The day-to-day schedule of seven-time Olympic medalist Shannon Miller is anything but routine.
The athletic icon, entrepreneur and philanthropist zigzags around the U.S., relaying the message of health, wellness and balance through her namesake company and foundation. She understands firsthand that women are expected to do it all—from running companies to running households. Each day is a marathon. So finding that harmony between work, caregiving, personal time and wellbeing is a daily challenge, and a universal struggle that women work hard to overcome.
“It’s difficult for anyone, especially when you’re juggling 10,000 things each day,” Miller says. “Many times, your health falls to the bottom of your priority list.”
As a cancer survivor and mother of a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old, Miller knows all too well how important it is to prioritize one’s own health. “If I’m not healthy, I can’t be there for my kids,” she says.
Miller strives to live a balanced lifestyle at her Jacksonville home, by crafting simple meals, getting adequate sleep and reserving private time.
“It’s important for us to remember to take time for wellness, whether it’s preventative health, an extra hour of fitness, packing a healthy lunch or getting an extra hour of sleep,” Miller says. “You’re actually more productive than you would be if you sacrificed your health in order to cram in more work during the day. You accomplish more and have extra energy by living a balanced lifestyle.”
For so long, Miller’s own life was predicated on structure, long hours and perfection as America’s most decorated gymnast. But, she’s learned how to readjust her goals and set reasonable expectations that allow fitness and diet to coexist with business trips, family obligations and other demands of daily life.
Shannon Miller makes exercise fun with her daughter Sterling.
“It’s not about being perfect. It’s about moderation,” she says. “I fall off the wagon just like everyone else. Maybe it’s been two weeks since I got in that two-hour workout. When you have to drive to the gym and back, get ready, drop off the kids at childcare, it gets cumbersome.”
Instead of formulating grand goals for working out, Miller suggests integrating physical and mental exercise in spurts, whether taking a brief evening walk with family, meditating in a dark room or briskly pacing around the house while on a conference call, as she often does. “I walk a lot during the day,” she says.
Either way, carving out a few minutes to yourself is critical to re-energizing your body.
“I realized it’s not about numbers on a scale. It’s about your energy level,” she says.
“Everyone can spare 10 minutes for themselves.”
Miller’s son Rocco often helps in the kitchen.
Once upon a time, meal planning created unnecessary anxiety until Miller streamlined her approach. She encourages others who can relate to follow suit.
Household meals are organized based on finding unique, easy twists on staples like salads, fish, chicken and veggies, rather than fussing over laborious, unfamiliar recipes.
“I used to really stress about what creative meal I could come up with that was new and different and that we hadn’t had 5,000 times before,” Miller says. “A friend who works a lot to address childhood obesity and nutrition reminded me that people in other countries don’t always eat that way.”
Meals are smaller and more frequent, which prevents hunger attacks, overeating and fuels all-day energy.
“We eat six smaller meals every three hours,” Miller says. “We always start with breakfast. We’ll even serve breakfast for dinner.”
She asks her son, Rocco, to help her prepare meals. They make the process fun and engaging. Rocco is more motivated to eat his hand-forged edible creations than if they were arbitrarily served to him on a dinner plate, she says.
When it comes to snacks and sides, Miller keeps her refrigerator stocked with nutrient-dense, food pyramid favorites such as apples, peanut butter, carrot sticks, turkey slices and chicken. But she’s also a realist.
She and her family eat dessert every day, a tradition that is steeped in her childhood. “Some of my best memories are baking with my mom,” Miller says. “People think gymnasts don’t eat desserts, but I didn’t grow up with foods that were off limits. I’m not afraid to eat dessert. I have a little bit of chocolate every day.”
Of course, nearly every parent struggles to encourage his or her children to experiment with new and healthy foods. Miller and her husband, John Falconetti, are no different.
An admittedly picky eater, Miller asks her son and her daughter, Sterling, who is just beginning to delve into adult foods, to try each item on her plate. “We offer veggies every day,” Miller says. “I tell my kids, just try it once, and if you don’t like it, that’s OK, and we’ll try another time.”
Sleep takes precedence within the household, where Miller, her husband and children average nine hours of sleep a night.
“Sleep is a huge priority,” she says. “I learned as an athlete, your body needs that time to mend and repair. Sleep is just as important as strength and training.”
Miller experienced the importance of balance through a different lens after she received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer at age 34. Prior to this pivotal moment, she was focused on maintaining optimal health, a drive that understandably was carried into her young adult life after living out her youth as an accomplished athlete. Now, her bout with cancer has only amplified her passion for finding balance.
“The experience didn’t necessarily change my message, but it became even more personal,” she says.
She is candid about how her diagnosis serves as a reminder that periodic health assessments are essential to remaining healthy. She keeps each doctor’s appointment, even though she now is cancer-free.
“The cancer diagnosis really opened up a new world for me,” she says. “We think we’re invincible when we’re young, but I’ve learned, it’s never too early to get those essential health exams.”
As a mother, Miller stresses the importance of parents taking the time to recharge themselves in order to bring energy to the family.
Stay Active as a Family
We asked Shannon Miller to share with us some ideas on how to build an active lifestyle into family life.
I have young children and this is one of our absolute favorites, especially on a rainy day. We just blow up a few balloons and hit them around trying not to let them hit the floor. It’s amazing how much you have to move! Of course, I think we burn the most calories laughing.
One of the most important things to me is incorporating physical activity into our daily lives, instead of setting a specific “work out” time. This means when we read about a frog we take time out to do “ribbits” (i.e. squat jumps). If we’re watching a show, we’ll take regular dance breaks. We also have a toddler trampoline in the middle of the living room. It’s not the most elegant piece of furniture, but the kids jump on it and bounce constantly. All of that small activity adds up and creates a culture of physical activity.
There is a walk or run almost every weekend here in Jacksonville. We started doing these before our son could walk an entire mile. However, doing these as a family helps him to see that we are active as well. I don’t talk about exercise as a negative. I don’t want them to think of it that way. Instead we just make it part of our life and think of the ways it can benefit us.
When possible, it’s nice to add in an organized sport. Aside from the physical activity, children learn great life lessons through sports. They begin to understand patience while waiting in line. They also learn to respect their coach, the rules, the equipment and themselves. I know that I learned goal setting skills and how to handle obstacles, challenges and even failure. They will become stronger, inside and out.
Easy Family Friendly REcipes
Shannon Miller is a mom-on-the-go, who knows how tough it can be to find time to prepare healthy meals for the family. Here are some quick fix recipes for kids that are as fun to eat as they are easy to make.
Ingredients: Mozzarella, cherry tomatoes (sliced in half), turkey slices, tortellini and olives.
My daughter is only 2 years old, but she wants to do (and eat) whatever my 6-year-old son does. I can’t always make that happen. But these kabobs are nice because they can be finger foods that they can both enjoy! I can also easily change out or sneak in some ingredients for them to try.
Ingredients: Large green apple slices, peanut butter, honey and raisins (can also substitute chocolate chips or cranberries).
I love looking on Pinterest for fun and simple food ideas. This is one of my favorites because it’s healthy and fun for the kids. The fact that we call it a “cookie” seems to make it irresistible!
Peanut Butter Roll Ups
Ingredients: Wheat wrap, peanut butter, banana and honey. My son likes to add blueberries!
My kids both love peanut butter and honey! This is a simply twist on your traditional peanut butter and banana sandwich.
Egg Carton Salad
Ingredients: Find 12 ingredients that have lots of color, texture and taste! Some of our favorites:
Baby carrots or shredded carrots
I learned pretty quickly that with my daughter, it wasn’t about the actual food but rather the delivery method that mattered most. If there is something simple like this cute, and very easy, delivery method that will help her eat a balance meal or snack, then I’m all for it!
Check out the Shannon Miller Foundation 5K and 1-mile Fun Run on Saturday, May 14, at Riverside Park.
For more info visit: http://shannonmiller.com/about/the-shannon-miller-foundation