Exercise has countless benefits. Of course, there’s the weight loss and muscle gains — the aesthetic changes that people tend to notice the most. Then, there’s the physiological advantages of better sleep, more energy, disease prevention and enhanced immunity. Finally comes the mental side — a boost in self-confidence, a new joy for life, and even a drive for stronger social connections. All of these powerful pay-offs can come from taking it just one step at a time. And these seven women and men provide living proof.
Let their inspiring stories of struggles and triumph, heartbreak and resilience drive you to sign up for that 5K you’re nervous about, to take that strength class you’ve always wanted to, or even just to take a walk outside this afternoon. All you need is a little reminder about how good it can feel — for your body and mind — to keep moving forward.
7 Inspiring Stories on How Exercise Can Change a Life
1. Stephanie Laska: Small Steps, Big Benefits
“Exercise for me is not about running a marathon, it’s about those daily decisions to just go outside.”
Growing up, Stephanie Laska, 44, never worked out. She chose music class over P.E., and had Kool-Aid and Froot Loops every day. It wasn’t until her 40s, weighing around 300 pounds, that she decided she need a lifestyle reboot. A few simple diet changes, like dropping sugary soda and limiting beer and desserts, helped her lose 50 pounds. But she quickly hit a plateau and knew it was time to start moving.
“The details [of a workout schedule] stressed me out at first,” says the Californian. “When do you exercise? Who takes the kids to school? Who makes dinner?” After a few months of putting it off, she decided to just walk. Not long after, when she was walking her typical route around a tennis court, she decided to pick it up and run the length of one side. Then, she ran two sides, then three, then a full loop, until she ran her first mile in 2014.
“I was keeping it a secret at this point and I remember taking my kids to the park one day. They were on the bikes and got far ahead of me, so I decided to run to catch up,” Laska recalls. “The look on my daughter’s face when she saw me running was like she saw Santa Claus.” That’s when Laska started taking her one-mile jogs up to a 5k, 10k, half-marathon and eventually, marathon distance.
Laska ran her first 26.2 in 2015, scoring first place in her age group. She completed her second this past fall in NYC, as a member of the PowerBar Clean Start team, just one year after having major surgery.
“What motivated me to keep going was that it wasn’t as hard as I made it out to be,” says Laska, who lost a total of 140 pounds and has kept it off for four years now. “People tend to make these huge decisions — like joining a gym or signing up for bootcamp — but I just made a tiny choice to take a walk around the block. I always try to remind myself that those little decisions snowball, positive or negative.”
The idea of taking life one step at a time has led Laska to make more time for herself, and say no to responsibilities that don’t improve her well-being. This has also improved her relationships with her husband and kids and even brought on a promotion at work, she says. “People always ask the hardest thing about losing weight, and I respond that it was saying no to buttered popcorn at the movies,” Laska says. “Exercise for me is not about running a marathon, it’s about those daily decisions to just go outside.”