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How Michelle Monaghan Tackles Crazy-Awesome Fitness Challenges Without Losing Her Chill

Being healthy and happy is all about balance—that’s the mantra Michelle Monaghan lives by. So while she loves to exercise, she doesn’t sweat it if her hectic schedule means she can’t swing a workout. She eats healthfully but also indulges her cravings for Quarter Pounders and keeps six kinds of cheese in her fridge. She doesn’t own a scale and is more excited about what exercise does for her mentally than how it makes her look. “I’m a firm believer in everything in moderation and not beating myself up,” says Michelle, 40.

That philosophy came in handy last year when she was crazed filming two movies and a TV show. Michelle is currently starring with Mark Wahlberg in Patriots Day, about the Boston marathon bombing, and with Jamie Foxx in the thriller Sleepless. Her Hulu TV series The Path, about a family involved in a controversial New Age spiritualist movement, just returned for a second season. Michelle spent months trying to fit quick exercise sessions into her shooting schedule whenever she could—and not freaking out when she couldn’t.

Fortunately, the mom of two (her daughter, Willow, is 8, and her son, Tommy, is 3) thrives on challenges. She took up surfing last year, and she’s seriously considering running the New York City Marathon this year. “It’s good to set goals,” Michelle says. “They help shape a healthy outlook on your life.” Listen in as she shares how she maintains her sanity-preserving attitude and achieves success on her own terms.

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She loves her roving workout routine.

"I hike in the morning if I can, after I drop the kids off at school. If not, I’ll go for a run. Typically, I’ll do 30 minutes, which is a three-mile run for me. I started doing Pilates, too, and it’s really challenging. I find that it’s a good balance for my running, which makes my muscles tight. Pilates loosens me up. I also love SoulCycle. I played a Spin instructor in a movie, and at the time I thought, There’s no way I’m getting on a bike. But SoulCycle had just opened in L.A., so I went with friends. The lights were off, candles were burning, and we were hooked. It’s like church!

"In Sleepless, I’m an internal affairs investigator who’s really proficient in MMA. As a result, I got to do boxing and kickboxing. I worked with a trainer three days a week for three hours at a pop and got in unbelievable shape. I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to try all these different ways to work out.”

She’s a big believer in dialing down, too.

“When I’m not shooting, I aim to work out at least three times a week. But if I’m filming, I rarely make it to the gym. With The Path, I’d go to the park and run maybe once a week. Or I’d do squats and push-ups in my trailer. On shoot days, I start at about five in the morning and don’t get home until seven at night, so it’s hard to find time for exercise. I throw myself a bone and don’t get too worried about it. I know that when I have time again, I can kick it up a notch.

“I also need to be an example for my daughter. That means I can’t run around worried about what I look like. We’re active together as a family—the kids go hiking and biking with us. But I don’t obsess about what I eat.”

Her Midwestern roots keep her going.

“I run a half marathon every year with Maria, my best friend from my hometown in Iowa. I’ve known her since I was a kid. We usually do races in different cities, so we’ll make a weekend out of it. It’s great because there are days when I have to do an eight-mile run, and I’ll get a text from Maria saying, ‘I did eight miles! Did you do yours?’ Training with her helps motivate and encourage me.”

Exercise is for her brain as much as her body.

“I get crabby when I don’t work out. Just ask my husband! [Laughs.] I really depend on exercising to relieve stress. Last week, I was overwhelmed and I thought, I need to go for a run or a hike to clear my head. I had a to-do list that was a mile long, and I didn’t know what to tackle first. When I run, it helps put everything into place.

“Years ago, when I started working out, it was about getting my body in shape. But now the mental benefits outweigh the physical ones. That’s why I love going for a hike in the morning. There’s something about climbing a mountain that’s symbolic—you set your intention and what you want to focus on. I think about what I have to do today or what I have to accomplish this week. It allows me that space where there’s no one else around.”

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There are healthy things she just won’t eat—and she’s OK with that.

“I have never liked fruit. To make up for it, I have a green juice every morning, which is totally devoid of fruit but has tons of vitamins from vegetables. A typical day of eating for me is eggs or oatmeal for breakfast, soup or salad for lunch, and fish or meat and lots of veggies for dinner.”

She celebrates her body for what it can do.

“I love my shape because I know what it’s capable of—running 13 miles, having two children, and learning to surf. I love my body so much; it’s profoundly amazing. I have enormous gratitude for it.” 

For more from Michelle, pick up the March issue of Shape on newsstands February 14.

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