Dotty Kenny

Dotty Kenny of Farmington Hills began to make time for a four-day-a-week workout regimen three years ago after a rude awakening. She was reaching for a second piece of cake, when a fellow bridge player told her she had a fat behind.

“I’d spent most of my adult life caring for others my kids, my parents, my husband. I just didn’t make time for myself,” Kenny says, noting she had never exercised in her life. “I was frankly embarrassed by how I looked. The bridge player sent me to Beaumont, suggesting I make health a priority.”

Kenny, 69, works out at the Beaumont gym for an hour, four days a week, with other people enrolled in the intensive diet and exercise program. She has lost 40 pounds and kept it off.

“I pass six other gyms on the way here,” she says. “I can’t see myself exercising in one of those places with mirrors all around and tiny women wearing thongs.”

Shiavi Riley

Shiavi Riley, a Detroit substitute teacher, didn’t consciously approach a return to exercise with that in mind. However, her experience shows she addressed some hidden obstacles.

Riley, 35, returned to a twice-a-day walking regimen last month when her health and emotional lethargy hit an all-time low.

“My thighs were rubbing together so often I had a big rash on my legs. My knees hurt,” Riley says. “I talked with a friend, an avid cyclist, and she asked what kind of exercise I was doing. I told her nothing. She said the problem wouldn’t go away by itself, likely it would get worse.”

Riley had not exercised regularly for almost 10 years.

“After I had my daughter, I sunk into a depression,” she says. “It never occurred to me there was a mind-body connection. The worse I felt about myself, the less I wanted to do any exercise. Instead, I ate anything that wasn’t tied down. My favorite was Baker’s Square lemon pie.”

Her 9-year-old’s daughter’s words burned into her brain: “Mom, please don’t eat all those sweets, I want you healthy,” Riley recalls. She called her close friend, Karmeta Denson, 26, who was just as ready to shuck some pounds and move her muscles because all her clothes were tight.

Gerrish suggests working out with a buddy is one of the best ways to get back into fitness because walking or lifting weights with someone is less boring than doing so alone. A supportive friend who reinforces your exercise goals also is especially helpful if friends and relatives are ridiculing you, providing another emotional block.

And don’t watch too much television, Gerrish warns, noting the screen is full of perfectly sculptured young bodies. Riley doubts she’ll ever be thin; she just wants to get her blood pressure down to normal.

Lois Skillings

I was blessed with good health throughout my life and never had to worry. When I was younger, I could eat what I wanted with no negative impact and although I was not active on a regular basis, I could easily do physical activities. For example, I could readily go cross-country skiing, dancing, or kayaking, even though I was not regularly physical active. I was lucky enough that my body pretty much did whatever I asked of it.

However, as I got older I began to realize that my sedentary lifestyle had crept up on me. I couldn’t just “get up and go” like I used to, and my weight had increased as well. I found myself turning down invitations from friends for hikes or snowshoeing because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep up.

A pivotal moment for me came a few years ago when I decided to join a gym and “get healthy.” I pushed myself too hard, too fast and injured my knee. When seeking treatment, my doctor discovered that I had degenerative arthritis in both knees. After many months of uncomforted pain, I was heading for knee replacement surgery. As I planned for the impending surgery, I was advised to lose weight in order to take the strain off my knees.

When my doctor said, “You know Lois, if you lost 20 pounds, it would really help your knees,” it was a wake up call that I had some control over the situation. It was at that crucial moment when I realized it was my personal responsibility to make changes for the good of my health.

Around that same time my husband, Jim, was told that he needed medication to control his diabetes. This added to my motivation and we both decided to get serious about changing our lifestyle. We gained inspiration from the documentary Forks Over Knives and also by Switch, a book that examines how to make personal and organizational changes.

We began by making small lifestyle changes a little at a time. I began a weekly yoga practice, went to physical therapy, and maintained my prescribed knee exercises. Both Jim and I focused on adding fruits, vegetables, tofu, fish, nuts, and rice to our diet. I am thankful to Jim for being the driving force behind our healthy eating.

Now two years later, I have lost 20 pounds, love my weekly yoga class, avoided knee surgery, and mostly eliminated my knee pain. I went from inertia to increased energy and have not felt this good in my body in a decade! Jim has lost 40 pounds and totally avoided medication for his diabetes. He is able to control it with diet alone.

It has become a lifestyle. It is simply what I do everyday, like brushing my teeth and putting on my seatbelt. Of course, some days are better than others when it comes to health choices but I’m not going to beat myself up. Yesterday is gone. Today is a new day and a new start.

Finding your own path to better physical, emotional and spiritual health is really about personal choice and discovery. Having support, coaches, and guides to help along the way can truly make a difference. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my husband Jim, my yoga teacher Jessie, my physical therapists Tina and Sara, and my health coach nurse Celeste!

I hope my own story resonates with you in some way and inspires you to make small changes that overtime, will lead to a happier and healthier life. Remember to start slow and small and make lifestyle choices not dramatic changes. Try not to be so hard on yourself and make a conscious choice to do something that feels right for you. It really doesn’t take much to make a big difference!

Elizabeth Muff

Elizabeth’s father died suddenly of a heart attack when she was 17 years old. She turned her devastation to inspiration and became a personal trainer — pushing her clients to reach their fitness goals and maintain a healthy diet. Since heart disease is often a silent disease, she encourages everyone to know their numbers — heart rate, blood pressure, sugar levels and weight. As a mom, she taught her two sons to eat healthy, exercise, hike and to really savor life. Elizabeth and her family participate in the Boston Start! Heart Walk every year and have raised valuable dollars to fund heart and stroke life-saving research studies.

“Everyone can live a healthy life by making little changes,” said Elizabeth. “We have a golden retriever who gets a 30 min walk every day,” continued Elizabeth. “Fresh vegetables are my favorite, so we try to have two at dinner plus a healthy protein. And I prefer a vacation centered around exercise, like hiking, instead of museums. These are just a few small lifestyle decisions that have a huge impact on our health.”

Helen Goodwin

Helen struggled with weight loss her entire life and considered it a burden. Obesity and high blood pressure ran in her family and she decided to change her life for the better. She lost more than 100 pounds and feels like a whole new woman. She eats fresh foods and enjoys physical activity — skiing and salsa dancing. She makes exercise entertaining and a social activity.

“I hope to inspire women of all ages to enjoy their lives by making choices that give them life,” said Helen. “Exercise can be fun … swimming, hiking, biking … whatever it takes … eating healthy, making mealtimes fun with colorful and tasty foods and sharing it with others. That is key … sharing with others. I believe if we can share our journeys, the journey will be so much easier.”