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The Life-Changing Magic of the Leisurely Workout

Stop pretending you love running and lean into lazy chic.

Zara workout

Oh, how I want so badly to be a SoulCycle girl. A Barry’s Bootcamp girl. A girl who does CrossFit. A girl who is like, obsessed with Orange Theory.

But I’m so not that girl.

I'll never be that girl. For yours truly is simply not a natural athlete, she's a clumsy creative. I didn’t even dabble in sports in high school, I was too busy smoking cigarettes and pouting.

zara teen workout

As a kid, my favorite activity was devouring the “Sweet Valley High” books and practicing my runway catwalk (with books stacked on the top of my head because I wanted to be a proper model, you see). I was notorious for scheming creative ways to get out of gym class. I had “period cramps” every gym class for six months straight and used that time to lounge on the bleachers and glare at my sweaty, sad peers as I bitchily smacked gum in my 20-eye Dr. Martin boots.

I didn’t work out at all in my early twenties. I subsisted on a strict diet of champagne, Marlboro Light 100s, and the occasional truffle fry. As I reached my mid-twenties the Kate Moss diet stopped working. Hunger won the race. I was ravenous, living in London and completely over being a miserable, sun-deprived bitch. I wanted to go back to America, home of the rosy-cheeked ~healthy~ girl. I moved to Florida. Put on ten pounds. Got a tan. Moved back to New York City before I turned into Malibu Barbie.

zara malibu barbie workout

In New York, I moved into a charming six-story walkup on the Upper East Side; which didn’t bother me because the daily climb up and down those torturous stairs provided me with the greatest ass I’ve ever had in my entire life. When I reached my late 20s I moved to the West Village and got fancy. Like, I had an elevator in my building which in normal cities might not mean anything, but for New Yorkers it’s a sign of making it.

zara new york

Consequently; my ass dropped and my depression sky-rocketed (and I quickly found myself jobless. New York has a way of humbling you the millisecond you get even slightly cocky).

I know enough about wellness to know that moving your limbs every single day is essential to living a healthy, non-manically depressed life. Endless studies reveal that exercise helps to increase our serotonin levels—the hormone and neurotransmitter responsible for keeping us relaxed and blissful. Endorphins are also released during a workout, and endorphins give us a nice little euphoric rush (not entirely different than a drug buzz, except with no soul-destroying comedown and no body-destroying toxins).

I also know enough about depression to know that it’s as physical as it is mental. Sadness lives in the body. Your limbs feel heavy when you’re down. Your energy has been zapped by the emotional vampire of anxiety.

Yet, when we move our bodies we can’t help but snap out of the paralyzed funk for a few lovely little moments there. Plus, you just feel so much better about yourself and your life when you’re in motion.

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Because I’m a sucker for anything supremely trendy, of course, I’ve tried all the fad workouts. And while those boutique classes will definitely whip a sad girl into shape, I never stuck with any of them. If I was even slightly tired or stressed—the thought of waltzing into a hipster Bootcamp teeming with supermodels was enough to make me want to check myself into a state mental hospital just to avoid the whole thing.

Plus, let’s get real kittens: I’m not trying to be a fitness Instagram star, you know? I just want to be a healthier, less-depressed, hotter version of myself.

zara barrie new york

It was just this year that I really began to embrace the fine art of the leisurely workout. It’s been life-changing. I’ve now turned exercise into something I do five to seven days a week, no matter what (and I’m *so* not that girl). This is doable because I’ve made working out a therapeutic, non-pressured, meditative (yes, medi-f*cking-tative) experience I enjoy, over a competitive one. Look: I’m in a very high-pressure career that reminds me of how much I sorely suck every single day (thank you social media trolls!), I live in the world’s most competitive city, and I’m generally hard on myself when it comes to almost every area of life. So I’ve decided that my workouts will be leisurely and lovely. I do it as much for my brain as I do for my body (don't shoot me between the eyes; but I, like, *actually* mean that this time).

And the beauty of the leisurely workout is this: It’s completely sustainable. I don’t need to worry about spending $30 a class when I can hardly pay my goddamn rent. I don’t need to rely on class times that neglect to fit into my haphazard lifestyle. I don’t need to fret over feeling like a piece of shit because I don't have ass-implants derived from 24-karat gold like the girl next to me. I can do the leisurely workout when I’m deeply fatigued. I can do it when I’m recklessly hungover. I can do it when I’m I'm bleeding and angry at the world.

Part of why I believe the leisurely exercise routine really works for me has to do with the fact that all those extreme classes stress your girl out, majorly. And when your stress is peaked, your cortisol rises (cortisol is a stress hormone). And high cortisol can assist in weight gain. Plus, I don't like being stressed. Stress will make you look and feel as weathered as a middle-aged cokehead still hanging around the same ole' weathered Hollywood bars five nights a week.

If you’re like me—I highly suggest you attempt the low-pressure workout. Here are five of my personal favorites:

1. A slow, silent meditative swim.

zara barrie workout

Swimming is a major obsession of mine.

But despite purchasing memberships to many a gym with a glimmer, clean teal pool—I never swam. Not because I don't love swimming (I'm a fucking mermaid)—but because I love to listen to music while I move. But these days I’m finding that the silence is serving to be extremely peaceful for me. I’ll do about 20 or 30 laps in the Olympic size pool and the entire time I’ll think about what I’m grateful for in my life and just let my mind wander into all those awesomely strange creative places it rarely has time to delve into.

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I'll follow up my swim with a ten-minute steam where I meditate with my eyes closed the whole time. Afterward, I run home, dry brush my skin (life-changing!), and take a freezing cold shower (I’m going to do a whole post on the art of the freezing cold shower, soon).

The whole thing takes an hour and I enjoy every second of it. Plus, my abs pop after a week of swimming!

2. The art of the “Yog.”

One day I was hanging out with a bunch of East Coast boys in New York that I attended high school with—when one of them announced they had to leave.

“I just really need a yog.” One greasy little cutie pie said.

“You mean a jog?” I snarled. I was in a bitchy season of life and had no patience for stoners.

“No, Zara. A yog is a light jog where you don’t beat yourself up if you walk a little bit.”

This was five years ago and I’ve been an avid yogger ever since! Yogs are so goddamn enjoyable! And easy. And you’ll still be sore the next day if you go for at least forty-five minutes.

Plus, you’ll feel less depressed because you’ll be outside in the sun, getting some vitamin D, my sad sister! Which leads me to:

3. The sad girl’s ballad blast.

zara barrie sad girl

One of the reasons I never liked those cardio, spin-type classes, is that I’m not really into that fast-paced THUMP THUMP THUMP music. In fact, I detest all that repetitive early-2000s dance-party shit they always blast in that breed of class. Personally, I prefer crying to Kesha over cycling to a Brittney remix.

But now I elliptical all the time to ballads, like Kesha’s Praying. I didn’t even know I was allowed to do such a thing, until I did it, and had the best workout of my life.

Working out to gut-wrenching ballads gets my heart-rate up beautifully. Do you know how gorgeously exhilarating it is to sweat and move while weeping to Lana Del Rey? It kills two birds with one stone: You get your emotional breakdown in (which we all need at least once a week) and you get your workout in.

4. The stretch and the steam.

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Here’s my rule. If I’m not feeling well or I’m in the throes of a deep physical laziness spiral, I must at the very least, stretch and steam. This way I’m moving my body and sweating (which is very important if you want young, glowing skin) at at least a little bit.

I’ll usually do a yoga flow by Charity Grace on YouTube. After about twenty minutes I’ll sit in the steam room and stay in there until I’ve released a few of the bevy of sinful thoughts that live inside of me.

5. The ‘too good for the subway, but too poor for a taxi’ workout.

zara barrie life coach new york

As a lifelong city girl, this has been the staple exercise routine in my life, without me even realizing it. I stumbled into this life because loathe the subway. I once had a panic attack on the 6 train and it’s been hard for me to step on a train platform ever since. That was almost ten years ago.


I can’t afford to be taking taxis every single day, you know? That shit will add up in any city! So I vowed to myself a few years ago that I was going to walk to work every day in lieu of public transport. I lived on 92nd and Lexington. My office was on 23rd and sixth. That’s about four miles.

I did that four-mile walk every single morning regardless of the weather. I quickly grew to love it. Walking through the city is exhilarating and inspiring and reminded me as to why I pay through the roof to live in New York. I made specific playlists for my walks. I listened to a slew of podcasts and self-help books. I called my friend who lived in London and had a weekly catch-up. It was the only time in my day that I truly had to devote to myself.

And this is also when I had that hot six-story walk-up ass. This was one of the happiest times in my life, babes (a good ass will really lift your spirits).

Now I'm living in Venice, California, and walk to the Santa Monica stairs most days (a 152ish step, outdoor wooden staircase on Adelaide Drive).

santa monica stairs

So if you’re in a walkable city, or town, or anywhere really—make a commitment to walk as much as possible. I've been living the walking life for half a decade now and it's kept me mentally and physically fitter than I've ever been. Walking was the first leisurely exercise that transformed my body, helped to lift my depression and gave me precious TIME to scheme and dream about my next move.

Tell me, darlings—what is your favorite leisurely workout?

Check out my podcast: GORGEOUS LITTLE GUT PUNCHES. Available on all podcast platforms! Click below to listen on Apple Podcasts:

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To get deeper insight into Zara's mental health philosophies, check out her critically acclaimed debut book: GIRL, STOP PASSING OUT IN YOUR MAKEUP: THE BAD GIRL'S GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR SH*T TOGETHER. Available wherever books are sold. Link to Barnes and Noble, link to Amazon.

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Ready to make a change? Book a coaching session here.

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