NORTH ADAMS — For the last four years, Eileen Monyahan has been living a new normal.
In 2009, the North Adams resident could get through her days, but she was dragged down by low self-confidence and depression because she was self-conscious about her large frame.
She felt most comfortable at her husband’s side at a party to shield her from conversations from strangers she didn’t know.
That was before she started regularly exercising, which spurred subtle but then transformative lifestyle changes. These days she’s biking, running and even attending cardiovascular and boxing classes in North Adams. Life has a sunnier bent, Eileen said, and she’s more positive. She’s shed her bashfulness, and she’s embued with extra energy while working out as many as six days a week.
Monyahan is also almost 60 pounds lighter and, more importantly, she feels healthier.
“I think it’s changed her 100 percent for the better,” said her husband, Keith, praising her improved confidence.
There is ample time-tested evidence about the benefits of exercise for overall health. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, regular exercise or physical activity is attributable to an increased and improved lifespan, reduces the risk of colon and breast cancer, improves mood and cognitive and bone health, along with a wealth of other benefits.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says for the most health gain adults should perform five hours a week of moderateintensity aerobic exercise, or 150 minutes a week of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise.
Some Berkshire County residents who have adopted regular exercise routines say they can point to an ephiphany that got them exercising. They say there was some initial anxiety, and then there was the search for a workout routine they could enjoy. Friendships helped along the way.
Getting started was the hardest part, they say, and then the evident health benefits have encouraged them to continue exercising weekly.
First workout is the hardest
Monyahan began attending workout sessions to relieve stress in 2009, following her husband’s kidney cancer diagnosis. Stress was causing her to have ulcers, she said, but even before her first workout, her low self-confidence had her ready to quit.
“Luckily, I had a friend who invited me,” Monyahan, 42, said. “If she hadn’t invited me, I wouldn’t have gone in the building.”
At that point, Monyahan couldn’t jog a quarter mile without becoming exhausted, and working out with the lightest weight was a struggle. She had rapidly gained weight after being treated for Grave’s disease in 2003, which slowed down her metabolism.
In her first workout, she stood in the back row to avoid attention.
Everything after that came more easily. She was doing cardiovascular exercises, such as jumping jacks, and strength training such as working out with the medicine ball, performing push-ups and planks.
She lost weight. The stress subsided.
When she suffered a rotator cuff injury several months after starting to work out, she fretted no longer being able to exercise.
“I was feeling so good, and it was terrifying to think I would lose that,” Monyahan said.
Her instructor advised her to try jogging, and she hasn’t looked back since. At first, she panted out a quarter-mile before running out of energy, but flash forward to today and she’s completed five full marathons, nearly a half dozen half-marathons, and she’s now training for the Josh Billings Triathalon in September.
Monyahan’s proudest moment came jogging more than three miles across the Vermont border. Her son and his friend saw her running as they drove by, and they were awestruck.
“I saw my son’s friend’s jaw drop, and I thought that was funny,” said Monyahan, who was more than three miles from home at that point. “I’ve cheered them on at soccer games, and then they saw me jogging, and he was surprised that I had run that far.”
Dalton resident Rita Tassinari, 46, knew after losing 100 to 115 pounds in 2006, mostly due to gastric bypass surgery, that now was the time to re-write history.
Exercise was never a high priority growing up, she said. She was an overweight child, and the exercise she tried as she grew older never stuck.
Before she could start exercising, Tassinari said she needed to find a routine she could enjoy. She embraced cardiovascular and strength training at the gym.
Tassinari’s inspiration for exercising became those she loved and wanted to be around for many more years to come.
“I don’t dread it anymore,” Tassinari said. “I dread not going.”
She works out for one to two hours, three to six times a week. This year she’s also increased her exercising by attending early-morning boot camp workouts. Her days run long with a fulltime job, so she said she doesn’t beat herself up if she misses a day.
“She’s been consistent with it,” said her boyfriend, Nate Brent. “She seems happier and more vibrant, and all the good things about exercise certainly do shine through her from working out.”
Exercise also means watching TV. Her workouts are timed to when the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins play.
‘Your typical average person’
Pittsfield resident Gail Broderick distances herself from the marathoners and extreme sports athletes.
The 57-year-old exercises with long walks, and a history clear of health complications, including high blood pressure and cholesterol, lets her know she’s on the right routine.
She walks between 2 and 4 miles around her neighborhood. During the humid summer, she will exercise on her glider at home four to five times a week.
“ My go- to has always been walking,” Broderick said. “I veer off, but I always go back to it. It always gives back to me the most as far as the exercise and therapeutic part of mind.”
Broderick wants to stay healthy, but she’s also not a “fitness freak.” In her early 50s, she used to wake up at 4 a.m., but these days she’s more casual.
“Losing my mom [to breast cancer] was probably a big part of wanting to do my part in staying healthy,” she said. “At the end of the day you don’t want to think you did anything to screw up your health.”
Broderick doesn’t need medals to validate her exercise. Good health is enough, she said.
Through the last three decades, she hasn’t gained more than 10 pounds than what she weighed in her 20s.
“I am your typical average person trying to stay healthy,” Broderick said, “also understanding as I grow older I have to tweak my workout along the way.”