'30 minutes of exercise a day has changed my life'

In 2010, Leah Misch of La Crescent, Minn., created a bucket list. Among her aspirations were making changes to improve her health, so she set a goal of running her first 5K in the Festival Foods La Crosse Fitness Festival. But it wasn't going to be easy.

Leah has made many positive changes to her lifestyle over the past three years. Today, a large part of her social life is filled with activities that are healthy and fun. In addition to running, she enjoys hiking, biking, swimming and kayaking.

At 23 years of age, Leah was not physically active. Being overweight, her cholesterol and blood pressure levels were prematurely elevated, so she decided to make some changes to live a healthier life. When Leah heard about Minutes in Motion from her friend Kerry Geraldson, Gundersen Lutheran dietary aide, she liked the idea of an activity challenge that could be personalized for all fitness levels. Plus, the challenge led right up to her 5K run "bucket list" goal.

Leah registered as team captain, naming her Minutes in Motion team "You Go Girl," because it was something her mother always told her for encouragement. She hung the Minutes in Motion activity log on her refrigerator to hold herself accountable for going to the gym and tracking her minutes daily.

She began to challenge herself with 30 minutes of physical activity each day. "Gasping for air after running 1/10 mile and on the verge of morbid obesity, I knew this was going to take serious work - not only physically but mentally," she recalls. "I kept telling myself, 'It is only a half hour of my day. Just suck it up.' Initially, my mind dreaded running. My knees hurt and my lungs were on fire." But eventually, she slowly started seeing the positive benefits unfold.

As Leah continued to push herself, she began feeling better and achieving small goals. She started losing weight, sleeping better and feeling more energized. Leah's new motto became, "Master your mind; don't let your mind master you," which helped her run her first 5K.

Leah Misch has accomplished fitness goals she never thought were possible thanks in part to her participation in Minutes in Motion. She was a proud finisher of the 2012 Festival Foods Fitness Festival 5K run (first place in her age group) and half-marathon.

"I still remember that first race and seeing everyone dart past me. I wanted to give up. My lungs felt like exploding. Realizing my mind was mastering me, I told myself 'No! You are finishing this race...running!' Crossing the finish line, I was ecstatic to find I ran my best time ever. I did something I never thought was possible!" she says.

Leah credits Minutes in Motion for helping her make small changes that have forever changed her life. "It is amazing how much my life has changed with 30 minutes of activity a day," she says.

And, what Leah has accomplished following her first year's participation in Minutes in Motion is truly amazing. In the past three years, she lost 90 pounds, completed the 2011 Fitness Festival 5K (placing 3rd in her age group) and 2012 Fitness Festival (placing 1st in her age group and ran her first half-marathon), and has overcome multiple medical setbacks - all while inspiring her family and friends along the way.

Leah's Minutes in Motion team continues to grow every year, with friends and family from all over the country. "Whether motivating friends to join my Minutes in Motion team, praising them for their accomplishments or getting by their side, encouraging others to live a healthy lifestyle is my mission in life," she says.

For those who are thinking about registering for Minutes in Motion, Leah offers this quote by William Strong, "The only time you fail is the last time you try."

For more information, call Gundersen Community & Preventive Care Services at (608) 775-4717 or email wellness@gundersenhealth.org.