When it comes to exercise, we all have an internal monologue that can either pump us up or completely kill our mojo. Right before a run or Pilates class, is your inner voice grumbling, Ugh, I gotta get this over with, or chanting, I can’t wait to sweat it out? Odds are you’ve experienced both depending on the day — and that’s totally normal. But the real game-changer is when you discover a workout that regularly gives you that thrill of anticipation and makes that trusty inner voice say, Let’s go!
For proof that any woman can find a workout she loves, we teamed up with Dannon Light & Fit and talked to six ladies who transformed their lives in positive, surprising ways through fitness. From using yoga to beat insomnia to finding a community through dance, they’re living examples of how exercise doesn’t have to be about weight loss but rather what truly fuels and rejuvenates your mind and body. In fact, when you’re in this mindset, being in so-called "good shape" can feel more like a sweet bonus than the end game.
If, like many of us, you’re still searching for that feel-good fitness groove, direct your eyes down this page for a hefty dose of inspo.
"I’ve battled insomnia since middle school but never wanted to rely on prescription drugs, so instead I tossed and turned through many sleepless nights. When I discovered Bikram yoga through friends in college, [it became] a natural treatment to help regulate my sleep cycle. By leaving worries and tension on the mat, I’m able to let go of stressful thoughts that I’d normally overanalyze at night, and the repetitive sequence of postures in a 105-degree room seems to help me tune in to my body’s natural physical needs — sleep being one of them.
"Bikram has also helped me overcome some of the body-image issues I’ve struggled with. Looking at myself in the mirror for 90 minutes while I practice makes me respect my body, however 'imperfect' it may be. I’m able to appreciate everything it can and does do for me, and accept myself as I am. Taking that time for myself makes me feel a lot more confident and emotionally stable in my daily life."
"Road biking became my escape, my distraction, and my therapy after an abusive relationship and a difficult divorce. I remembered that I liked biking with my family when I was growing up, so I went out and bought a bike. At first I rode by myself, and then I started riding with a group, where I found a supportive community of friends who also became an important part of my healing.
"When I’m on my bike, I feel free. Riding is like flying. I can feel the wind, see things I’d normally miss, and just glide. I can take out frustration and anger on my bike or get a rush of feel-good endorphins if I’m feeling down. There’s no competition there except with myself, and each time I go out, I’m better than I was before — no matter how good I get."
"After the youngest of my three daughters was born, I fell into some unhealthy routines that matched how overwhelmed I felt. When she turned 1, I decided I needed a change, and I began lifting weights. When I was little, I used to watch bodybuilding competitions with my mom, and I always thought it was cool that the women were able to get so physically fit. Fast-forward 25 years: I’m now prepping for my first bodybuilding competition.
"As a mom, I spend most of my day giving to others, but lifting is the one hour of my day where I do something completely for myself. The time alone, inspirational music, and physical and mental challenge allow me to refuel and be more present when I’m back with others."
—De Bolton, 34
—De Bolton, 34
"Bollywood dancing was a way of exploring my Indian heritage growing up, and I danced through college, but after graduation, I didn’t have any opportunities to perform and started to miss it. My cousin suggested I try Zumba about six years ago, which helped me get back into dance in general. Then, a few years later, a Bollywood dance studio finally started up near me, and I’ve been training there ever since.
"What really keeps me going back is the social factor. People are much more friendly and approachable in a dance class than at a gym, where they mostly keep to themselves and wear headphones. I’ve made some very close friends — we’re more like a dance family now, since we see each other every week, hang out outside of class, and celebrate birthdays together."
"Before I was diagnosed with melanoma at age 27, I loved to exercise outside. I went for jogs along the water and would walk and stretch on the beach. I was lucky that my dermatologist caught the cancer early, but I faced complications during the removal procedure, so I wasn’t able to work out for months. When I finally got back on my feet, I knew I should stick to mostly indoor activities.
"I’ve always loved cardio, so I decided to concentrate on spinning. Little by little, I got my strength back, and it’s become my go-to workout. I’m always amped when I get on the bike; it’s a huge stress reliever and never feels like a chore. The music is uplifting, the instructors are positive and motivating, and the classes are challenging. Some days if I’m feeling really good, I’ll take a double. I always leave feeling proud and stronger than when I walked in."
"After my son was born, I was having trouble motivating myself to move, so I literally Googled 'fun workouts' and came across a hula-hoop fitness website. I enjoyed hula hooping as a child, so it caught my attention. I found a class a few towns away and fell in love with how fun it is. It instantly lifts my mood, and I’m brought back to the giddiness and freedom of school recess.
"Never in a million years did I think I could be a fitness instructor, but I now teach hoop fitness classes twice a week in addition to hooping at home every night. Each week, dozens of women count on me to lead them in an hour-long hooping adventure, which fills me with what I can only describe as blissful energy. I jokingly refer to it as a 'hooping high.'"