30 days to 40—Lesson 4: Stay Active

Stay active, in body and mind. It’s the best thing I’ve ever learned.

Keep moving, keep challenging yourself, because the moment you stop is the moment you stop learning and evolving. And you know what happens after that? Nothing.

But what happens when you do stay active, and push yourself a little? Maybe you get a degree and a career you love. You learn a new language or skills that enable you to do things you never thought possible. You are leaner, sleeker, stronger. You feel good when you look in the mirror. Your clothes fit better. You stand taller. You’re healthier—and happier—inside and out.

No pain, no gain, right?

There’s a lot of truth in that saying. When it comes to being fit and toned, there is no two ways about it: it requires dedication, discipline, and a whole lotta sweat. Staying active—walking, lifting weights, doing yoga or pilates, or all of the above—isn’t just the key to a healthy body. I’m convinced it’s everyone’s personal fountain of youth. Nothing radiates youth and vigor like a taut body, and a lean bod makes everything you wear look better. Any physical activity has its benefits, but I personally believe that lifting weights is something everyone should do, not for how it makes you look, but for the myriad positive effects it has on your body.

I’ve always been a fairly active person, but when I hit the gym five years ago to combat muscle atrophy in my permanently-separated left shoulder (the result of a car accident at age 15), I finally discovered the truth about fitness and watching what you eat: you can’t do one without the other. You might think you’re accomplishing something by focusing on one, and you may well see results. But trust me, the truth will eventually catch up. You have to move it, and you have to watch what you eat, especially as you hit your mid-to-late 30s. Otherwise, you end up skinny-flabby, or just plain flabby—and let’s not even get started on the lack of cardiovascular strength when you aren’t getting that heart rate up regularly. It makes hoofing it across a ginormous airport feel like you’re running a marathon.

The other thing I discovered when I employed the help of a personal trainer and committed to at least three weight training sessions a week? That I’m stronger, fitter, and more toned than I ever was in my 20s, when I focused on dieting alone.

And that airport sprint? Piece o’ cake.

My Workout Essentials

The image speaks for itself, but I do want to note how in love I am with every Athleta piece I’ve ever purchased. They really are sweat-wicking and made to move with your body—comfy, functional, and stylish. And the site has a killer return policy.

Workout Essentials

My second go-to for workout clothing is Adidas, and I always wear Nike Shox (I don’t run, so they’re great for training and walking).

In the gym, I don’t go a week without using a physio/stability ball and Bosu ball…they’re essential for ab-ripping exercises. My new favorite piece of training gear is the TRX Suspension Trainer (that yellow and black strappy thing above). My trainer is introducing me to more exercises using the TRX, and I plan on picking up my own very soon. Good stuff!

My Fitness Regimen + Tips for Staying Active

1. Accept that there is no easy way, no magic pill or potion.
The sooner you accept that you have to work at being fit, the better off you are. Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight is simple math: you can’t eat more calories than your body needs to function. If you do, you gain weight. And losing weight quickly is generally a temporary thing. To lose and maintain, to convert fat to lean mass and muscle, you have to work out, multiple times a week. And the weight shifts slowly. There is no way around it.

2. Hire a personal trainer if you can.
I realize that this may not be a physical or financial possibility for a lot of people. But if you can hire a good trainer, trust me when I say it’s worth every penny. I recently started seeing my trainer again after a couple years of working out on my own, and I am still amazed that after dozens and dozens of sessions, I still pick up a new circuit or move every time I see her. A properly certified trainer can create balanced routines, keep you motivated, and help you stay active even when faced with an injury.

3. HIT THE WEIGHTS at least three times a week!
I’m not talking about going into the gym for half an hour and coming out pristine. Get in there and sweat! I’ve always said, if you’re not sweating, you’re not working! Ladies, think lifting will make you “bulk up”? Think cardio alone or yoga is better? I implore you…please read 8 Reasons Why You Should Lift Heavier Weights. It gives you the truth about weight lifting, in plain, easy-to-read English. And as someone who actually went through training to teach yoga and had a decent practice for a few years, I will tell you nothing tightened up my body like weight lifting has, and nothing wrecked my knees like yoga did. Anyway.

4. Keep your body guessing with interval training.
I’ve found that circuit or interval training—a combination of resistance training and high-intensity cardio exercise, with little-to-no rest in between—is the best way to sculpt your body and improve your cardiovascular health. It’s also a superb way to prevent boredom in the gym. Circuits are usually a group of 3-4 exercises, with 10-20 reps performed for each exercise.

For example, this is a single circuit:

  • Reverse lunges (10 each side) with 55-lb. barbell on shoulders
  • Plié squats (16) with 55-lb. barbell on shoulders
  • Side bends (16 each side) with 30-lb. kettle bell

I don’t have a “set” group of circuits/intervals I do every week…I’m constantly switching up exercises, which is another way to ensure your body is always getting the most from your time in the gym.

My typical week of activity includes a 40-minute walk almost daily, plus:

  • Day 1: Four 10-minute circuits of lower body weights + ab exercises, with 5-minute (high-intensity) intervals on the stairmaster/stepmill or elliptical in between circuits. (60 minutes total)
  • Day 2: Four 10-minute circuits of upper body weights + ab exercises, with 5-minute (high-intensity) intervals on the stairmaster/stepmill or elliptical in between circuits. (60 minutes total)
  • Day 3: 60-minute circuit training session as designed by my trainer (no stairs or cardio equipment on that day).
  • Days 4-6:  Repeat above.

What exercises am I doing? A gazillion of them…but mostly a lot of split squats, lunges, extensions, bicep curls, rollouts, and deadlifts. Many of them are included in this list of circuit training workouts. If you want to know more, just Google.

my fitness pal app5. Use apps to stay on track.
You use them for everything else, right? Your smartphone is a wealth of information and helpful little programs that make it easy to track what you eat or how many calories you burned on that last walk. These are a couple I use regularly:

  • My Fitness Pal–The easy way to calculate how many calories a day you should consume to lose, gain, or maintain weight. It will change the way you view your diet and nutrition if you commit to tracking everything you eat; suddenly a 400-calorie muffin (that takes two hours of activity to burn off) doesn’t seem quite worth it. Bonus: MFP has a Web interface as well as a handy phone app, and they sync automatically.
  • Runtastic–Track virtually any exercise from every angle…calories burned, distance, time, average pace, and more. You can also use other apps on your phone (like music) while Runtastic, er, runs in the background. So smart and really fun to use.

6. Walk, walk, walk!
There are so many reasons to take a brisk walk daily:

  • Walking is excellent for you, low-impact, and free!
  • You burn calories.
  • You connect with nature and de-stress.
  • Because you never know what tomorrow may bring.

I have a cousin who has been paralyzed from the waist down since he was 16. When I spent time with him as a teen, I got a first-hand view of what life is like when you are confined to a wheelchair. He never complained, and never let it inhibit him…I was so inspired by that. I decided then that as long as my legs worked, I would NEVER take them for granted. That means I walk as much as possible, because I’m sure everyone who is confined to a hospital bed, fighting a horrible disease, or disabled would give anything to take a simple walk in the fresh air and feel good.

I’m fortunate that I have a few shopping centers within walking distance of my home. If I want a bottle of wine for dinner, or need to make an ATM deposit, or pick up some groceries, Hubby and I often complete these errands on foot. It gives us time to connect, aside from all the other benefits I listed above. Even when we’ve gotten caught in the rain, we always feel better returning home than we did when we left.


What do you do for mind/body fitness?  Read the rest of my 30 Days to 40 series >>


  1. As I’ve got older, I’ve definitely noticed that i have to work that little bit harder to keep as strong as I was, but I love the feeling so it doesn’t feel such a hardship. I’ve also noticed that my body really reacts badly to any rubbish I put in to it so those days have to remain few and far between now unfortunately!

  2. Another piece of stellar advice. I did Pilates 5x a week for a year straight and while I looked leaner, it wasn’t until I changed things up with more circuit training and weights that my body hit its peak!
    I haven’t shopped of the Athleta site before— I will check it out. I have had a relationship with Puma (via my blog) and Lukus and I both wear their workout shoes now (I have like 3 pairs that I rotate). I was pleasantly surprised, because sneakers can be challenging for me (I have really narrow feet).

  3. Love these points!

    I have to say, I totally agree with you about weight lifting! For the longest time, I always equated working out with getting on a treadmill to burn calories…which is no fun (for me at least). Then a few years ago I started lifting weights with my husband, and oh my does that ever make the difference! My workout regimen is very heavily focused on weight training instead of cardio (I always work some in, but the main focus of my workouts are never that), and it’s awesome to see how much more awesome your body looks when you’re not just burning calories but also sculpting and toning!

  4. V, you are awesome! What wise words these are! I completely agree that working out and eating healthy go hand in hand; there is no way to stay fit and keep the weight off w/out doing both! I’m currently on my own little journey when it comes to getting healthier and getting back into shape. Thanks so much for the advice you’ve given in this post! 🙂

  5. I really enjoyed reading this post, I’ve been really getting on at myself about fitness. I’ve got to say that I’ve tried going to the gym and it really isn’t for me so I’m learning other ways to incorporate exercise in ways that don’t make feel like I’m being tortured!

    Thank you for reminding me that if I’m going to make this work I really need to be dedicated!

  6. What do I do to stay fit? Less than I should. I used to walk for an hour or more every day but that has dwindled to a few days a week because of the usual time constraints. I need to find something that doesn’t eat up a lot of time and delivers results – maybe a personal trainer is the way to go. It’s been a while since I had one but I’ll check it out since you feel it’s great.

  7. You put me in really big thoughts about training…you see I really hate weight lifting…I find it quite boring to be honest! I prefer pilates and yoga and occassionally some dance classes. (well in the past I’ve been taking group classes that included using 1kg or 2kg dumbells, but not so much now). Sometimes I have the feeling that yoga can “ruin” me…I have issues with my lower back already and I’m worried about my knees as well and as we speak my left wrist has some issues from the plank pose and hand stands! But the thing is that yoga motivates me more than weightlifting and cardio (treadmills and stuff)! Yoga is the only reason I chose a gym that I have to drive by car as opposed to a gym that I could walk to (I love walking).
    Now my yoga studio is merged with a proper gym (with treadmills and stuff) and it’s not secret that I felt a “cultural” shock upon arriving on the new gym. Needless to say, I don’t like it! Now that it’s summer I go swimming almost every other day so I skip the gym, but I think I’ll follow your advice until my membership expires in October and embark on some weight lifting as well (of course combined with some cardio in the form of treadmill, eliptical, bicycle etc)…but then I will be on the look out for a new gym and a gravitate towards yoga again, although I know that I need to “spice things up” with different kinds of exercises and not stick to a sinlge type…
    Phew…that was a long comment, wasn’t need…but your post really made me think! (as all of your posts do actually)
    And I love your lessons series…it’s nice to share your experience with us 🙂

  8. This post couldn’t come at a better time to spur me on again. Took some time out from working out as my back flipped again which prevented me from doing anything arduous – still kept up with walking 7km everyday in the blazing sun though -that’s nutso! I’d run again if I had the strength but i’ll work up to that.
    Love weights and the definition it can give your arms! Perfect for summer!

    So bookmarking this & will mix it up with Pilates I think! Thanks V! Have to agree with you, as one gains more years, it’s so important to stay fit, flexible, healthy and have a good amount of vitality!


  9. Thanks so much for the motivation V! My hubby and I have been walking most mornings for about a mile and a half, and eating better. We are going to try to start a family, and this has been the wake-up call for me. I can’t heathily carry a baby at the weight I am now (high blood pressure), so it’ time to get moving. As you suggested, I need to add some strength training to the mix.

  10. What a helpful and timely post for me. I taught Pilates after school, life since then has become … hhmm, far busier each year, month, week, etc. But, I finally recently switched back to my “early riser” routine. I agree, it definitely takes dedication. You just have to get up and do it if you want results. And I am completely that person stretching and such in the airport, haha! Have a great weekend!

  11. “1. Accept that there is no easy way, no magic pill or potion”

    That right there is the key to most things in life, full stop. A lot of people want to do things quickly, they buy into the abs machine that is advertised on tv. All you have to do is sit watch tv and use this abs machine a few times a week and you too can have a 6 pack or flat stomach. They think that if they do a work out dvd a few times a week but then eat whatever they want it’s going to get them in shape.

    People often fail to realise anything worth having in life takes a lot of hard work, and making a few quick changes or doing a few exercises for a few months won’t get you permanent success or change. You have to take it on as a change in lifestyle and rather it be something that you do a few months before you go on your summer holiday, it needs to be a way of thinking.

    That first point really stuck out to me the most as today in almost everything we do want instant results but that just illustrates ‘instant’ doesn’t exist.


    I just love the above video for when I’m about to do a kick ass work out.

  12. I work out three times a week and walk about an hour day (cumulatively). I also cut a lot of calories out of my diet de facto because I’m allergic to dairy (sad face) and also a vegetarian–so basically borderline vegan.

    However, I have to admit that I m a bit lazy at the gym. I do the elliptical every time. I can’t help it–I just love it! Sometimes I sweat, sometimes I don’t.

    Maybe one day I’ll be ready for an intense gym workout, but I’m kind of find with my elliptical usage and walking to stay fit.

  13. I work out four to five times a week and really watch how I eat. I must say it’s a lot to do with determination, there’s no way to get around it. I love to work out with weights and I love to dance. Zumba is a favorite as well as P90x2. Working out with a kettle bell works all my muscles. Good informative post.

  14. Spot on. We stay away from the gym as too many use it as a social club instead. We been able to create our own at home with no unwanted TMI conversations or exorbitant fees! We alternate between P90X and Insanity on the DVD rack and partner up with the medicine ball and stretches. Our neighborhood is well-designed with most things in walking distance for the leisurely early morning or weekend stroll.

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