I Have a Degree in Exercise Science—Here's What I've Learned About Working Out

Fitness can be so much more than a physical challenge. The right workout can break us open in profound ways, revealing truths about our perseverance and inner strength that might have been otherwise invisible. It’s therapy. It’s meditation. And sometimes, it can be hugely transformative. With this in mind, we invited some of our readers to share their own stories of the workout that changed everything—how they found their ideal form of movement and what it taught them about themselves. Below, Natalie DiCicco shares how her fitness journey merged with her mental health.




If you’d asked me to run a half-marathon five years ago, I would’ve laughed in your face. The only way I would have run is if a bear were chasing me, and even then, I certainly wouldn’t make it 13 miles. But life has a funny way of turning things upside down, right?

In the summer of 2014, I was heading into my senior year of college pursuing a BS in exercise science, and while I had started exercising regularly somewhere between my sophomore and junior years, I certainly wasn’t running. It seemed crazy to me that people did that kind of thing for pleasure. Running? Seriously? I’ll stay right here on the elliptical in the air-conditioned gym with a television in front of my face, thank you very much.

As you could probably guess, when you major in exercise science, everyone in your classes is pretty psyched about fitness. And for whatever reason, the better majority of my class was really into running. We had a Run Club in our department that met two days a week, where exercise science students and faculty would meet up and run a three-mile loop around campus. That seemed pretty cool, and I wanted to fit in. I’m pretty sure that’s how I started running. I certainly didn’t start off with Run Club. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of all my professors and classmates. So instead, I started running a mile here and there on the treadmill. And then on the track. And then outside.

In October of my senior year, after a one-and-a-half-mile run through our college town, I walked into my apartment one day, looked my roommates dead in the eyes, and said, “I’m going to run the next Pittsburgh Half-Marathon.” I’ve always been “the funny friend,” but I don’t think I’ve ever made them laugh so hard in my life. At first, they thought I was kidding. Then they thought I was insane. And honestly, I kind of agreed with them.