You’d think Laila Ali-daughter of boxing icon Muhammad, pro fighter in her own right and People magazine’s Most Beautiful list alum-couldn’t be more unlike us regular people. Not so, judging from our recent interview with the 32-year-old mom, business woman and healthy living advocate. Despite her world-class heritage, Laila faces many of the challenges we all face. Among her many charity activities, Laila is serving as the spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Start Walking! Campaign, which kicks off April 7. We chatted via phone about her post-DancingWith the Stars life, toddler-son C.J. and her mission to motivate Americans to get fit and healthy.
Spry: How are you doing at balancing work, working out and being a mom?
Laila: One thing about motherhood I wasn’t prepared for was being tired all the time — working out definitely has to be a priority. It took me about a year to get a handle on that, to make fitness a priority. That means scheduling on a calendar, and learning to say “No, I have an appointment to work out.”
Spry: That’s such a key issue for women.
Laila: Right. My husband [former NFL player Curtis Conway], he’s working out, he’s getting it done, and I’m complaining. I have all these excuses. And he says, “It’s on my schedule and I don’t break that.” And I say, OK, maybe I should try that too. Now, day doesn’t start until after I work out.
Spry: What’s your fitness regimen like?
Laila: I’ve got to switch it up and find new ways to motivate myself because I get bored easily — right now, I’m into Spinning. I love the loud music and it burns a lot of calories. Plus, I do weight training 3 times a week with light weights, high reps. Pilates is also one of my favorites, and I run and walk a bit.
Spry: Do you take C.J. out with you?
Laila: Yes, I have a running stroller, but I mostly walk with him in it. I wear my heart rate monitor so I know I’m working. I sometimes carry him in a backpack — it’s tough work when you’re carrying an extra 20 or 30 pounds!
Spry: Fitness and sport was obviously a part of your life from an early age. Many women don’t have that heritage — they don’t see themselves as athletic or fitness-minded. What would you say to them to help them get over that mental barrier?
Laila: Well, I wasn’t so athletic when I was young, either. I didn’t work out — I was 20 pounds overweight, and ate what ever I want. I was just like everyone else. I’d have a gym membership and quit going after two weeks. That was before boxing, of course.
You’ve got to make health your goal — if you’re losing weight just to get into a dress, it’s not going to last. It’s not just about looks, it’s about feeling good physically, having more energy and less stress.
Spry: What tips would you give people who know they need to get active?
Laila: Just start walking — it’s so simple. Walking just 30 minutes a day can help you live longer.
Spry: Of all the causes you could be involved in, why did you choose to support the American Heart Association?
Laila: I have to be passionate about a cause to give my time to it. I have people in my family with high blood pressure, heart disease, who have died from heart attacks. These things are preventable. There are so many things in this life that we don’t have control over — it’s sad to imagine dying from something you can control.
Spry: Can you share any tricks that got you through tough training sessions and competitions that might help our readers keep going when the going gets tough?
Laila: I’m a very competitive person. For me, when I was fighting and I didn’t feel like getting up early to run, I’d imagine my opponent out there running, getting in better shape than me. I would remind myself, “You have to pay the cost to be the boss.” When you’re tired, when you’ve got a lot going on, remind yourself of your goal … you’re never gonna get there if you don’t make sacrifices. Some people who are overweight see people who are fit and think they’re just that way. But they are that way because they make sacrifices.
Spry: Any more encouraging words?
Laila: Everyone has what it takes to reach their goal. It starts in the mind — if you don’t start there, it’s not going to last. We all have emotional issues we have to get to in order to get healthy and change our lives. You have to get to the point where you say, “I feel too good and my health is too important for me to go back.”
You can look at yourself a year from now, and either you are going to be just as heavy-or more — or you’re going to have lost weight. Which do you want it to be? You don’t want to be down on yourself — you want to be proud of yourself. That works for me — I want to be proud of myself.
Spry: I have to ask about your dad. How’s he doing?
Laila: He’s great. You know, he has Parkinson’s, so he has his good days and his bad days, but he’s in good spirits.
Spry: Laila, thanks so much for taking time out to talk with us!
Laila: Any time it comes to motivating people to take control of their health, I’m there. If I can help change just one life, great — but I want to change more than that!