I’m a 7-11 mom. I don’t hang out or work at the local convenience store, but we do share the same opening hours. 7 days a week from 7 am to 11 pm., I am open for business. As a full-time single-mom with young children, time is always at a premium, and slotting exercise into my schedule comes at opportunity costs.

When my children were just 2 weeks old and 2 years old, I became a widow. Weeks following the birth of my youngest son and my husband’s death, I moved our family across the country from Vancouver to Montreal to be with my mother who was living her last days battling Cancer. In a very sleep deprived grieving state, I managed to squeeze in hospital visits to spend time with her.

Friends often ask me how I got through those days. Eight years of time and reflection have now given me perspective. Life certainly taught me valuable lessons through the most natural, yet difficult, milestones of births and deaths.

Being one to find truth in analogies, I can’t help but compare my life experience to my favourite type of exercise – High-Intensity Interval Training. As with any physical exercise, H.I.I.T. starts with warm-ups. Those who participate in H.I.I.T. know that the next phase challenges your heart rate. At the end of the designated period, you feel that you are pushed to almost more than what your heart can handle. And just when you feel you can’t go on, the interval expires and you are given time to recover.

As most trainers will tell you, it’s important that you take the time to recover so that you will have the endurance to cycle through to your next interval. H.I.I.T. is the ultimate training for endurance and strength. In life, if one were to apply it, we would see that the H.I.I.T. model lends itself to the perfect formula for building personal resilience. 

At least, in my experience, that is what H.I.I.T. taught me. My recovery and journey to getting my strength back to its ‘pre-kids’ physical state has been challenging, but one that I wouldn’t dare change. 

H.I.I.T. as a lifestyle has taught me so much about who I am and what I am capable of.

The H.I.I.T. Warm-Up

Keep physical exercise top of mind, even if you can’t get to it. There are times in life where due to unforeseen events such as the death of a love one, illness, or injury that you just simply can’t engage in physical exercise. Instead of being hard on myself for not getting my weekly workouts in, I looked at the big picture. I’m in for the long haul – my lifeline as opposed to my dateline. 

I set goals for myself when I planned to get back on track with my training routine. In the meantime, I substituted my physical workouts for mental workouts.

Meditate and be mindful. If I had pushed myself to physically train during those challenging days, I surely would have injured myself. Worse, I would have been of no use to myself and my children. Instead, I found a way to respect what my body needed, which was rest. 

I replaced all types of physical exercise, with mindfulness and meditation. As a nursing mom, I was with my children almost 24 hours a day, so I had to find ways to practice types of meditation that allowed me to also be present with my children. 

Strength training my mind was so important. As I exercised my will, I became convinced that I would one day get my physical strength back.

Surround yourself with trainers. I like to think of people in my life who support me, and have positive outlooks, as my personal trainers. These are the people that have kept me accountable. They reminded me of the things that helped my overall well-being. Gently nudging me towards my goals, they reinforced me to be the best version of myself. 

I was fortunate to have good trainers around me but due to relocating cities, I lost a lot of connections with my friends and community. So I topped up by leaning on professionals; osteopaths, massage therapists, and counsellors that helped me stay on track. 

Gently ease yourself into physical exercise doing something you love to do. Whether it’s a nature walk, doing yoga, swimming, I took time to explore an activity that I loved or had good memories doing in my childhood. Attaching this positive association to a physical activity put me in a good headspace and reframed exercise from a ‘must-do’ chore to a pleasurable pass-time.

The H.I.I.T. Intensity

Combine social time with exercise. I found a way to work-around the limited time constraint. When I moved to Montreal and began to make friends, I realized that all the women I befriended were fit and active. We were all in the same boat, working and taking care of our families. Any ‘free’ time we had was blocked off for a workout. So instead of scheduling time over coffee, we scheduled our social time while running. Throwing on a pair or runners and chatting over miles is the perfect way to connect, stay physically active, and save time.

Be patient but be mindful of when it’s the right time to push yourself. Sometimes it feels like life never lets up. But I believe in cycles (intervals) and while it’s all relative for all of us, there are times when life’s stresses seem to ease. I like to pay attention to these nuances in life; the quality of my sleep, how I feel in my body, my state of mind and my energy levels. 

I acknowledge when I feel a reprieve from the weight I carry, and it is at this time that I take action by testing and pushing myself to my outer limits. When I was post natal, it was a challenge to do a Hatha Yoga class once a month. Months later, it was difficult but I attemped Power Yoga. A year later, a 5 km run followed by a 10 km race. Last year, (and eight years later), I challenged myself to a 7 km Mountain Run a 11.5 km Mountain Run and finally a Half Marathon. If I hadn’t paced myself and done the first 5 steps, it would have been very difficult to have accomplished these goals.

The H.I.I.T. Recovery

Recover and stay patient. I take on what I can handle, when I can handle it. I have never had a competitive outward outlook in life. Rather, I compete with myself. I push myself to see what I am made of, but in a compassionate and curious way. Exploring my own personal strength and limitations is an adventurous path to self-discovery.

H.I.I.T. Life Training. It’s about cycles, patience, perseverance, resilience and working towards a healthy lifeline, and not a dateline. 

Paula Toledo is a Writer, a published Singer/Songwriter for TV and Film, Brand Marketer and Strategist, a Mental Health Advocate and Founder of the mental wellness blog and podcast Ode To Wonder

IG@odetowonder twitter@odetowonder facebook.com/odetowonder


  • Paula Toledo

    Social Play for Well-being, 'Where Discovery Meets Gratitude' ©

    Ode to Wonder

    Paula Toledo is a TEDx & WE Day Speaker, writer & founder of Ode to Wonder blog, published singer-songwriter, influencing change by raising awareness for mental well-being practices via play and social good. She shares hope, resources & communicates the need to eliminate the stigma surrounding Mental Illness, as a Mental Health Correspondent for Global TV Montreal and as a Certified Canadian Mental Health Association Advisor for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. 

    She discovered ‘H.A.T.S. Off’, her mental well-being rituals based on self-compassion & discovery through play, following the mental illness and suicide of her late husband when her children were just two weeks and twenty-three months old. ‘H.A.T.S. Off’ an acronym for ‘humanity’, ‘arts and awareness’, ‘travel’ (discovery), and ‘sports’ (fitness recreation) - pillars of her mental well-being practice that she engages in on a daily basis - has received recognition and been featured by the Dukes and Duchesses of Sussex/Cambridge’s, Mental Health Charity, ‘Heads Together’, calling her story, one of 'hope'