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Leaving the Fast-Paced Life of DC for a Slower, Healthier Lifestyle in Chapel Hill

Working long hours precluded Lea Shanley's ability to establish a regular workout routine. So when she moved to Chapel Hill, she decided to make exercise a priority

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Living in fast-paced Washington, D.C. took its toll on Lea Shanley’s health, especially after she suffered a moderate concussion.

“The lifestyle there is an intense work culture,” she says. “Working long hours often precluded the ability to have a regular workout routine.”

So when she moved to Chapel Hill in spring 2016, she decided to slow it down and focus on improving her health. For more than a year, she’s been working out at UNC Wellness Center at Meadowmont, where personal trainer Mary Hale-McDonald has guided her through core exercises two to three times a week.

Lea, co-executive director for South Big Data Regional Innovation Hub, was restricted from participating in particularly strenuous exercise because of her concussion, so Mary started her with the basics. “She’s been good about slowly building up my strength, building up my core,” Lea says. “Just challenging me enough to continue to make progress without causing any injury.”

This year, she’s decided to add swimming to her workout as part of an effort to incorporate more aerobic exercises into her routine. For that task, she’s working with aquatics instructor Maggie Williams. A Florida native, Lea is interested in learning how to snorkel. She’s also working to improve her balance and plans to add either yoga or tai chi to her regimen.

Working with personal trainers has been key in keeping her motivated – and entertained. “Mary has been a lot of fun,” Lea says. She credits part of her success to the deep expertise and patience of her trainers.

In addition to exercising, Lea has improved her eating habits with the help of dietitians at UNC Wellness and Mary, who is also a caterer and provides a variety of healthy meals for her each week. “As a busy professional, it’s easy to fall into bad habits, those frozen dinners,” Lea says.

She’s happy with her progress so far and only has one regret – that she didn’t start earlier.

“I wish I didn’t wait until this point in my life to start doing this,” she says. “It’s been very enjoyable. It’s really made exercise something I’ve looked forward to.”

Photography by Briana Brough

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Holly West is the associate editor at Chapel Hill Magazine. After graduating from UNC in 2015, she worked as a reporter and editor in eastern North Carolina, but was quickly drawn back to the Southern Part of Heaven.