THE NURSERY RHYME tells us that little girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” And little boys? “…snips and snails and puppy dog tails.” I prefer Johnny Mercer’s “life is what you make it,” and that goes for girls and boys and their muscles too.

There is nothing wrong with little girls other than the labels we adults stick them with. It is up to us to see that they are strong, flexible, and prepared to take advantage and handle what life brings on.

Did you know that there are more boy babies born than girl babies, but that more girls survive the trip? Did you know that all over the world girls between the ages of 6 and 16 are stronger and more flexible than boys? And that they have more stamina? Surely you know they live about 7 years longer than their counterparts. If you need more enlightenment read The Natural Superiority of Woman by Ashley Montagu.

Have you noticed that girls are the ones who grow up to be mothers? “…our most valuable national asset… our mothers” (Fitness from Six to Twelve by Bonnie Prudden) are the examples for our girls.

Up until the thirties, girls had the same advantages as boys when it came to fitness. American Physical Education was influenced by immigrants who brought with them the German Turnverein, Swedish Sokol and Finnish Hall. But with the Depression came many changes, including downsizing. Gym equipment (ropes, ladders, springboards, parallel bars, nets, beams, etc.) the “stuff” of European influence went into storage, balls were substituted for equipment and gyms were made into classrooms. At about the same time along came Dewey and Freud who were misinterpreted. “Progressive” “scope” and “happy”, games and play, were substituted for real education, including REAL Physical Education.

Girls were suddenly designated as fragile, their reproductive organs as delicate and told that jumping up and down might scramble their reproductive organs. “…there is nothing delicate about them. They were designed to stand all manner of stress and have done so successfully for centuries…as long as a vigorous way of life kept them strong and healthy. The outlawing of activities such as running, jumping, twisting and lifting, will not protect, it merely becomes the chance to stretch and strengthen. Weakening such areas opens the way for strain, fatigue and malfunction. It should always be remembered that muscles, not doctors, deliver babies.” Testing and Training for Physical Fitness by Bonnie Prudden. In her own words Bonnie made her point as only she could make it, “…they were afraid a uterus might fall out. I can tell you that I have been in gyms all over America and I have never seen a uterus on a gym floor.”

By the mid 30s there was a car in almost every garage, by the 40s TV began to creep into living rooms and by the 50s it was here to stay along with the unhealthy snacks and TV dinner eaten in front of it…and the “yellow peril,” the school bus.

In 1946 when Bonnie first started her exercise program for her own two girls and 10 neighborhood children, her phone rang and the two mothers of the two girls who were invited said they didn’t want their girls to exercise because they would get muscles. Bonnie told the mothers “…under every curve is a muscle, no muscle no curve, no curve, no husband.” She also let go of the word exercise and called her classes “conditioning” since no one had a pre-conceived idea of what that word meant.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit a local high school where teen mothers took their classes and their babies spent the day in the nursery part of the building. We showed the mothers how to exercise their babies to music with each diaper change. It was one of the nicest experiences I have ever had. The young mothers glowed and the babies responded with glee. All teen girls should be taught how to exercise a baby; then when they have their own baby, exercises throughout the day will a part of their routine along with feeding, bathing, walks, reading, and diaper changing.

I was 24 before I knew what to do, and it was only by a mistake (or was it?) that I found out. It was May of 1962 and my son was 3 months old. I turned the TV on and there was a woman in tights on the Art Linkletter Show demonstrating baby exercise. It was Bonnie Prudden and she was saying that babies should be exercised to music with each diaper change.

Why use music? We ARE rhythm. Breathing is rhythm, speech is rhythm, and heartbeats are rhythm. If you have rhythm you move through life more easily. For your baby and you, music sets the stage for the exercise. After a few initial diaper changes to music, your baby will respond with excitement and movement as soon as she hears the music.

“The more good rhythm a child is exposed to, the easier it will be for that child to sing, play an instrument and dance. Everything will come easier, from walking to studying.” “The child with rhythm does not tire as quickly as the child whose muscles fight each other all day long.”

Girls are the key to a fit nation. Let’s face it. Most of the time it is the mother who brings up the child, sets the standards for nutrition, language, exercise, books, etc. If the mother is athletic, the children will most likely follow suit. If she is a sitter, the children will sit too.

Teacher preparation schools are just now beginning to include nutrition in their curriculum. When will they begin to include meaningful exercise for preschoolers who should NOT be sitting, pasting, cutting, and coloring, but should be running, climbing, jumping, and balancing?

Girls are our key! Start them at birth with their exercise program, and then teach them when they are 12 and 13 the how and why of exercising babies. They will never forget and they will exercise their own when the time comes. The house without a good foundation topples. Build your little girl from the ground up starting at day one of her life. Don’t forget to use the music. In fact, if YOU exercise to music while you are pregnant, the baby will respond to that music once she is born. And don’t forget that babies can swim too! They have a built in breath-holding reflex, a grip reflex, and frog-like kicks – all there just waiting to be used and developed. When placed face down in warm water they will automatically use those built-in reflexes. Those reflexes start to wane at four months so don’t wait… Start now.

For more information read: Your Baby Can Swim and How to Keep Your Child Fit from Birth to Six by Bonnie Prudden, complete with exercise stories, instructions, and equipment to make it easy.

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For more information about Bonnie Prudden®, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®, workshops, books, self-help tools, DVDs, educational videos, and blogs, visit www.bonnieprudden.com. Or call 520-529-3979 if you have questions or need help.

Enid Whittaker, Managing Director, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy