9 Get-Fit Secrets to Steal From Personal Trainers

[brightcove:5460186467001 default]

There are plenty of perks to having a personal trainer. But even fitness pros admit it’s not impossible to get in shape sans supervision. "You know your workout preferences, personality, and body better than anyone else," says Gunnar Peterson, a celebrity trainer and the chief training officer for the fitness streaming service gymGO. Follow these essentials to get a trainer-tier sweat at every workout.

Step 1: Do a self-consultation

Start by getting clear about your aims, says fitness and wellness expert David Kirsch, owner of Madison Square Club in New York City.

Go for mini goals. Set intentions you can measure in the short term, like "I want to run three times this week."

Build a schedule. Plug every workout and rest day into your phone, with alerts.

Log everything. Jot down a few notes about how your workout went when you finish. “Keeping a log helps you see what’s working and what’s not,” says Kirsch. Chest up, core tight! Check your form when you start to get tired.

RELATED: The Best Low-Impact Workouts for Weight Loss

Step 2: Fix your form

The pros cringe when they see gym-goers moving through a routine with bad form. “It makes your workout less effective and may set you up for injury,” warns Peterson. The following techniques help you find proper positioning.

Carry a cheat sheet. There’s no shame in pulling up a workout on your phone with images you can refer to.

Film yourself. Prop your phone against a wall to record your moves and see where form is suffering. Or just use a good old-fashioned mirror.

Have posture check-ins. "People tend to lean on cardio-machine handles, and their posture begins to suffer,” says Kirsch. Every few minutes, remind yourself to stand tall and engage your core. On the elliptical or bike, make sure you’re not relying on the machine to support your body weight.

RELATED: 6 Signs It's Time to Break Up With Your Personal Trainer

Up your accountability

"Having a trainer of course forces you to show up every time," notes Peterson. "But people also tend to work harder in the presence of others." These tricks help you keep your commitment fiery without the extra helping hand.

Id your motivation style. Do you prefer cheerleader or drill sergeant? Pick a lane, then come up with a few motivational phrases (“You showed up—finish it!” “You could hit the gym for a half hour or waste it on the couch on Instagram!”) for those moments when you want to quit or skip a workout.

Use tech. Stream a workout video of a trainer you admire so you hear her voice and words of encouragement while you do the moves.

Find an audience. "If motivation is an issue, I would try to get out of your house to work out, not just go into the basement,” says Kirsch. Go to a public gym or a park or grab a workout buddy so you feel a bit more on the hook to finish what you started.

Source: http://www.health.com/fitness/feed

The 7 Best Strength Exercises You’re Not Doing

[brightcove:5532346216001 default]

This article originally appeared on DailyBurn.com.

Every exercise in your strength program has a purpose — to help you build strength and muscle, burn fat and improve your fitness. While there’s a time and a place for nearly any exercise under the right circumstance, some movements are simply more effective than others. And it should be no surprise that the ones that build a foundation for skills that you’ll use in everyday tasks will be the most beneficial for improving your fitness and quality of life.

RELATED: The 15 Most Underrated Exercises You’re Not Doing, According to Trainers

So how does a lifter ensure they’re making all the right moves? If you’ve plateaued or aren’t seeing the results you’re banking on, it’s time to get back to basics with these seven moves. From increased strength, better core stability, greater athleticism and improved overall health, these key exercises need to find their way into your routine.

 Goblet Squat

GIF: Daily Burn DB10

1. Goblet Squat

Squats are an exercise many people struggle to perform safely and effectively. Luckily, the goblet squat is a great progression from a bodyweight squat before squatting with a bar. Because the load is held in front, the core works double-time to keep you tall, while your legs work to control your movement down and stand back up.

How to: Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands underneath the “bell” at chest level. Set your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outwards (a). Push your butt back like you’re sitting in a chair and descend until your elbows reach the inside of your knees (b). Keeping your heels flat on the floor, pause at the bottom of the squat and return to a full standing position. If your heels, push your hips further back and work on partial ranges of motion until mobility and form improve (c). Repeat for four sets of 8-10 reps.

Photo: Mallory Creveling / Life by Daily Burn

RELATED: 50 Butt Exercises to Sculpt Stronger Glutes
 

2. Pallof Press

The Pallof press is one of those movements that looks confusing, but it’s actually incredibly simple and beneficial, says Mike Campbell, personal trainer and owner of Unleash Your Alpha. While you may not be hoisting heavy weight, the real challenge lies in resisting rotation. That makes this an ‘anti-rotation’ movement, forcing you to engage your entire core: obliquesabs, lower back, glutes and more. According to Campbell, the Paloff press will build great usable strength while adding athletic definition through the mid-section.

How to: Stand with your side parallel to the cable or band’s anchor with your feet hip-distance apart and knees slightly bent. Grab the handle with both hands and pull it in towards your chest, maintaining tension on the cable or band (a). Keeping your chest high, squeeze through your stomach and press the handle away from the body, extending the arms straight. Be sure to resist any twisting or rotation (b). Continue to engage your core, and ensure you remain square to resist the rotational force. Bring arms back in to the chest and repeat for three sets of 10 reps per side (c).

RELATED: 50 Ab Exercises to Score a Stronger Core

 Dumbbell Row

GIF: Daily Burn LTF

3. Dumbbell Row

Most of us spend more time training the “mirror muscles” on the front of the body, and neglect what we can’t see, according to Campbell. But developing a strong back is key to balance things out, improve posture and avoid injury. The dumbbell row can help achieve all that, in addition to building a strong core and arms. The main muscles being used are the lats, traps and rhomboids, which reinforce good posture by pulling your shoulders back. They also aid the core in stabilizing your spine.

How to: Grab a dumbbell (20 pounds is plenty for most to start) and find a bench. Start with your left hand on the bench with left arm extended, while your right arm holds the dumbbell and right foot is on the ground (a). Retract your shoulders, brace your abs and pull the weight up until the elbow passes the side of the body (b). Lower the weight with control and repeat for three sets of 6-8 reps on each side (c).

 Push-Up

GIF: Daily Burn 365

4. Push-Up

The push-up might appear basic, but it’s one of the best exercises you can do. The functional movement is great for training the upper-body pushing muscles — the anterior deltoids, triceps and chest. It also requires you to engage your core and allows full range of motion in your shoulder blades.

How to: Start on your knees facing the floor with your hands at shoulder-width and planted directly under the shoulders. Get into a plank by straightening your legs and supporting your weight with hands and feet (a). Squeeze your backside to keep your trunk engaged and lower your body slowly to the ground. The elbows should be slightly tucked — like arrows, rather than flared like the letter “T” (b). Descend until your chest is just above the ground and return to the starting position by fully extending your arms, and repeat (c). Note: If you can’t do five push-ups with good form, elevate your hands on a bench or chair to begin building up your strength. If they’re easy, try elevating your feet on a chair.

RELATED: 5 Advanced Push-Up Variations to Try Now

 Split Squats

GIF: Mallory Creveling / Life by Daily Burn

5. Split Squat

Traditional squats are great, but it’s important to incorporate single-leg movements to develop athleticism and minimize training imbalances. The split squat, a stationary lunge, does just that. The split stance requires you to balance with a narrow base of support, firing up stabilizing muscles of the hip and trunk while training your quads, glutes and hamstrings. In addition to building lower-body strength, the single-leg nature of the exercise helps improve balance and increase flexibility and stability in the hips.

How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Next, take a step forward with your right foot, and a large step backwards with your left foot — this is your starting position (a). Keep the front heel flat and descend into a lunge, bringing your back knee towards the floor. Stop just short of your knee of your back leg touching the ground. Keep your front heel flat on the ground (b). Pause for one second and return to standing. Perform 6-8 reps on your right leg, before switching sides. Repeat for three sets (c).

Photo: Ryan Kelly / Daily Burn 365

6. Lateral Squat

The lateral squat combines two movements: a lateral lunge and a squat. The difference? The lateral squat is stationary. It requires you to move side-to-side, providing a great stretch on the groin and inner thighs while training the hips and trunk to work together.

How to: Stand tall with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, heels flat on the ground and toes pointed forward. Initiate the movement by pushing your hips backwards, bending your left leg, and leaning to your left with your right foot angled out slightly (a). The left knee should be bent, left heel flat on the floor, and right leg extended with your weight over the left side of your body (b). This is one rep. Return to a standing position and descend doing the same movement on your right side to even things out (c). Perform six reps per leg for three sets.

RELATED: 5 Glute Bridges You Can Do in Front of Your TV

 Hip Raise

GIF: Mallory Creveling / Life by Daily Burn

7. Hip Extension (Glute Bridges/Hip Thrusts)

One of the most important muscle groups for any trainee — athlete, weekend warrior, or newbie — is the glutes. Yet they are often neglected and underutilized from sitting for long periods each day. According to Campbell, “When we attempt movements from running to squatting without optimal hip movement we risk injury to our hips, knees and ankles.” He notes, “Getting glutes that not only switch on when they should but are strong is crucial, and that’s where this simple yet powerfully effective movement comes in.”

How to: Position the back of your shoulders across a stable bench, feet planted firmly on the ground, about six inches away from your butt (a). Squeezing the glutes, push through your heels to rise up into a bridge position with the hips fully extended. The shoulders down to the knees should be in line, with the knees bent at 90 degrees. Hold the position at the top, glutes, core and hamstrings engaged (b). Lower the hips down and repeat for three sets of eight reps (c). Beginners can continue with just bodyweight, while advanced lifters can progress to rolling a barbell over the top of the hips.

Don’t Be Afraid to Add Weight

With all these exercises, pay close attention to form and execution. Continue to add weight to each lift once you can complete two more reps than prescribed with your training weight. Keep it up and after a few workouts you’ll start to notice rapid gains in strength and overall fitness. Within a few weeks you’ll have these exercises mastered and be on your way to having a body that better serves you!

Source: http://www.health.com/fitness/feed

Why It's Time to Stop Casually Calling People 'Schizophrenic' and 'Bipolar'

[brightcove:5609716356001 default]

There has been no shortage of insults during the first nine months of the Trump presidency—both those directed at members of the administration, and those dished out by the commander-in-chief and his staff. But one specific insult recently caught the attention of two psychiatrists, who blogged about it on the BMJ website.

In July, in a now-infamous phone call to reporter Ryan Lizza, then-Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci referred to then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus as a “paranoid schizophrenic”—using the name of a legitimate mental health condition as an insult directed at someone who, as far as we know, has no such diagnosis. And while this was a highly publicized event, it’s just one example of a larger problem, says Arash Javanbakht, MD, director of the Stress, Trauma, and Anxiety Research and Clinical Program at Wayne State University and one of the article’s authors.

It's a problem that's evident even without leaving the world of politics. On one side of the aisle, Trump himself has called people "crazy" and "psycho" in recent months. On the other side, psychiatrists have debated whether it's appropriate to question the President's own mental health. At least one psychiatrist says terms like dementia and narcissism are being thrown around without evidence, and are unfair to people who are truly ill. 

RELATED: 10 Signs of Narcissism

Javanbakht, and his co-author Aislinn Williams, MD, weren’t the only people to take issue with what Scaramucci said in July, or the way it was reported in the media. In their post, they reference a Teen Vogue op-ed that also points out “the profound problems” with how news organizations reported the phone call, with most never mentioning “how unacceptable and stigmatizing such a phrase is.”

About 1% of the world population actually has schizophrenia, Javanbakht and Williams note, and the disease affects several million Americans and their families and friends. “They are worthy of respect and should be met with support, but many of our profession’s top journals and the news media at large, remained silent in the face of this onslaught.”

Javanbakht spoke with Health about his blog, and about the larger problem of mental-health illnesses being used in such derogatory ways. “Anytime a medical diagnosis is used as an insult, it is basically an insult to an entire group of people that are not responsible for their condition,” he says. “You wouldn’t insult someone by saying they have diabetes, so why would you insult them by saying the have schizophrenia?”

To get more mental health stories, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter

Using mental illnesses as insults can be directly harmful to people living with these conditions, and they can also spread inaccurate perceptions of what they really are, says Steven Meyers, PhD, professor of psychology at Roosevelt University.

For example, people may use the word schizophrenic to describe how someone can alternate between two different states, while the actual symptoms of schizophrenia involve poor reality perception, hallucinations, and confused thinking.

“Accurate information about the symptoms of a disorder can lead people towards diagnosis and treatment,” say Meyers, “while misinformation is more likely to promote stigma or cause us to dismiss or marginalize people.”

RELATED: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

Javanbakht and Williams note that in recent years, it’s become socially unacceptable to make fun of people with illnesses like cancer, and that a public-relations campaign started by Special Olympics in 2008 has even had success reducing use of the “R-word.”

“As psychiatrists, we need to speak up alongside our patients and help people understand that using mental illness as a pejorative is equally hurtful and unacceptable,” they wrote.

“I’m a neurobiological researcher, and to me there’s no difference between a disease of the brain or a disease of the gut or any other area of the body,” Javanbakht says. “We need to help people see diseases like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder the same way they see diabetes, high blood pressure, or Crohn’s disease.”

RELATED: 8 Celebrities on Their Struggle With Mental Illness

That starts with education, he says. “We know that 30% of the general population deals with some form of anxiety and 20% deal with depression, so chances are you have a family member or friend dealing with a mental health condition,” he says. “If we can talk openly and learn about those conditions, we’ll be able to develop empathy and see them for what they really are.”

Meyers says there’s no widespread agreement about what is an offensive use of a mental health term, and that it always depends on context. “Saying that someone has a ‘crazy’ idea isn’t the same as labeling a person as a paranoid schizophrenic,” he says. But when in doubt, he says, people should think about how their casual use of certain terms could impact others—and if they hear those terms being used incorrectly, they should call it out.

“Derogatory words that were commonly used one or two generations ago in conversation don't appear as often because they have been challenged by friends, family members, professional communities, and the media,” he says. “Slang and joking will continue to occur, but the goal is incremental progress stemming from greater awareness and the elimination of the most insulting or serious misuses of these terms.”

Source: http://www.health.com/mind-body/feed

The Super-Challenging Exercise That Helped Gal Gadot Get in ‘Wonder Woman’ Shape

[brightcove:5597028796001 default]

We’re never getting over our girl crush on Gal Gadot, who reprises her role as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in this month’s Justice League. One move that got her superstrong: push presses followed by an active rest hold. "It works your triceps, shoulders, quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings while also helping with overall body coordination to eliminate muscle imbalances," explains Hayley Bradley, an instructor with Gym Jones, which whips Gadot and other actors into superhero shape.

How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding an 8- to 10-pound dumbbell in each hand just outside shoulders, with arms bent and palms facing in. Bend knees and lower into a half squat (A), then explosively push up with legs while pressing weights up over shoulders (B); lower weights back to start. This is 1rep. Do as many as possible in 30 seconds. Next, for an active rest, rotate palms forward and extend arms up, keeping elbows close to ears (C); hold for 30 seconds. Cycle through this circuit 4 times. Do it 4 or 5 times a week for stronger, more defined arms in as little as 6 weeks.

Source: http://www.health.com/fitness/feed

Fitness Trainer Fires Back At Body Shamers After Hosting Facebook Live Workout: ' Really Guys?'

[brightcove:5603078603001 default]

 

This article originally appeared on People.com.

After hosting a workout on Facebook Live for USA Today, Sarah Gaines received a ton of praise for her at-home exercise routine. But the fitness instructor also got some negative comments about her physique.

The Boston-based trainer and Fit University founder saw notifications blowing up her phone with comments on the video such as “But the instructor is thick” and “OMG! She needs to lose a lot of weight.”

Another commenter wrote, “She needs to be doing it with them lol.”

While plenty of Facebook users stood up for Gaines, she wanted to respond directly to the criticism.

“I’m a bit thick, for sure. But fat? Really guys?” the trainer wrote in a blog post.

 

 

She continued, “If this would have been a few years ago, these comments may have really affected me. But after years of struggling with body image and obsessive fitness behaviors, I have no qualms with my body whatsoever so I was fine with the comments, I was just more so disappointed that people still believe that fitness equals six pack abs.”

Gaines advised her followers to surround themselves with positive people rather than those who “instead of getting up and doing the workout, just choose to sit there and comment rude and negative things.”

“The majority of mainstream media, with a few recent exceptions, has made us believe that to be fit means to be thin and ‘toned,’ ” Gaines told The Daily Meal. “While we’re starting to see a shift in that mindset, the comments made during the workout were a reminder that we have a ways to go.”

Source: http://www.health.com/fitness/feed

3 Things You’ll Love From Misty Copeland’s New Line of Workout Clothes

[brightcove:5434783735001 default]

Ballerina extraordinaire (and our ultimate girl crush) Misty Copeland has teamed up with Under Armour to bring you her second foray in the world of fashion with her capsule collection, Misty Inspired-By. We were lucky enough to preview the goods, and we can definitely say that every single piece is ah-mazing. Here’s a look at three items from the collection we are seriously coveting right now.

To buy: Misty Cross Back Body Suit ($80; underarmour.com

Whether you want to rock it at barre class or a night out (no judgment), this piece should be a wardrobe staple. Either way, the most important feature of this dance-inspired top is it's rearview. Showing off your super toned back and shoulders—check!

To buy: Misty Metallic Jogger ($120; underarmour.com)

Joggers are still super hot—and so are metallics; combining the two is pretty much a genius move by the American Ballet Theater principal dancer, whose latest masterpiece, Ballerina Body recently hit shelves. Plus, this shimmery champagne is a neutral hue as well as universally flattering, so you’ll get plenty of wear out of them.

To buy: UA Metallic Anorak ($170; underarmour.com)

For even more metallic, reach for this eye-catching anorak. The relaxed fit is perfect for throwing on over leggings as you head to a workout, and the soft jersey material is sweat-wicking and boasts anti-odor technology.

Source: http://www.health.com/fitness/feed

How to Start Running (or Come Back From a Hiatus) Without Getting Hurt, According to Pros

[brightcove:5604378019001 default]

New to running, or just trying to get back into it after a hiatus? Great. It’s one of the easiest sports to take up—all you need is a great pair of kicks and a sports bra, and you’re ready to go. Plus making your way through miles can help you shed pounds, bust stress, and even lower your risk of getting certain cancers.

Before you head out the door at full speed, though—which will almost certainly leave you injured—consider this: “Running is really hard on your body and you just have to be smart about it,” says John Hancock Elite Ambassador Blake Russell, an Olympic marathoner, physical therapist, and owner of On Track Physical Therapy in Pacific Grove, California. “The key is just starting out really slow.”

Here Russell and her fellow John Hancock Elite Ambassador Bill Rodgers, a four-time Boston Marathon winner, offer five tips for helping newbies run strong and long.

Stick to soft surfaces

While there is nothing wrong with pounding the pavement, it can be harsh on the body, especially if yours isn’t used to the movement or surface. Russell’s rec: start off on softer surfaces (think grass, sand, or even the treadmill). While a softer surface doesn’t automatically equal injury-free, a small study in the journal Research in Sports Medicine revealed that running on grass, for instance, puts less pressure on the foot compared to running on concrete.

RELATED: 13 Causes of Leg Cramps and How to Stop Them

Give yourself time to build muscle

"It takes the body at least six weeks to build muscle,” says Russell, “so give your body time to build that muscle.” In other words, don’t take on too much mileage too soon; that’s a surefire way to end up sidelined. To help your body adapt, and shore up those muscles, consider strengthening exercises, such as planks, clamshells, side squats. (See how to do them here.)

Try the run-walk method

Can’t make it through your miles without stopping? That’s OK. While you are building your endurance (or if you just need a break mid-run), there is nothing wrong with a little walking. Rodgers suggests trying the run-walk method, which is running for a set amount of time, walking for a set amount of time, and then repeating the cycle. We recover when we walk, notes Rodgers, who believes that the 5K is an ideal running distance and that our bodies were made to run around three miles. (If you will be in the Clearwater, Florida, area in December, there is still time to register for the Cooking Light & Health Fit Foodie Festival and 5K Foodie Race. Register here!)

For more fitness tips, sign up for the HEALTH newsletter

Don’t run everyday

Don’t be afraid to slip off those sneaks. “Take some days off if you are new to it, don’t feel you have to run seven days a week,” says Russell. When you exercise, you are basically causing trauma to the body by creating micro tears in the muscle. Days off allow the body to recover and those muscles to grow back stronger.

And don’t skimp on recovery

According to Russell, recovery is just as important as training. What you do when you’re off your feet will surely help you make strides while you’re on ‘em. Great practices to employ in your recovery routine: stretching, foam rolling, and massages. This, along with strength moves, will keep your body and joints loose and strong, she notes. And don’t forget to refuel—a 3-to-1 ratio of carbs to protein (think apple with peanut butter) within an hour of finishing your run helps replenish your energy so you can recover faster.

Source: http://www.health.com/fitness/feed

Kim Kardashian Says She Has Body Dysmorphia, but What Does That Really Mean?

[brightcove:5556380727001 default]

Kim Kardashian is all about a perfectly posed selfie and expertly contoured face. But even she experiences a self-esteem plunge when she hears negative comments about her body. On the most recent episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kim opened up about the toll being in the public eye has had on her body image.

In the episode, unretouched bikini photos of Kardashian went viral online. While dealing with the fallout, she admitted that her body insecurity has increased over the years. “You take pictures and people just body shame you," Kardashian said. "It’s like literally giving me body dysmorphia," she also commented.

RELATED: Kim Kardashian Swears By This $500 Moisturizing Cream. Here’s Why a Dermatologist Says It’s Not Worth It

The term "body dysmorphia" has a buzz to it these days, and it's often thrown around by people who feel a little self-conscious about their appearance. But it's actually a true mental health condition—and nothing to take lightly. Body dysmorphia is "the preoccupation of imagined defects in one's appearance," says Tom Hildebrandt, PsyD, chief of the Division of Eating and Weight Disorders at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. 

A person with body dysmorphia typically sees a specific body part or a group of body parts and thinks, my calves look weak or my face is so ugly and out of proportion. They become obsessed with these thoughts and let them take over their lives. "Obsessed" is not an exaggeration. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD, is a type of obsessive compulsive disorder. The International OCD Foundation says BDD affects 1 in 50 people, or between 5 and 7.5 million people in the United States alone.

Based on one episode of her show, it's hard to know if Kardashian has BDD or just doesn't always like the way she looks. What signs can tell you that your body obsession truly is BDD? It's more than being critical of your appearance from time to time. Says Hildebrandt: "For someone with BDD, their entire life's balance hangs on whether they look okay or whether they've camouflaged their perceived flaw appropriately."

To get our best wellness tips delivered to you inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter

When a person believes she has body issues and is hyper-aware of them, she may avoid social situations to not draw attention to her so-called flaws. She might also go to extremes to hide the perceived flaw, say by walking around with her hair covering her face or going under the knife. "People with the resources may get plastic surgery and go back repeatedly for more, because it only provides a temporary release from the anxiety about their appearance," explains Hildebrandt.

In KUWTK, Kim says that her body dysmorphia comes from all the body-shaming comments she receives from haters, trolls, and others in the general public. While negative remarks can make BDD worse, they aren't typically the cause of the disorder, says Hildebrandt. 

RELATED: 10 Signs You May Have OCD

The actual cause of BDD isn't known, but it may be similar to what triggers OCD. Hildebrandt says people with certain temperaments and ways of thinking are predisposed to BDD and may show OCD tendencies in other areas of their life. For example, a person who obsesses over her legs may also be obsessed with keeping a spotless home. "[It's] a cognitive style that causes you to prioritize things that are out of place rather than the big picture," says Hildebrandt.

Worried about a friend who displays BDD behavior? Take note of how often she tries to conceal parts of her face or body, or if she constantly seeks reassurance about a specific body region. If you or a loved one think you're suffering from it, talking to a therapist or counselor is a smart option. Treatment includes antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy.

BDD shouldn't be used carelessly as a slang term for someone who isn't 100% pleased with her body. We all have moments when we wished we were slimmer, had more muscle tone, or were taller or shorter. But when a person's entire life is dedicated to hiding and obsessing over perceived flaws, it's a serious mental health issue that needs to be addressed.

Source: http://www.health.com/mind-body/feed

Pushing Myself Physically Helped Me Heal After My Son’s Death

[brightcove:5369762791001 default]

On December 31, 2014, Susan Heard was sitting on her sofa with her husband and 12-year-old daughter, watching TV and waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square. “While everyone in the world was celebrating New Year’s Eve and having fun, I was thinking: I hate this holiday. I hate my life,” she recalls.

Susan had good reason to feel down. Nearly four years before, in February 2011, her 10-year-old son, David, had died of neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer that starts in the nerve cells.

“From the time he was diagnosed, we practically lived at the hospital,” she says. “My total focus was on him and trying to make the time he had left comfortable and meaningful. After he was gone there were days that I was amazed I was still breathing. When you’re dealing with that kind of intense grief, it takes a really long time to come up from under the water and realize there’s still a world and life going on around you.”

RELATED: 10 Times Celebrities Got Real About Grief and Loss

That New Year’s Eve on her sofa was one of the first moments she began to come out of the foggy haze of mourning—and it felt awful. “Watching the TV, it seemed like everyone was cheerful, and all I could think was, ‘I hate that David isn’t here. I hate what my life has become,’” she says. “But amid that darkness I realized I had a choice: to live and re-engage with the world, or not. I decided to choose the former and the thing that seemed to make the most sense was to start exercising.”

It wasn’t easy. At 5’4”, Susan weighed 265 pounds. “When David was sick, I used food as comfort, and as he got sicker I got fatter,” she says. “When I began exercising, I could only walk or do the elliptical slowly for 30 minutes.” But she bought a Fitbit and started participating in challenges with other people who were on the app. “It was motivating and fun, and I realized I’m competitive,” she says. “I like to win.”

After several months she was able to do an hour on the elliptical—and she started to feel more alive. “There was kind of this moment of, ‘Wow, I’m here. I’m living. I’m breathing. Life is good.’”

Running through the pain

In the fall of 2015, she drove a support vehicle for a friend who was running 100 miles across New Jersey—an adventure that ended with an official half marathon. At the finish line of the event she saw people wearing t-shirts that said “Sub-30” and learned that it was an online support group for people who wanted to run a 5K in under 30 minutes. “The woman who told me about it said, ‘I’ll add you to our group,’ and I cracked up,” Heard recalls. “I was not a runner. I used to joke that the only reason I’d run is if someone was chasing me. But she was so darn encouraging I decided to try it.”

Her first training runs were slow and painful, but she stuck with it and 8 weeks later ran a 5K. Then a few months later she ran another—neither in under 30 minutes. But it didn’t matter. She loved the feeling of freedom she got while running, and the community that the “Sub-30” club offered.

RELATED: How to Train for a 5K Race in Just 4 Weeks

In 2016, Susan signed up for a half-marathon. At the start of the race, she wrote “David” on her arm. “At mile 12, I was exhausted, but I looked at my arm and it was a reminder: If David could push through the hellacious treatments and horror he went through, I could run 13.1 miles. When I crossed the finish line, I broke down sobbing, and felt my heart open. It changed my life.”

Meeting new challenges

Since then, Susan has added biking and swimming to her weekly routine and in June this year she completed a sprint triathlon—a third of a mile swim, a 12 mile bike leg and a 5k run. “It was an incredible accomplishment,” she says.

“I miss my son every day,” Susan says. “But I feel his presence most when I’m pushing myself physically. When I feel like life is closing in I go out and run or bike, and by the end I’m pumping my fist and feeling good again. I still weigh 180 pounds. But here I am, running half marathons—a big lady who has never been an athlete and who grieves every day for her son. If exercise can change my life it can change anyone’s.”

Source: http://www.health.com/fitness/feed