I first began working out after the birth of my son in my early twenties. With a consistent routine, losing the baby weight was a fairly easy task.

At the prodding of a friend, I ran my first 5K race when I was twenty-seven. Although proud of the accomplishment, I never really felt the distance or frequency qualified me as a full-fledged runner; it was just something I did occasionally (once or twice a year) for fun.

For the record, I now know the truth: If you run, you are a runner, period.

Over the years I endured a fair amount of trauma from domestic violence, a difficult divorce, single parenthood, and other extremely stressful but common life challenges. I’ve experienced bouts of depression in varying degrees from a reoccurring diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months, to an incident of Major Depressive Disorder after the death of my grandmother.

To this day I am grateful that I was aware and brave enough to seek help.

Depression is not something to be ashamed of or to hide from your loved ones. It is a flaw in chemistry, not character. The treatment prescribed for me typically included low doses of medication, sometimes talk therapy, along with a recommendation for exercise.

With age and experience, I gradually learned to better manage my mood and reactions to stress and limit the stressors that I allowed into my life to begin with. Even so, no matter how centered or focused one becomes, there will still be disruptive events that simply cannot be avoided.

Years later, after 6 months of uncertainty and several waves of layoffs, I lost my job.

In a deliberate attempt to avoid sitting around and feeling sorry for myself, I immediately refocused my energy on staying mentally and emotionally healthy. I decided to challenge myself physically and train for my very first triathlon.

I started training in November. It was tough at first, but I had to push myself.

In the process of rising to meet this new challenge, I not only reaped the benefit of getting into shape for the race, but I also developed an incredible sense of well-being, improved physical appearance, and overall demeanor.

I incorporated more diversity into my weekly routine and discovered a much broader definition of the term self-care. Being grateful for the things I had, surely set the foundation for a shift in perspective.

I began walking and spending more time outside.

Mindfulness became a regular practice, and as a result, I felt more engaged, taking the time to truly enjoy my surroundings and indulge in experiences.

I soon began to receive tons of compliments; one gentleman suggested that I was glowing. Tons of questions came next.

I noticed that a disproportionate number of the acknowledgments and inquiries came from other women who wanted to know what I had done to achieve such seeming balance in my life. I had no qualms about sharing what I learned about myself, so I started a group to encourage women to become more active.

I was extremely encouraged by the number of women who were willing to push themselves, to be bold and to try new and, what they may have once considered, outrageous things.

We know trauma comes in many forms: major illness, loss of employment, death of a loved one, divorce, prolonged stress, abuse…and the list goes on.

Engaging in physical activity can reduce stress and help stave off depression. Exercise can make you happy.

No really, it can!

Even if you don’t necessarily consider yourself athletically inclined, you can make small changes in your routine that will lead to major gains.

I heard a quote recently: “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” Believe it.

You don’t have to become an extreme endurance athlete overnight; simply engaging in moderate exercise like walking for 30 minutes each day can improve your mood and significantly reduce a number of health risks. For some, it may simply require a little more investigating to discover what form or forms of exercise work best for you.

My goal in sharing my story is to encourage more women to embrace fitness as a means of self care, and to spend less time focused on the amount of effort required or on the end goal.

Focus instead on what really gets you engaged and what makes you happy. Your options are limitless.

RELATED ARTICLE: A Fit Life is  a Long Life

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