Secrets to Living a Healthier Life: An Interview with Karen Evans

Today I’m interviewing Karen Evans, author of the inspiring and informative blog, Fitness: A Journey Not a Destination. Karen majored in Public Administration/Community Service, but at the age of 37, was inspired to start a career in the field of health and wellness. That is what led her to attend massage therapy school and become licensed to practice. She is a wife and mother of two on a journey to lead the healthiest life possible through exercise and nutrition. She firmly believes we can all lead healthier lives if we have the desire to do so. In the interview, you’ll see how she maintains her own well-being while helping others do the same.

Many people seek healthy lifestyles after illness strikes. Aside from your brother’s battle with cancer, what motivates you to maintain your health and well-being?

My motivation to lead a healthy lifestyle comes from my desire to be active in the lives of those I love. I don’t want to simply be present, I want to take part in their lives. My own father was diagnosed with lung cancer when I was a teenager. Though he lived for fourteen years following his diagnosis, the quality of his life suffered. His lack of attention to his eating habits and physical fitness prior to his illness likely was the cause. When my first child was born, I vowed that I would always take care of myself so that I could see my children grow up and participate fully in their lives.

You are a working mother with lots of obligations to juggle. How do you find time for fitness and other healthy habits?

I am at a wonderful point in my life. My children are now 19 and 15 so I have far more time available to devote to my health and well-being. Even when my children were younger, fitness was always a priority. As a matter of fact, it was a form of escape from the obligations of parenting. I am fortunate to have a wonderful husband who was willing to entertain our children while I went to the gym several evenings each week. Driving to and from the gym was my chance to listen to the music I liked or just have 15 minutes of solitude. Once at the gym, my workouts were a chance to have uninterrupted time to think. I’ve always said that I do my best thinking and planning while on the elliptical machine!

My philosophy regarding nutrition is simple: Keep junk food out of the house. Eat at home as often as possible. Teach your children healthy eating habits from an early age and allow them to help choose and prepare meals. The time we spend preparing and sharing meals as a family is also an opportunity to talk to our kids about what went on during the day. I once heard that when you listen to your children and let them share the everyday events of their lives, they are more likely to open up to you when they have a problem. In my opinion, a person’s emotional health is every bit as important as their physical health.

Is goal-setting a part of your healthy lifestyle? What process do you use to set goals?

I am the kind of person who needs to consistently have something to look forward to in life. Setting a goal to achieve gives me something to strive for, a reason to get out of bed in the morning ready to start the day.

I like to continually assess my level of fitness and look for weaknesses that need to be addressed. When setting goals, I think it is important to be realistic. For instance, this past fall I set out to improve my upper body strength. Rather than set out to do 10 pull-ups, a rather lofty goal. I challenged myself to do a much more achievable goal, 20 regular push-ups. By pushing myself to do just one or two more push-ups during each workout, I was able to reach this goal within 8 weeks.

Do you find that health goals are harder to reach in your forties than thirties or twenties? If so, how do you overcome them? If not, why?

In my 20’s and 30’s my metabolism was like a furnace. I was able to eat whatever I wanted and maintain my weight, which hovered at around 118 pounds, as long as I worked out a minimum of 3 hours each week. Shortly after my 40th birthday I began to see this change. I now need to work out a minimum of 5 hours each week to maintain my current weight of about 125 pounds. I am comfortable at this weight. If I wanted to drop a few pounds, I think I would need to eat less as I am not willing to give up my two rest days each week. Since I work out intensely, I feel that I make my greatest gains when I allow my body that much needed rest.

Several months before my 45th birthday (this past March) I made the decision to hire a personal trainer. My trainer, Gregg, taught me the value of pushing myself to train harder than I ever thought possible. I won’t sugar-coat it-training with Gregg is tough. When I feel like I can’t do another repetition, he always coaxes me to do “two more”. I can honestly say that I am in as good of shape, if not better, than I was in my 20’s. When I tell people that I work out with a trainer one of the most common responses I get is that they wish they could afford to work with a PT. It’s all about priorities. I’m willing to pass up a few dinners at nice restaurants or a new pair of shoes to pay for the one-on-one attention I get at my sessions. My health means so much more to me than possessions.

How do you pass along your healthy lifestyle choices to your children?

Like I mentioned above, I like to involve my children in the preparation of meals. My daughter likes to go to the grocery store with me and that is a great opportunity to teach her to read food labels and discuss what constitutes a healthy meal.

As they were growing up, my husband and I made sure to encourage physical activity by participating with our kids in various activities. My daughter still likes her Dad to go to the track and run with her and to join me on bike rides to the park. At nineteen, it is a little more challenging to get my son away from video games, but we encourage him to use the wonderful health center at the college he attends.

Most importantly, we encourage our children to talk to us about their problems, big and small. Too often mental wellness is left out of the equation when we are discussing healthy lifestyle choices. In my opinion, teaching your children the value of maintaining a support system is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to them.

You mentioned that you changed careers at the age of 37. What led you to do this?

When I had my son, as I mentioned, it was important for me to take care of myself so I could see him and my future daughter grow up. I started reading a lot of information about fitness and nutrition and became fascinated with the idea of improving the quality of life through lifestyle changes. My first thought was to become a fitness instructor or nutritionist, but sitting in a waiting room one afternoon I noticed an article about massage therapy and became intrigued. That afternoon I started calling schools that taught masotherapy. When I went to visit my first choice of schools, a sense of peace came over me. I truly felt like this was what I was meant to do. (I waited until my younger child was in school full time before I made this choice.)

While practicing massage I had the pleasure to work with many people, including cancer patients. During my years of practice I never had a morning when I dreaded the idea of going into work. My clients were always happy to see me and even happier and more relaxed when they left. There are few careers where you are able to give and receive so much on a regular basis. The compensation was not fantastic, the hours could be long and the work was physically strenuous, but the rewards were plenty. This is not something I experienced when I worked in the fields of community service and public administration.

I think that it is so important that people keep an open mind and realize that it is never too late to start a new career or, in my case, to pursue an interest. Sadly, I developed arthritis in my hands and can no longer practice, but I am grateful for the experiences that I had and the knowledge I gained in both school and on the job.

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About the author

Melinda Hinson Neely runs a business, runs a household and still manages to run marathons. She has consulted with many clients in the health and wellness industry, and more importantly, has stayed healthy and happy while juggling meetings, relocations, business trips, marriage and children.