Jackie Joyner-Kersee on family health

Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee is involved in the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Triple Play Fit Family Challenge.
(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

Former track and field Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee is no stranger to the benefits of daily workouts and a healthful lifestyle. As a six-time medal winner, she lived her life always in her own best shape.

But many kids and families today face challenges involving time, money and lack of education about how to stay fit. That’s why Joyner-Kersee became involved in the Triple Play Fit Family Challenge with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (Joyner-Kersee is a former member of the club), a competition that helps families to change their eating and exercise habits and that held its final competition in Venice earlier this year.

Taking a break from hosting the event, Joyner-Kersee, 51, talked to us about how important it is for families to work together and how she stays healthy these days.


This event is all about family. What’s the role of family in supporting one another when it comes to good health?

It’s so important, having that family bond and that family strength. We are dealing with an obesity crisis in this country that’s been going on for years now, and it’s higher than it’s ever been, and it’s so important that families work together.

It’s also important not to be judgmental; someone might be overweight, but really help them and try to show that person the way. I believe everybody can find their way, but you have to be encouraging.

What can families accomplish by exercising together?

If you don’t have a gym you can go to, you can walk on the beach, you can go to the forest. There’s a lot of things you can do together, and then you can find out what’s going on with your kids. At that point they might want to share, and not only can you communicate together and get in shape together, but you can talk about making healthy choices.

What is your workout routine like now?


It’s wintertime in St. Louis, so I walk on the treadmill for four miles. I recently started doing kickboxing because I had to try something different, and I’m looking to do yoga. I really believe in it. I’ve always done meditation, but I know as I get older I want to keep my flexibility, so I really want to get consistently involved with that.

What challenges have you faced over the years in maintaining your healthful lifestyle?

I like to really push myself to the limit, but I’m an asthmatic, so I also know that sometimes I have to slow down. Once the spring rolls out and I get out on the track, the competitive juices do come out, but I know it’s important to not do too much yet do enough to make me healthy and wanting to go back. It’s a tough balance. Even with an hour’s workout, it doesn’t feel like I’ve done anything, but I also know as I’m getting older that feeling of not doing anything is really just about finding moderation.

What is your diet like?

I’m consistent. I do eat meat and chicken, although I’m allergic to seafood. I try to get a lot of fiber, and I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. I really try to find a balance — I don’t do everything right either. When I was competing, I had a problem with potato chips — I had to really work with myself. I know I don’t benefit if I don’t balance diet and nutrition and working out. That’s what I tell my friends — a lot of them think they are going to diet through these crash diets and then not work out, but no, you have to find a healthy balance.