Healthy Living, Healthy Healing: 3 Ways Exercise Helped Me Heal

In 2001, Michelle Valladares’s family suffered a life-changing car accident. The whole family was injured, sustaining a variety of second degree burns, third degree burns, and amputations.These events have motivated Michelle to advocate for confidence, inner beauty, diversity, and resilience.


Michelle Valladares stands with hands on hips, staring determinedly into the distance. Her shirt reads "empower, empower, empower."


Healthy Living, Healthy Healing: 3 Ways Exercise Helped Me Heal

by Michelle Valladares


When I was 11 years old, I was injured in a traumatic car accident. At the time, I didn’t understand the impact exercise and healthy living could have on my recovery. Many years later, I realized it’s never too early — or too late — to choose a different, positive lifestyle. I decided to be more conscious of how I care for my body, and I learned to love, shape, and honor my body to represent who I am.

  • YES, I filled my body with a variety of colorful fruits and vegitables.
  • NO, I did not start to “diet”. I simply gave my body healthier options while still treating myself to other goodies from time to time. My appetite actually grew from working out!
  • YES, I committed to a new perspective on my own body image.
  • NO, I didn’t start playing the comparison game with friends, people at the gym, or anyone else.
  • YES, I feel happy and healthy!

It required a commitment, but my decision to stick to a healthier lifestyle has given me a lot in return.


1. It strengthened my body

Obviously, right? At first, I joined a gym and got a trainer to motivate me on my journey. After a few months, I felt confident to maintain a similar exercise routine on my own. I realized that I don’t need a gym membership to complete a full workout routine.

Here’s how I work out:

  • 15-30 minutes of a combination of walking and running in my neighborhood
  • Push-ups and other arm strengthening exercises
  • Sit-ups, planks, and other core training (Remember when “planking” was a “thing?”)
  • Squats and other lower extremity exercises
  • Finish with stretching and deep breathing

I also realized I could adjust my exercise according to my mobility needs. This is super important, because my skin doesn’t have the same elasticity as others. My scars cover more than 70% of my body, including my arms, legs, and face. Minimal room for stretching….

But having physical scars made healthy living an even bigger priority. A constant exercise routine gives me a toned body, more energy, and the confidence to wear my favorite flowy dresses, even after having an ice cream sundae (or two!)


2. It strengthened my identity

“Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.” - Whitney Houston

Wow! This song lyric resonates to my core. When I decided to learn this valuable lesson, I began to feel lighter, freer, and happier — before I saw any physical results.

Physical activity doesn’t strengthen your heart or your soul. This happens when you change your perception. When you find the courage to silence whatever negative voices whisper “you can’t” or “you aren’t” and decide to replace them with determination and resilience.

I began to practice this with little things: believing compliments, daring to wear crop tops and tank tops…. I started to feel good about myself, and have the confidence to reflect how I feel on the inside.


3. It helped me heal from the inside, out

I am able. I am strong. I am determined. I have courage. I am free. I am happy.

When my family and I were in the hospital recovering from our accident, I began to make these statements my own. They were my mantra, a coat of arms that represented who I am.

Self talk has propelled my journey to a healthy recovery and healthy lifestyle. While doing planks, push-ups, and sit-ups, I need to repeat these phrases. It’s not easy, but the sweat and “feel good” energy are worth it!


Michelle Valladares does lunges in a grassy field.


What keeps you motivated?

What words of encouragement are you telling yourself daily? Not sure if they are positive words?

Here are some questions I ask myself from Me, Myself and Lies by Jennifer Rothschild:

  • If someone heard my thoughts, would they be percieved as positive?
  • What if my loved ones heard my thoughts?
  • Would I allow my best friend to have these same thoughts about themselves?

If any of your answers are “no,” reevaluate and try to find a healthy way to heal from the inside out.

If all this seems overwhelming, start small.

Use the stairs instead of the elevator, have one soda instead of three, and above all, remember that healthy living isn’t just about getting big muscles. It’s about loving your body and giving it the best possible care.

After all, it’s the only one you’ve got.

For more on healthy living and healthy healing, check out these resources from the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors:

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3:46am - Sep 25, 2019

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