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Matthew McConaughey Tells Teens: Just Keep Livin'

Actor and dad Matthew McConaughey helps at-risk youth get healthy and remembers his dad, who taught him to give back. Plus, his new movie, 'Magic Mike.'
By Lauren Paige Kennedy
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Texan (and honorary Malibu man) Matthew McConaughey is famed not only for his hit films -- The Lincoln Lawyer, Tropic Thunder, Killer Joe -- but also for his traffic-stopping, handsome looks. Still, his good deeds might eclipse the seemingly indelible public impression of those cerulean blue eyes and washboard abs.

McConaughey, 42, is the force behind j.k. livin foundation (jklivinfoundation.org), which funds an after-school fitness and wellness program for some of the nation's most vulnerable inner-city teenagers. The foundation's name is shorthand for "just keep living," a personal mantra inspired by the passing of his father, who died just as the actor's career went full tilt with 1993's cult classic Dazed and Confused.

The actor, now starring in the Steven Soderbergh comedy Magic Mike, which premieres June 29, was interested in working with teens who are "in that transition age, where the consequences aren't just another demerit if you screw up again." So he designed a program that "prevents before you need to cure," he says.

The Roots of J.K. Livin

Launched in 2008 in Venice, Calif., in public schools serving low-income districts, the program is equal parts exercise regimen, nutrition plan, support group, community outreach, and safe haven. It welcomes high school boys and girls looking to escape the concrete jungle after the last school bell rings and before a parent returns home from work.

With additional locations in Dallas and Austin, Texas, plus a recent expansion into New Orleans, j.k. livin meets on school campuses twice each week for two hours. The sessions center on themed monthly lesson plans created by McConaughey, the program's fitness director and phys-ed teacher Missy Shepherd, Los Angeles-based nutritionist Rachel Beller, RD, and kids' publishing giant Scholastic. The first 30 minutes are devoted to talking and learning, and the rest of the time is for "moving their bodies and exercising," the actor says.

The 14 active j.k. livin programs serve an average of 200 kids per school and have helped more than 2,000 teens since the foundation's launch. Each group has its own flow and nuances, but one unifying factor is the promise to set and attain personal fitness goals, whether it's to make the soccer team or run a 10-minute mile. "It's not about someone becoming a decathlete or cover girl," McConaughey says, explaining that striving for fitness builds more than healthy bodies -- it builds "all-important self-esteem" among a group that often fails to reach its potential and is troubled by poor grades, poor health, and low graduation rates.

The Lessons of J.K. Livin

The idea, then, is to both break a sweat and open a mind. With a staff of district teachers and coaches recruited and paid by j.k. livin for their after-school participation, the program offers kids much-needed emotional and physical guidance. For McConaughey, that guidance begins with learning to count your blessings -- and maintaining a positive attitude.

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