforts by signing up through their child's school for the chance to earn a "President's Active Lifestyle Award." Adults earn this by logging 30 minutes of exercise—kids need an hour after school—five days a week for six weeks.

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Not sure how to go about exercising and eating right? Not to worry. As part of the initiative to get 1 million parents and kids to earn these PALA awards, 8,000 schools nationwide will start offering "family fitness" nights over the next few months to provide tips on fitness and nutrition. Ironically, the initiative is being sponsored by General Mills, maker of sugar-laden Gushers, Lucky Charms, and Pillsbury cookies (though company spokespeople at the elementary school event assured me that coupons for their products would not be handed out at any fitness events). Interestingly, they said they weren't aware of their company's promise to help cut 1 trillion calories from processed food products, also part of Obama's Let's Move! initiative, when I asked if there had been any progress on that front.