Mariana Balestra has learned the art of living her life one day at a time.
When her mother got sick with cancer more than six years ago, Balestra says she became more mindful and began appreciating the moments that make up a single day. Years later, when the pandemic hit, Balestra used that same mentality to her advantage. Using her free time as motivation, she began focusing on eating healthier and working out — a little bit at a time. A year and a half later, Balestra has lost 24 kilograms, an equivalent of about 53 pounds. But when she started exercising more, Balestra says she wasn't necessarily concerned about losing weight. She was just focused on being healthier.
"I didn't want to die at 63 years old like my mother," Balestra says. "Because she died very young, and yes, that's it. I wanted to feel healthy every day."
Living in Sao Paolo alone, Balestra developed the habit of waking up early and working out, whether it was cycling or running. Sometimes she would go on a run around her house or even hit the beach. And even though she's developed the habit now, it wasn't always easy.
"I used to feel very weak," she says. "The beginning was the worst part because every day I would start and feel weak."
But like the days when she cared for her mother, Balestra didn't overwhelm herself with an overly ambitious goal weight or total mileage. Instead, just getting up and moving every day became an accomplishment for her.
"I started to feel a little bit stronger than in the beginning," Balestra says. "And every time I thought I wanted to quit, I would think about the process. I would think about just trying one more day.”
She took her successes and setbacks in stride, learning to accept when she didn't feel her best. All of it was a part of the progress that led her to develop the healthy habits she has today.
"Doing this thing was not about tomorrow," she says. "It was not about yesterday. Let's say I didn't feel so great yesterday, but today, I feel great, and I run 20 kilometers. Tomorrow, maybe I don't have the best performance. So, one day after another is enough for me."
Despite her significant accomplishments over the last 18 months, Balestra says she doesn't like to post about her exercises on social media, and she doesn't really share her new passion with her friends. It's more of an individual craft that she's developed for her own enjoyment, she says.
"I am very proud of myself because it was a huge change in my life," she says. "But it's something very individual for me…. It's not something that I speak to the whole world about...And I don't feel like an athlete. Yes, I work out every day, and in this way, I am an athlete, but I don't feel like an athlete."
Still, at 41 years old, Balestra says she feels like she's the healthiest and the strongest she's ever been. And rather than tracking weight loss as a measure of success, Balestra is focusing on a different goal — running the El Cruce 100-kilometer ultramarathon in 2022.
"I am preparing myself for another healthy life," she says.
"You know, if I live until my eighties….I think it's to feel better every day and to be a better person every day. That's it – I want to be healthy."