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I’m Under 5 Feet Tall Because of a Rare Condition—But That Hasn’t Stopped Me From Completing 70 Obstacle Races on Crutches

This story is part of Health’s #RealLifeStrong series, where we are celebrating women who represent strength, resilience, and grace.

Misty Diaz was born with spina bifida, but it wasn’t until she was in her 20s that she met another person with the condition. “I was going around thinking I was the only one who had this disability,” she says. Now at 30, the L.A.-based athlete travels around the country running races—and inspiring others with (and without) disabilities.

Spina bifida is a birth defect that affects the spine and spinal cord. In Diaz’s case, it damaged her L5 vertebrae. “It affected my walking, my growth, and my bladder,” she says. As a result, Diaz stands at just 4’4”, weighs 80 pounds, and uses crutches to get around. That hasn’t stopped her from completing 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, and even extreme obstacle courses. 

Two years ago, Diaz became the first adaptive athlete ever to finish the Red Bull 400, a 400-meter sprint up the ski jump at Utah’s Olympic Park in Park City. When she first heard about the race, in a video on Facebook, she knew right away she had to try it. Diaz began training her upper body with lots of rowing and lat pulldowns, so she could make it up the near-vertical incline on crutches. She reached the top in 35 minutes. In 2018, she shaved 10 whole minutes off her time. 

RELATED: Professional Runner Gabe Grunewald Has Stage 4 Cancer, But She’s Not Giving Up Racing

Diaz wasn’t always an athlete. After her 28th–yes, 28th–surgery, a bad breakup, and a struggle with severe depression, Diaz was craving a big life change. She remembers thinking, “’I can either stay in this situation hoping for a different result, or I can take the [discomfort] that I’m going through and feeling, and I could try something completely different.'” That’s when she discovered fitness.

Diaz started with small, doable goals: Her first milestone was making it from her apartment to her mailbox. Then she wanted to walk down her entire block; then to the nearby beach. “I stayed consistent, and I was loud about my progress,” she says. “Positive energy fueled me to want to keep doing a little bit more.”

A little bit more eventually became a charity 5K walk. She showed up to the race in a purple tutu, red lipstick, and a collared shirt. “I had no idea what I was doing,” she says, “but I never once took into consideration that I had crutches. I started when everybody started, stopped when everybody stopped, and crossing that finish line was like the threshold of starting my life all over again.”

RELATED: People Are Shocked I’m a Dancer Because I Was Born Missing This Body Part

That first race inspired Diaz to sign up for a second one–and put a little more effort into training this time. “I had never been in a gym, but I got a gym membership,” she says. “You can’t just Google ‘how do you use a treadmill if you’re on crutches’–you’re not going to find anything,” she says. Stepping into a gym was overwhelming, but she tackled it the way she does any obstacle: Take things slowly, learn from what non-adaptive people are doing, ask questions, and use her problem-solving skills to figure out a way she can mimic the movements. 

Being super-friendly didn’t hurt either. “I would just be like, ‘Hey guys!’” she says in a bubbly chirp. “I became friends with the gym manager who could see I had trouble reaching stuff.” The manager gave her guest passes so friends could come to work out with her, free of charge. “I was so grateful,” Diaz says. “Plenty of people would have given up on their first and second visit, but I found what worked for me.”

RELATED: I Have a Chronic Pain Syndrome Dubbed the ‘Suicide Disease’—Here’s How I’ve Learned to Embrace Life

Her second 5K turned into more races, including half-marathons, and eventually obstacle races. Now, she says, she’s done 70 all over the world. Races give her a unique way to connect with other people who might usually be a little more cautious around someone with her condition. “People might be intimidated around me,” she recognizes. It’s one of the reasons her trademark red lipstick became such a racing staple. “It gave people an in, an ice breaker.” A compliment was an easy conversation starter, and she says she’s built racing friends off of a simple, “I like your lipstick.” 

Thanks to the connectivity of social media, she’s made virtual friends around the world, too. Parents will contact her, inspired to race on behalf of their child with spina bifida. She also mentors kids with the condition. “I call them spina beautiful,” she says. “It was never my thing to be ‘the girl with spina bifida,’ but I just knew if I kept up the racing, slowly but surely I would start to uncover things about myself, and I might possibly be able to help other people.” 

“When I meet someone with spina bifida I want them to know that anything is possible,” Diaz says. “You can still accomplish anything you want to, you just might have to try a little harder.”

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9 Signs It’s Time to Break Up With Your Gym

Breaking up with your pedicurist, tailor, and electrician? Easy. Breaking up with a best friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend? Way less easy.

But another tie that can be hard to cut—and hard to know when to cut? Your ties to your gym.

Between fitness plateaus, lack of cleanliness, and a way-too-long commute, there are tons of signs it’s time to dump your gym—whether it’s a boutique studio or big box fitness facility. Below, nine reasons to join a different gym, according to experts.

RELATED: 10 Mistakes That Will Make Everyone Hate You at the Gym

The broken equipment isn’t getting fixed

If you lived in an apartment with broken appliances that the landlord never got around to fixing, chances are you’d either take legal action or find a new place to live when your lease was up. Similarly, when equipment breaks, a well-run gym will take the necessary measures to get it fixed—and quickly, especially in the age of overnight shipping and TaskRabbit. If it’s taking weeks for broken equipment to get fixed, it’s reflective of a gym that either doesn’t have the funds or is apathetic about the conditions of the space. Either way, it’s a sign your gym deserves dumping.

It takes you longer than 30 minutes to get there

How often have you wished that there were more than 24 hours in a day? Exactly. Rhetorical question. Spending a long time commuting to the gym is an automatic reason to switch up your sweat session. For some people—depending on where you live—even 20 to 30 minutes may be too far. In cities, for example, it’s wise to pick a gym that’s within 15 minutes walking or subway distance. More than that, and it’ll be easy to find an excuse when it’s cold, dark, or late. If the gym is close, you’ll have one less excuse for subbing the barbell (or bootcamp) for Buffy reruns.

The fitness classes offered just aren’t doing it for you

Maybe when you joined the gym you liked the class schedule and instructors. But somewhere along the way your fave instructor found a new job and the Pilates class you like was swapped with Zumba or a HIIT class you can’t get into (so. many. burpees!). Use this as an opportunity to scope out other gyms’ class offerings. While you’re there, pay attention to the type and timing of the classes to know if they’ll make things more exciting for you.

RELATED: 9 Thoughts Everyone Has the First Time They Try a Fitness Class

You’re overpaying

A recent survey from supplement and fitness company Myprotein found that Americans spend an average of around $34,000 on gym memberships, personal trainers, or workout plans over their lifetimes. “One sign that should make you consider breaking up with your gym is when you start to balance your checkbook in order to afford it,” says iFit trainer Becca Capell. While the financial tipping point will be different for everyone, there are a number of affordable alternatives that fitness enthusiasts can use for the sake of their bank accounts. Capell recommends getting a treadmill or rower and a set of weights to build an at-home gym. There are also countless free fitness apps that are both challenging and accessible for every level.

The space is dirty

Gyms are filled with sweaty people. Some gyms cultivate a community where everyone wipes down their equipment after use. Some gyms don’t. But beyond just treadmill and kettlebell handles, there are tons of places in a gym that need to be cleaned. If there are hairballs in the corners, grime on the showers and sinks, dust on less popular equipment, and holes in mats or carpeting, it’s a dirty gym. Considering that you can pick up infections at a dirty gym, this should be an automatic out.

There’s zero community

Forming a #fitfam may be more important to some people—CrossFit athletes and yogis, for example—than others. But if you haven’t made acquaintances within the first few months, it’s worth considering a swap, says certified strength and conditioning specialist Alena Luciani, founder of Training2xl. “I work at a place where everyone knows your name. But even if your gym isn’t that friendly, usually within three or four months, little communities are automatically formed by people who show up to sweat at the same time.”

You’ll have to ask yourself if community is important to you personally, but a gym friend group can add an element of accountability and comfort. “At the very least, you don’t want to go to a gym with a bunch of dudes who annoy you,” Luciani jokes.

RELATED: My CrossFit Transformation Was Much More Drastic Than I Expected–But Not for the Reason You’d Think

The overall vibe isn’t encouraging

“There’s definitely a vibe when you walk into a gym. If you walk in and the vibe makes you feel self-conscious or generally discouraged, switch gyms,” says Luciani. It’s a huge warning sign if the instructors and staff aren’t friendly and if the clientele put out a negative or overly competitive vibe. “You’ll be able to feel whether or not the gym’s energy works for you within one or two visits. Pay attention to it.” 

It’s worth taking inventory of the vibe every few months, she adds. “A gym’s vibe can change if there’s been an influx of new clientele, a change in management, or if your needs change, so keep checking in.”

The gym uses high-pressure sales tactics

You know this game when you see it: You feel like you can’t do a single bicep curl without a personal trainer trying to convince you to invest in some one-on-one training. “You don’t want to go to a gym where you feel like every time you walk in the door the trainers are trying to measure your BMI, talk to you about weight loss, or push their training on you,” says Luciani. For one, it’s annoying. But for another, it can create a body-negative, unsupportive environment. And if you don’t feel supported, you’re more likely to skip your workout.

You’ve plateaued

If you’re a member of a gym or a boutique studio that only offers one type of workout and you’ve plateaued, you may actually need to switch up your fitness routine. “Ask yourself, ‘Are these classes getting progressively more challenging? Am I getting stronger or better?’” says Luciani. If the answer is no, you might be doing yourself a disservice. “Your body will adapt to the fitness routine that you’re doing. You don’t want your body to get too efficient. If you adapt, you plateau,” she says. The solution: Add something new to your routine at a new gym–or at least do something different a few days a week like getting outside, going on a run, or trying yoga, she says.

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Anna Victoria Was Once the Last Person You’d Ever Catch In a Gym

You might know Anna Victoria for her killer Fit Body Guide workouts, pretty smoothie bowls, and candidness about her stomach rolls and posed fitness photos. That’s why it makes it hard to believe that the Instagram fitness sensation used to cringe at the people who spent hours meal planning and working out.

“Growing up in a small town in Southern California, I thought that people who worked out a lot and ate healthily were just really into themselves and cared about what they looked like,” she recently said in a YouTube video on her channel. While Victoria admits her generalization wasn’t fair, at the time, she thought healthy living seem unnecessary and pretentious. “While I definitely wished for a flat tummy…I never cared enough to do something about it,” she said.

Victoria continued the video by walking through her fitness journey, starting with her childhood. “I did not grow up with the least amount of knowledge about healthy eating or working out—and to be honest, I really didn’t care,” she said, adding that she also loved fast food, which contributed to an unhealthy lifestyle.

“I was eating microwavable food, fast food, packaged and processed food—that made up 100 percent of my diet from when I was 12 up until I was in college,” she said.

Eventually, that led to a series of health problems. “I had a lot of digestive issues…a lot of GI issues,” she said. “[But] I wasn’t putting two and two together.”

At the beginning of her senior year of college, Victoria even found herself in the emergency room with excruciating stomach pain. The doctors just gave her some medicine and sent her home. Victoria went back to her poor eating habits and continued living her life the same way. Looking back, she realizes the issues were all a result of her poor diet. (Related: How Anna Victoria Learned to Become a Runner)

Then she met Luca—now her husband. “He’s Italian and they eat really really fresh, whole, natural foods—and they’re very balanced,” she said. “When he came into my life and started noticing how I was eating, he’d tell me stuff like, ‘Anna, you can’t keep eating Goldfish crackers for dinner.'”

At first she was hesitant to heed his advice, but eventually, as she started trying different foods, she realized how much eating affected her body. “[Before], I had no energy levels, I had poor sleep quality, and that was all coming from what I was eating and my activity level,” she said.

In 2012, Victoria decided it was time to make some significant changes in her life. She had just moved to China to study abroad and found time to research about health and fitness. She also started her first fitness Instagram account, where she shared inspirational quotes and transformation pictures to hold herself accountable. “I pretty much threw myself into my fitness journey,” she said. (Related: This 15-Minute Metabolic Workout from Anna Victoria Will Work Your Entire Body)

Victoria started gaining followers who began motivating her to continue finding a healthy lifestyle that worked for her. But that didn’t mean it was always easy. “My biggest struggles were always mental,” she said. “I had a really hard time coming to terms with the fact that I needed to hone in on my calories and macros. There came a point where I plateaued and wasn’t seeing results. I really had to swallow my pride a little bit and look into what macros were all about.”

For example, Victoria realized that her fat intake was too high and her carb intake was too low, she shared. “Once I addressed that, I saw my body go to another level,” she said.

She also had to find a balance between lifting and cross-training to help reach an optimal fitness level. (Related: Anna Victoria Wants You to Know That Lifting Weights Doesn’t Make You Less Feminine)

Overall, Victoria hopes that by sharing how much her mindset changed and all the ups and downs she had, that people will realize that no fitness journey is linear. “I wish I knew that I didn’t need to be perfect and that I just needed to focus on my progress,” she said. (Related: Anna Victoria Has a Message for Anyone Who Says They “Prefer” Her Body to Look a Certain Way)

She ended her video by reminding viewers not to compare themselves to others and to focus on their own journeys. “Everyone’s journeys are going to look different, everyone’s bodies are going to look different,” she said. “So don’t let that get you down.”

Watch her entire video below to learn more about how Anna transformed her life both mentally and physically to get to where she is today.

The 10 Best Sports Bras for Large Breasts

Unfortunately, the bounce factor for bustier women can be an exercise deterrent. Who wants to go for a run or knock out burpees when every hop, skip, and jump leads to pure pain? In fact, we’re pretty sure we all have that friend who’s had to double up on support. What’s more, a larger-breasted woman in the wrong bra can have serious health implications.

“If a sports bra has not been specifically designed and built to carry the weight of larger, heavier breasts, the bra straps may be too narrow and exert extra pressure on your shoulders,” explains LaJean Lawson, PhD, a sports bra researcher at Oregon State University and consultant to the sports bra industry. “If the amount and location of the pressure crosses over an area in the shoulders where nerves and blood vessels exit into the upper arms, a medical condition known as thoracic outlet syndrome can result.” Symptoms of TOS include numbness or tingling in the arms or hands, pain in the neck, shoulder, or hands, and even a weaker grip.)

So what do the well-endowed need to look for when shopping for a sports bra? Lawson says, there are three key things:

1. Look for minimal (controlled) stretch throughout the bra in areas like the cups, straps, and band.
2. Forgo the traditional sports bra, which has a single flat panel across the front, and opt for one with two separate cups that will control each breast instead.
3. Choose athletic supporters with more coverage such as a higher neckline, wider straps, and a substantial bottom band.

Armed with Lawson’s tips, we did the leg work for you and found these 10 amazing sports bras perfect for big breasts. They’re easy to get on, offer stellar support and, most importantly, are still cute!

Athleta Front Zip Stealth Bra 

This wireless, high support bra is ideal for cups up to DD. Convertible straps and the front zipper closure allow for a more customized fit.

Sizes: XS-XL

To buy: $72; athleta.gap.com

Panache Underwire Sports Bra

With the click of a hook, this bra takes you from regular to racerback. It also has flexible underwire and three-part-foam-lined cups.

Sizes: 30-42, C-DDD

To buy: Starting at $40; amazon.com

Freya Active Underwire Molded Sports Bra

This supporter’s molded cups play up your curves (and provides each breast with individualized support!) instead of smashing your girls into one unflattering lump.

Sizes: 28-40, B-G

To buy: $62; amazon.com

Enell High Impact Sports Bra

A high neckline not only ensures that your breasts won’t play peekaboo, but also reins the girls in from unwanted surge.

Sizes: 00-8

To buy: Starting at $59; amazon.com

Nike Pro Rival

Sick of the chafing caused by stitched straps? The bonded seams on this bra help put an end to skin irritation.

Sizes: 30-38, B-E

To buy: $70; amazon.com

Nike Impact Strappy 

This high support bra is great for all types of exercise including running and cross training. With a strappy design for a custom fit, you’re sure to find the perfect fit for your girls.

Sizes: XS-XL

To buy: $55; nike.com

Sweaty Betty Ultra Run Bra

This running-specific bra combines compression and encapsulation technology that cuts down breast movement in all directions. Also good: The mesh lining puts the kibosh on in-between-breast sweat (yay!).

Sizes: 32-38, A-F

To buy: $65; sweatybetty.com

Anita Maximum Control Wire-Free Sports Bra

If you’re looking for high-impact support without wires, this is your sports bra. Molded double-layer cups keep you covered with a three-column, three-row hook and back closure to keep the girls supported.

Sizes: 30-46, C-H

To buy: $69; barenecessities.com

Moving Comfort Jubralee Bra

The Velcro straps are surprisingly secure and make it super easy to adjust this supporter on the fly.

Sizes 34-44, B-E

To buy: $55; amazon.com

New Balance The Shockingly Unshocking

There are few things more embarrassing than showing off your nipples when you sweat—built-in modesty cups ensure your “headlights” stay hidden.

Sizes: 32-42, C-DD

To buy: $25-48; amazon.com

The One Healthy Thing Fitness Experts Always Do on Thanksgiving Day

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Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving—one of the few days of the year when you can put aside your usual healthy habits and pig out with no shame or judgment?

While we’re totally on board with holiday indulgence, it’s not a bad idea to try to do at least one food- or fitness-related move to keep your energy high, your mood bright, and successfully resist the urge to veg out on the couch after dinner nursing a monster food baby. To give you some inspiration, we asked fitness influencers, nutritionists, and Health staffers to tell us one thing they always do for mind-body health on Turkey Day.

RELATED: 11 Celeb-Approved Workouts for a Toned, Sculpted Butt

“I get out on the road early for a run before the festivities begin. I know later I most likely won’t have the time or energy. Running is also my ‘me’ time; on a day of giving thanks, it’s important to thank yourself for all you do! Having the ability to move, breathe, and share life with others makes me feel even more grateful. The crisp fall air and smell of fallen leaves doesn’t hurt in setting the mood either.”

—Rebecca Kennedy, New York based–fitness trainer

“I love taking recipes from Pinterest that look super yummy and find ways to make them healthier with organic and natural ingredients. It’s fun because it’s something the whole family can be part of. We’re all cooking and being creative, and healthy!”

—Cassey Ho, fitness influencer and founder of Blogilates

“I always try to maintain a physical yoga practice during the holidays, even if it mean unrolling my mat in the one sliver of space that’s not occupied by a family member. It always helps me stay centered during what can be a very emotionally difficult time of the year and it helps validate my requisite gluttonous holiday meal choices. Plus, yogic twists make digestion of rich holiday food much easier.”

Jessamyn Stanley, yogi and author of Every Body Yoga

“On Thanksgiving I pay close attention to my mind-body connection. It doesn’t feel good to deprive myself, and it doesn’t feel good to be stuffed and sluggish, so I make choices that allow me to feel both satisfied and energized simultaneously. This balance feels just right, both mentally and physically, and it’s freeing to make choices motivated by feeling well, rather than numbers, rules, shoulds, or guilt!”

—Cynthia Sass, RD, Health contributing nutrition editor

RELATED: How to Handle the Holidays When You Have Food Intolerances

“I just make sure to get a run in, walk before and after eating, and then also pace myself between the main course and dessert. I’m never one to wildly indulge and I think if you give yourself a bit of a break between the main course and dessert it allows you some time to spend with your family, in addition to being actually able to savor the deliciousness of the sweets.”

Joe Holder, Nike master trainer

“Our Thanksgiving Day tradition (besides enjoying the meal) always includes exercise: We all go for a hike in the morning, followed by a stretching session, usually led by my daughter [fitness blogger and author] Katie, and then after the meal we put on loud music and dance around the house, inside and out! It’s a great way to keep your energy up and connect with the family!”

—Denise Austin, fitness expert and creator of LifeFit

“This Thanksgiving, I’ll be sneaking in an infrared sauna session. It’s a 30-minute sweat, so if I’m cooking all day and don’t have time to get my ass to the gym, it’s easy. And a good sweat definitely helps me mentally prepare for family dynamics!”

Hannah Bronfman, DJ and founder of HBFIT

“Every year on Thanksgiving morning, my dad, brothers, husband and I run in our town’s local road race together. My dad always insists on leaving unnecessarily early to get a parking spot and it’s always freezing (so, I’m always kind of dreading it), but then I feel extra virtuous when it’s time to head home and start digging into the appetizers.”

—Kathleen Felton, senior digital editor

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“I always try to go for a run before the meal, but no matter my exercise plans, my family and I try to do something active together during the day. Some years, with a big crowd, that’s been a casual touch football game. Other times, it’s just a walk around the block. Anything to get moving and help avoid a total food coma!”

—Sarah Klein, senior editor at Health

“Every year, I watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from a friend’s house that overlooks the parade route. Her apartment is about a two-mile walk from my house, and I always walk there and back to fit some activity in before I feast later on. A brisk walk is the best way to wake up on one of my favorite days of the year!”

—Anthea Levi, Health freelance writer