Shannon Miller, The Most Awarded U.S. Olympic Gymnast Ever, Wants YOU To Make Health A Priority

Shannon Miller has been a hero to junior level gymnasts since she became the most awarded American Olympic gymnast in history – as she was still a teenager, nonetheless.

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These days, Shannon the double Olympic Hall of Fame inductee and Boston College Law graduate is working building her brand in and away from sports. There’s the online extension of brand at ShannonMillerLifestyle.com,  her Shannon Miller Foundation, the partnership with Laura Mercier for ovarian cancer awareness, her reporting for Yahoo! Sports and her radio show, also named Shannon Miller Lifestyle.

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The list of her accomplishments doesn’t end there, but let’s let her tell you the rest!

We’ve seen women get knocked down in the press for their lifestyle websites. How is yours different than Goop and Blake Lively’s Preserve, and how will you try your best to convince the harshest critics?

I think it’s good that so many women are not only interested in going to these websites, but also in providing these types of websites. My website, www.shannonmillerlifestyle.com, is there to support my overall company. Our corporate mission is to help women make their health a priority. Our website is just one of the ways in which we reach out to women to provide interesting and educational content.

Women go to our website to get information on a variety of health topics as well as learn about the other work we do with partners like Polar, Springhouse Green Alliance, and Washington National. The website also helps keep people informed of the events we hold like our Annual 5k, Kids Fun Run, and Health Fair, and on places I will be speaking along with the various free programs, videos, and other resources we offer.

I am blessed with the opportunity to use my voice in a positive way to help women feel confident in making their health a priority.

How do you intend to be a positive body image role model for teens and young women, on and away from the website?

I’ve gone from being in the best shape of my life standing on a gold medal podium in front of the world to losing my hair….(and eyelashes, eyebrows, etc.) and feeling excited when I could walk for five minutes; and just about every phase in between. The most important thing to me is to be a good role model for my two children. Of course, I strive to be a good role model for others as well by the choices I make. However, I know that I’m not perfect. I break down and eat the box of donuts every now and then just like everyone else.

It’s not about perfect. I think that is an important realization coming from a mindset and sport where perfection is the ultimate goal. Personally and as a company we are focused on helping women take those baby steps to achieving their own personal, healthy lifestyle. And it’s not going to look the same for every woman. I don’t want women to feel that taking time to focus on their health is a selfish act. It’s not. In fact, taking that time to go to the doctor, get some exercise, prepare a healthy meal or even just get a little extra “me time”, is very selfless. If we aren’t healthy, we can’t be there for all of those that depend on us.

What fitness regimes do you recommend for people who want to exercise but are exhausted from school and clubs?

We all live very busy, demanding lives. Our audience is typically juggling work, family, children, and all of the various activities and obligations while often pushing their own health to the back burner. So, we try to make fitness appealing and easy.

Depending on your overall goals, you may need a more specific regimen. Are you trying to maintain, tone up, and lose the baby weight? Or are you looking for a significant weight loss? These are important factors. I love working with goals. It’s critical for us to start small. If we’ve been fairly sedentary, then moving for 10 minutes is a great thing! If you go from nothing to deciding to run a marathon, chances are you’ll be so overwhelmed you’ll never take that first step.

A good goal is to focus on 30 minutes of aerobic activity per day. Break that into 10 minute increments; morning, afternoon, evening. You can literally workout in your jammies if you like. Jump rope, jumping jacks, turn up the tunes and dance. Just move for a solid 10 minutes. If you have kids, get them involved. Make it a game of who can last the longest. We have to create these good habits because they pay off big time; not just today, but for years to come.

What health problems should young women watch out for that they may think can’t happen to them?

When we’re young, we feel invincible. I know that I did. As an athlete, I was so in tune with my body that I took it for granted. I would always notice if something were wrong. Unfortunately, as real life takes hold and our focus is pulled in so many directions, vague symptoms can be easily overlooked. I was 32 when I was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer. When I went in for my typical OBGYN exam, cancer certainly wasn’t on my radar.

I’ve met so many women across the country who have made it a point to let me know that they had been putting off their doctor’s visits for one reason or another. However, after hearing my story they are making their appointment. We know that it’s important, but sometimes we just need to get that message in a different way. If I can help do that, then I feel I have made a positive difference. There have been many women in my life who have been that inspiration to me, and I am so thankful for each of them.

I feel that focus on health needs to be well-rounded. Yes, fitness and nutrition are important. I believe in an “everything in moderation” approach to both. If we can’t make it part of our lifestyle, we won’t stick with it. Of course, we also need to factor in things like sleep, stress management, and those all-important health screenings. It’s at these exams we can create a baseline for our health, keep track of our numbers and other important indicators of specific issues and most of all create an open dialogue with our physician. For most major health issues like diabetes, heart disease or cancer, an early understanding of your risk or early diagnosis can save your life.

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In a true double edged sword, the extensive news coverage of cancer could make people pay less attention to it. Worse, TV shows pack it between a musical guest and fall fashion as if it were a fun topic. What have you learned from working with Laura Mercier about ovarian cancer that we should know?

What I have learned as a survivor myself and through working with The Laura Mercier Ovarian Cancer Fund and so many other amazing groups is that we cannot talk about it enough.

Many times a diagnosis creates this distance, this feeling that you are dealing with this often sudden and shocking news…alone. Not only is it critical that people realize that they have support, it is so important to raise funds to offer more education and fund research. There are more survivors today than ever before and that is due in large part to the awareness, education, and funding initiatives that have been promoted over the years.

While I don’t think that anyone looks at cancer as a “fun topic”, I think most survivors will tell you that we don’t want to be depressed all the time. We need hope, we need to be uplifted, and we need to find the humor whenever possible. A good friend, a two time survivor and the woman who shaved my head, said “This [my hair falling out] shouldn’t be a sad thing. This is empowering!” I didn’t understand what she meant until later in my journey, but she was right. We each have a different journey with this disease, but we have to find a way to take this really horrible thing and turn it around. To fight!

Do you think women should tell others they are sick, like employers? Or if they are embarrassed because they think someone will treat them differently, is it ever OK to keep cancer a secret?

Sharing a cancer diagnosis is a deeply personal decision that we each need to make for ourselves. I’ve lived the majority of my life in the public eye, and it was still a very difficult decision to share the news. I was dealing with my own fear and concern for my 14 month old son. Looking back, I think sharing the news and being very public was a way I could separate myself from the diagnosis. If I focused my energy on bringing light to the issue, then it took my mind off of the difficult treatments and rough days.

There is nothing about cancer that is easy. Your world changes in an instant. Your focus and priorities often shift, you learn a new language. Some people deal best when they aren’t constantly reminded of what they are going through. Others, feed off of that support. There is no “right way” to deal with a cancer diagnosis. You do what you have to do to survive.

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Your newest collaboration is with The Springhouse Green Alliance. What is corporate wellness, and what are you doing as an ambassador?

Corporate wellness examines how to create and sustain a healthy workforce and workplace where stress levels are low and productivity is high, where flexibility and opportunity contribute to employee and family wellness outside of the office, as well as within; where opportunities for healthy behaviors and wellness create empowering choices for engagement with the highest outcomes.

I am excited to partner with Springhouse Green Alliance’s corporate and community wellness programs. The objective is to align with the goals and the needs of each workforce, through a combination of preventive, educational, and activity-based choices. Program elements focus on nutrition and fitness, and are designed to encourage healthier lifestyle behaviors in employees and reduce health care spending. I hope to motivate and inspire while really giving people some ideas with fitness, goal setting, and finding their own personal motivation.

Springhouse Green’s focus is preventing illness, promoting health and productivity, and lowering the total cost of health care. A successful wellness program benefits employers by developing and maintaining a healthier, more productive workforce and community. The Springhouse Green Alliance encourages healthy behaviors and outcomes for employees through nutrient-rich gardens, comprehensive educational workshops and media interaction, and individual choice for exercise and holistic options.

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