Guest columnist Michelle Collins: Why Staying Healthy Is Staying Happy (Part 2)



Michelle Collins lives with her husband Matt and daughters, Jacqueline, age 11, and Michaela, age 6, in Westchester County, New York. She is certified as an American Council on Exercise (ACE) personal fitness trainer and owner of Fit and Happier, a fitness service specializing in one-on-one and small-group home-based training for women. Learn more at or find a certified fitness professional near you at and enter your zip code under ACE GetFit.


Dear Jacqueline and Michaela,

As the latest scientific studies show, being sedentary is much worse than being overweight. People of normal weight who lead sedentary lives are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, for example, than people who are 10 to 20 pounds overweight but stay active. Unless they engage in resistance training, most women will gain weight in their 40s and 50s because natural hormonal changes lead to muscle loss which slows their metabolisms.

Because of her sedentary lifestyle combined with her weight gain, then, my Mom developed high blood pressure and diabetes. She faced other, equally serious challenges that compounded these issues. First, she lacked the knowledge to take proper care of herself in the face of these two diseases. Second, she was saddled with an inability to make her own health a high enough priority. Third, she had an old-fashioned belief in what a proper lady should do when it came to her family obligations, and stuck by her traditions.

The consequences of these factors turned out to be severe. My mother’s high glucose levels (her diabetes), despite insulin injections, led to nerve damage, causing numbness and pain particularly in her feet and creating balance problems. That forced her to grow even more sedentary and put on still more weight. That in turn brought about knee problems, fallen arches, various infections in the legs and, finally, a diagnosis of heart disease in the bargain. In short, she lost control of her health, and set in motion a snowball effect that has now put her in a wheelchair.

I was young when all this began — in my teens when my mother was diagnosed with high blood pressure, and in my early 20s when her diabetes was discovered. And even though I was always thin, my mother’s health problems served as a real wake-up call for me. I realized I might have inherited the genes that would predispose me to the same “gateway” diseases. I also learned these diseases are largely preventable.

Eventually, I made it my mission to avoid the same fate as my mother. I adopted a balanced diet involving whole foods and reasonable portion sizes. Even more important, I began exercising regularly. My goal: to be fit (as opposed to either skinny or even necessarily athletic). Fitness, to me, is a state of mind and a way of life, an avenue by which to achieve and maintain physical, emotional and cognitive health, not to mention an all-around higher quality to life itself.

After you were both born, of course, it became even more important for me to maintain that balance.

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow.


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