The other day, I was running my kids between their sports practices, still sweating from a workout and chugging my water. A really nice mom said to me that it must be nice to have the “luxury” to workout. I smiled and agreed that working out sure feels good and I could not imagine my life without it. But I respectfully disagree that it is a luxury.

I am going out on a limb to say that living fit is an obligation. It is an obligation that you can learn to love. Most people do not take care of their bodies until crisis strikes or they are forced to. It sure does not feel like a luxury then. Prevention does not need to be a luxury either.

Active living can save you from illness and disease. It can save you money. It can save your sanity. I think exercise is a necessity, as much as food, water, love and shelter. The struggle is viewing it as “must-do” and not a “wish” in your daily life or calendar. Believe me, on that particular day, I had errands to run, groceries to buy, laundry to do, work to do and ten other things on my list before bed. But if exercising is a non-negotiable, you simply make it happen. You cut out a little “fat” in your schedule and squeeze it in, even when it is not convenient.

What happens when you do exercise on a regular basis? It becomes a habit. Good habits change your whole life. Let’s take a look at local success stories.

Two years ago, Traci Boyle, a mom of three in Alpena, went off her anti-depressants that she had been on and off for a decade. Why? Because she found a cure in exercise. She committed to strength training three days per week and was feeling stronger than ever. She was working hard to kick her medications and their side effects to the curb. On the pills, she felt foggy and contributed to weight gain and headaches. Off the medication, and on top of her fitness, the “sun shines brighter,” she said. Traci’s story shows us that fitness is no more a luxury than taking medication; it is just a better choice.

I asked some people participating in a two-week “Fit Buddy Challenge” in our community to share how exercise is affecting their daily life. The answers are compelling and make you think twice about cutting it from your schedule ever again.

“I have had a lot going now in the last few months. My fitness has kept me centered. If I did not have my fitness, I would be lost. I am taking my anger and grief to the gym,’’ ‪Amy Kieliszewski‪, who recently lost her mother.

‪“Keeping myself surrounded with fit buddies and people who love exercise brings me a special high. I first began this journey to help with my heart issues but then it became a love for me and helps me feel inspired and happy all day long after a workout,” LeeAnn King-Bushey

“I would say I can leave all my stress at the health club from what the day throws at me. This way I can come home stress-free and smiling,” Ed Smith

“I’m a lot happier working out. My attitude has changed so much. Am I tired at the end of the day? Yes. But it makes me want to do more with my kids and I find myself laughing a lot more,” ‪Corey Liske‪

“Fitness keeps me centered. When I am centered I am happier and see things clearer. I can make better decisions regarding my nutrition. And I’m way more fun to be around,” Sara Zimmerman

“Taking time for myself by working out keeps me feeling carefree. I find that little things don’t bother me as much when I’m consistently staying active,” ‪Tabby Reynolds‪

“Fitness makes me happier…because it keeps me grounded and in control of something. What a powerful feeling since so many things in life are out of control or out of my control,” ‪Dorothy Pintar‪

“Since I went through a major depression last year, I really questioned if I would get out of it. I did stabilize with the correct care from my NP but got back to blissfully happy since I’ve been back in the gym regularly. I have serious inner peace and nothing seems to really rattle me, either. I’ve gotten true contentment from exercise,” ‪Heather Hammermeister‪

Those are powerful, real words from moms, dads, grandparents, coworkers and neighbors in our community. Consider your fitness a way of life and you will change your life.