The First Lady's number one health rule: Give yourself permission to be happy.
Here she shares the eating habits, fitness routine, and secrets for inner confidence that she hopes to pass on to her daughters and the nation. An exclusive interview with Prevention Editor-in-Chief Liz Vaccariello.
Liz Vaccariello, editor-in-chief of Prevention: My first question actually comes from my own mother. She wanted to know, have you always followed a healthy lifestyle, or did you have an "aha" moment?
First Lady Michelle Obama: I've always been a closet jock, but when I got married and had kids, that fell by the wayside. My "aha" moment came when our first daughter, Malia, was 4 months old. My husband's exercise routine hadn't changed a bit; he was still getting his workouts in, and I was getting irritated (laughs). Then I realized he was just prioritizing it differently. So I said, "If I get up and out before the first feeding, I will work out." That will engage my husband to do that first feeding with the baby. So I started getting up at 4:30 in the morning and going to the gym. With exercising, the more you do it, the more you get into it. And the more you see results, the more you're pushing for the next level. That's when it just clicked for me.
Liz: What has your mom taught you about healthy living?
Mrs. Obama: I think my mother taught me what not to do. She put us first, always, sometimes to the detriment of herself. She encouraged me not to do that. She'd say being a good mother isn't all about sacrificing; it's really investing and putting yourself higher on your priority list. You can be a good mom and still work out, get your rest, have a career — or not. She encouraged me to find that balance.
Mrs. Obama: It's multifaceted — it's physical, it's internal, it's my diet, and my emotional state. It's all tied in together. Throughout my life, I've learned to make choices that make me happy and make sense for me. Even my husband is happier when I'm happy. He has always said, "You figure out what you want to do," because he's discovered that personal happiness is connected to everything. So I have freed myself to put me on the priority list and say, yes, I can make choices that make me happy, and it will ripple and benefit my kids, my husband, and my physical health. That's hard for women to own; we're not taught to do that. It's a lesson that I want to teach my girls so they don't wait for their "aha" moment until they're in their 30s like I was (laughs). Maybe they can experience it a little earlier.
Liz: What, if anything, scares you about aging?
Mrs. Obama: Nothing, really. I look at my mom — she's 72, and she's happy and looks great. To me, with age, everything has gotten better. You have way more control; you know yourself better. My goal is to be a great-looking 70-year-old! I won't mind being 70, but I want people to say, "You're 70?" (laughs)
Liz: How do you define happiness?
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Mrs. Obama: Oh, these are good questions. You know, happiness for me really is when my kids are good and when my family is whole. Moving [to the White House], whatever stresses would be on my husband and me, we could handle; we are grown-ups. But it wouldn't be until the day that my kids came home and said to me, "I like it here," that I'd feel like I could breathe and know that we're all going to be okay here. And that happened very early into the year. My happiness is measured against theirs — when they're in a good place, I feel really good.
Liz: Think about your health 20 years from now ... What do you want to work on now so it's not an issue later?
Mrs. Obama: I always want to be on the cusp of being in the best shape that I can be. What I'm discovering is that the older you get, the more work you have to do to stay there. When I was younger, I could eat whatever I wanted, as long as I exercised; or if I didn't exercise and just watched what I ate, I'd maintain. Well, now I have to do both. I'm varying my workouts so it's not just cardio but also includes moves to maintain my flexibility. I incorporated Pilates and do much more stretching. So I'm sort of adjusting to the natural progression of the physical limitations that come with ...
Liz: Just being in your 40s, right?
Mrs. Obama: Right. It's different. I try to tell young people to get in shape now, because it's easier. If you're 30 and want to drop 10 pounds, all you have to do is just walk (laughs).
Liz: Do you have a favorite workout when you're doing it? And one you love when you're done doing it?
Mrs. Obama: When I'm doing it? Well, running on the treadmill is after I'm done. I'll do intervals because I don't run long and those are a killer, so I'm always happy when I'm finished. While I'm doing it … I enjoy arm exercises because you can actually see what it's hitting.
Liz: In the mirror, while you are working out, right?
Mrs. Obama: Exactly — you can see it. If only I could walk around like this (pretends to hold dumbbells and laughs).
Liz: Right, while carrying 15-pound weights (laughs). So would you say you were in the best shape of your life in your 20s, 30s …?
Mrs. Obama: No. It's been in my 40s because I've had more time as my kids have gotten older. There was a period, actually right before the campaign started up, that I was really in tip-top shape. I was really there. And then my husband ran for president (laughs).
Liz: How has your diet changed since you moved to the White House?
Mrs. Obama: Ooh, okay (laughs). Overall it's good, but there are some great bakers here. I'm not complaining, because I live in the White House, and it's really nice here. But if you like pie, it will be there — always — at every meal (laughs). So for me, it's about setting up new boundaries. I had some challenges with that, but I'm balancing out.
Liz: You seem to have a healthy relationship with food.
Mrs. Obama: I try to have no absolute nos. I love french fries, I like a good burger, and I like pie. And that's okay. I would be depressed if I felt I could never eat the things that I love. I also don't want my girls to be obsessed about food. We don't have a "no junk food" rule — I just want them to think about their choices. When my older daughter asks, "Can I have pie?" I'll say, "Did you have it yesterday? Well, what do you think?" And she'll come to the conclusion that, you know, you're right, I shouldn't eat pie every night.
Liz: You're held up as a fashion icon, and the media pays so much attention to your curves and your arms. Has it affected your body image?
Mrs. Obama: No, not really — but I thank God I'm 45 in this and not 35. I feel bad for young women going through the same thing, because [at that age] you don't know who you are. I know what makes me happy. I pick the clothes that make me happy — sometimes people like them, sometimes they don't. I try to listen to my own internal guide. My message to women: Do what makes you feel good, because there'll always be someone who thinks you should do it differently. Whether your choices are hits or misses, at least they're your own.
Liz: You almost always seem at peace. But we all have some form of inner turmoil. How do you channel that?
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Mrs. Obama:That's a good question. When I'm unhappy with something, people know, because I don't want to hold on to it. I'd rather deal immediately with the stuff that bothers me, so using my network — my girlfriends, my husband, my mom — I talk a lot, I vent. Even if there are no answers, sharing the emotions helps keep me stable. It's good that I have my mom [here]. I can go up to her little suite of rooms and just say, "So, what's going on, Mom?" And then I'll start. Eventually we talk our way into a place of comfort.
Liz: What is your skin care regimen?
Mrs. Obama: It's really pretty basic. I wash my face with a good cleanser, and I use a moisturizer with an SPF. Every now and then I'll go to a dermatologist for microderm or a facial, but I don't have time to do that all the time.
Liz: Do you sleep well, too?
Mrs. Obama: I am a sleeper. When you wake up at 4:30 in the morning to do a workout, you're sleepy at 8 in the evening. So I'd put the kids down, then I'd go to bed. By 10 o'clock at the latest, I'm in bed. I even usually wake up before the alarm clock. Though some of that may be nerves (laughs).
Liz: President Obama looks at you as if you're the most beautiful woman on the planet. Do you feel that?
Mrs. Obama: One of the things that attracted me to Barack was his emotional honesty. Right off the bat he said what he felt. There are no games with him — he is who he appears to be. I feel fortunate as a woman to have a husband who loves me and shows me in every way. So yes, I do know that. And now he'll know I know.
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