This month we’re celebrating the movement that moves you — and challenging the notion that you should look a certain way doing it.

I was a gym rat at 3 years old.

Growing up with a single mother often meant tagging along — to work, to hair appointments, to choir rehearsals, and yes, even to the gym.

By day, my mom worked for a utility company, and by night, she taught aerobics. Teaching those classes was her joy — the thing she most looked forward to, her chosen stress relief strategy, and the community where she felt most at home.

By default, I frequented the gym’s child care center. I have fond memories as old as lycra leotards and leg warmers of crafting with the teenagers who supervised me, and of passing time watching racquetball matches, my nose pressed up against the glass of the courts.

As the years passed and I grew older, I started taking my mom’s classes — always the youngest in the room. Eventually, as a teenager deep in the throes of preprofessional dance training, I started to view exercise as more than just something my mom enjoyed. It was something I enjoyed too.

As early as I can remember, fitness was just something we did. It was more than a hobby, habit, or obligation, it was part of our lifestyle. That lesson, in and of itself, was a gift.

What’s more, my mom’s fitness journey demonstrated to me that true fitness is found when you only focus on one thing in the mirror — your smile.

Believe it or not, my mom was a Shape Magazine success story at one point, having lost substantial weight. But losing weight for the sake of looking a certain way proved difficult to maintain over the years, as it often does for so many of us.

My mom didn’t think she looked the part of an 80s aerobics instructor — something I know she struggled with. She didn’t consider herself the pinnacle of fitness, and always worried that people would judge her for it.

But my memory recalls something different. The people who took her classes loved her energy, enthusiasm, and choice of music. They loved her warmth and acceptance of everyone who stepped into the room.

They kept coming to her classes simply because of the joyful environment and community she created. My mother had a blast teaching those classes, and you could feel it.

Looking “the part” wasn’t what inspired her — or those she taught — to pursue fitness. Rather, it was her joy.

As an adult, my fitness journey has taken twists and turns I never could have anticipated. While a knee injury diverted me from a professional dance career, it brought me to the Pilates studio, where I discovered a new passion — first in rehab, then as a student, next as an instructor, and ultimately as a master trainer.

I’ve always thought it was interesting that my career path picked up where my mom’s passion left off — it’s certainly more than a coincidence.

I’ve explored a lot of fitness modalities over the years, as a participant, trainer, and editor. Over and over again, I’ve learned that when it comes to fitness, if you don’t love it, you won’t live it. And building a lifestyle around healthy movement is the only way to guarantee you’ll stick with it.

This month, as we explore the meaning of feel good fitness, we wanted to focus on more than just the benefits of exercise, although there are many. We know that fitness makes us feel good, but feeling good is also a determinant of fitness.

I believe that moving in the way that feels best to your unique body is ultimately the best exercise for you, because you’ll crave it and keep going back for more. Rather than forcing a habit, the habit will develop naturally.

With this in mind, this month we examine the benefits of exercise outside the gym, such as dancing, hiking, and tai chi, while physical therapist Marcy Crouch talks about her love of horse riding.

Plus, those traditional HIIT, cycling, and yoga classes also offer enormous benefits for your body, mind, and spirit.

Exercise benefits everyone — no matter what you look like. To that end, we’re challenging the traditional #fitspo imagery. We’re inspired by people who demonstrate that fitness is for everybody, no matter their size, race, age, or ability.

Fitness is a state of being — not a way of looking. It’s a lifestyle, and when we embrace it as such, we give ourselves permission to take rest days, add exercise whenever and wherever we can, and celebrate our bodies for what they can do.

No matter your location or budget, there’s a way to move that will make you feel good. Discovering that is the key that will unlock all the benefits exercise has to offer.

Here’s to finding joy through movement. May it remind us of the potential and power that we all have within.

Saralyn Ward

Fitness Editor