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When Marsha Parker crosses the finish line at the SHAPE half-marathon in New York City next month, it won’t just be a victory for her—but also for her 8-year-old daughter, Kumari, who has trained by her side for each of her races. “She’s amazing,” 39-year-old Parker tells Motherly. “She’s been my partner in this.”

These days, Parker can often be found at the Mile High Run Club in New York City, where she trains for upcoming races. But a couple of years and more than 100 pounds ago, the life she’s living today was the kind she could only watch from a distance.

“When I was heavier I would see Facebook and Instagram photos of my friends running races, and I was like, ‘I wanna do that,’” Parker says. “But how could I when I couldn’t even catch the train?”

It was Parker’s little girl who inspired her to make the lifestyle changes that eventually allowed her to not just run for the train, but in long-distance races as well.

The shift began when Kumari noticed her mom wasn’t eating the same healthy foods as her. An early reader who was diving into books about nutrition, Kumari knew her mom’s plate should look more like her own.

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“She’d say, ‘Why don’t you eat vegetables?’” Parker says, recalling how her daughter would look at her mom’s dinner of fried chicken and fries and ask, “Where are the vitamins in that?”

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Inspired by Kumari, Parker made changes to her eating habits and funneled the new energy those nutritious foods gave her into physical activity—first with a kickboxing class and then the Mile High Run Club, where runners train to music on treadmills in a group setting that’s similar to a spin class.

When Parker told Kumari how much fun she was having learning to run, the little girl wanted to train, too. The pair began running outdoors together. “We went to the track and she just yelled out ‘I love running with you, this is so much fun!’ And we’ve been doing it ever since.”

Working out together is about so much more than exercise

Parker will be running at the SHAPE half-marathon in April, and Kumari is busy training for an upcoming run for kids. But running isn’t the only way you and your family can follow in their footsteps.

Getting active with your kids can take many forms. Whether you choose to run, do yoga, practice kid-friendly CrossFit or play baseball with your little ones doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that you are moving with them, says Stephanie Ermel, an early childhood educator, fitness coach and founder of Island Life: Okinawa—not to mention a mother of three.

“I cannot emphasize enough the impact that caregivers have on children. During childhood kids are basically watching us to mimic how we treat and view our body, how to react in a traffic jam, how to speak to our partners,” Ermel tells Motherly.

Ermel says that growing up in Okinawa, Japan—a “Blue Zone” because its people are among the longest-living on earth—showed her how enjoyable and family-centric healthy living can be.

“One of my favorite things is that my kids know when to cheer me on. I love a hard workout, so five to six times a week they see mommy making unwomanly sounds during a workout [and] my kids start chanting, ‘You can do it! You can do it!’ and tons of other encouraging things,” she explains.

For Ermel, these moments are as much about teaching her kids important life lessons as they are about squeezing in a cardio blast.

“They see me humbled daily, when I work on my handstands while waiting for the toast to pop up and later when they're struggling with putting on their shoes I will say, ‘I have to practice lots of things, too,’” Ermel says. “We're all reminded that life is continuous growth and that struggling is okay.”

How to make time for family fitness

Whether a mama is doing handstands during breakfast or chasing her child around the track, including our kids in our active habits is truly a gift to both parent and child—but one that can be hard to fit into a busy schedule at first.

For Parker, this required a perspective-shift: For so long, she didn’t want to take time away from her child to workout. Then she discovered that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

“Your goals can co-exist with one another,” says Parker. “You can be a great mom and still be active. You can drag the kids with you and they’ll learn to like it. They’re so resilient and adaptive, they’ll like it.”

If you’re thinking “I could never do that,” remember this: Not long ago Parker could not even run to catch her train. Now she and Kumari the ones posting those post-race selfies.

Everything happens in baby steps, mama. Even running.

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