Samantha Harris is the charismatic, super fit and Emmy Award-winning television host you may know best from Dancing with the Stars and Entertainment Tonight.
And for the M&F Hers family, she's also a much-celebrated series cover star, gracing the cover no fewer than four times. But when a shock diagnosis of breast cancer forced her to take a step back to beat the disease in 2014, Harris was forced to regain her confidence and rebuild a strained relationship with exercise.
Thankfully, she's now fighting fit and has made it her life's work to study the effects of activity and finding ways to keep us healthy, inspiring countless cancer sufferers through her inspirational health coaching and upbeat Instagram posts. At 49, Harris says reevaluating her relationship with fitness has never made her feel healthier, and she's excited to collaborate on a new yoga program that will get you moving again, just like she did .
"On the first Muscle & Fitness Hers cover I did [in July 2002], I was literally the fitness model on hire," says Harris, who returned to cover as a TV star in her own right in 2004, 2005 and 2008. "When I got out of college, I figured fitness out for me. I realized that underneath that soft Minnesota body was actually that muscle I was discovering that I had no idea was there! I loved getting stronger. I loved the feeling of it and it was so empowering."
When Samantha Harris got knocked down, she came back stronger
After being diagnosed with invasive stage II breast cancer at the age of 40, Harris' confidence took a devastating blow, not least because she always considered herself fit and healthy before the disease. "Being caught unawares by a cancer diagnosis was, as you can imagine, incredibly shocking," she says. "The biggest challenge I've had and I'm sure my surgeon laughed at me because when I woke up after the surgery it wasn't, 'Hey, did everything go well?' it was, 'Hey, when can I start exercising again?'”
However, as millions of people around the world can attest, getting back to physical activity after a while is easier said than done. "I had to limit my mobility for six weeks," says Harris. "I had three surgeries, so it was six weeks before I was able to get back to the gym." Even after she returned to sport, there were complex challenges ahead that many cancer survivors will surely relate to. "There was so much uncertainty about getting fit again," Harris bravely shares. “I had a double mastectomy (where both breasts were removed at the same time) so my entire chest wall had to undergo very expensive and traumatic surgery. I had 11 lymph nodes (organs that contain cells for the immune system) removed from my arm, which meant I was incredibly restricted in my movement. 8 years later, I still very rarely do a full, wide push-up.”
Harris began her physical advances with a lot of manual stimulation, such as stretching, and became passionate about learning about the causes and cures for chronic diseases. Her book, Your Healthiest Healthy, debuted as an Amazon bestseller and was praised by celebrities like Kris Jenner and Brooke Burke. But being active isn't just for celebrities and the fit and strong. Harris wants her cancer patients to reap the benefits, too, and she says yoga is a valuable tool in helping her do just that.
To that end, the popular presenter has teamed up with Susan G. Komen and YogaWorks to launch YogaWorks Pink. The program offers three months of free live and on-demand yoga classes led by top experts in yoga and regenerative health. "I really could have used a program like this," says Harris, who is now a professional health coach and Susan G. Komen's national ambassador.
Samantha Harris believes yoga is great for building strength and confidence
Yoga has long been shown to offer multiple benefits for cancer survivors. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that yoga reduced fatigue in breast cancer survivors, with participants reporting a significant improvement in their quality of life after a 12-week yoga program. In addition, more active activity is likely to benefit sleep quality, cardiovascular fitness, and overall well-being in cancer survivors. In general, yoga is considered a safe and effective adjunctive therapy for cancer survivors and can be easily adapted to individual needs and abilities. Simply seek the advice of a doctor if you are unsure of your individual circumstances.
"I know that sport has become so much of my identity for me," says Harris, who is also featured as the host of Game Show Network's "Tug of Words." “I feel like myself when I move my body. I'm more productive when I work out. I am calmer, more patient and more present. All of this was self-evident prior to my diagnosis, but since cancer, I've realized the importance of incorporating even more stress-reducing techniques to keep that inflammation that results from chronic stress at bay. Post cancer, yoga has allowed me to reclaim my body, work on my balance and endurance. And the poses offered by YogaWorks Pink have been customized to meet the specific needs of the breast cancer community.”
Samantha Harris has redefined her relationship with health and fitness
Far from having her relationship with health and fitness destroyed by her cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgeries, Samantha Harris has redefined what it means to her to be strong, and these days it's about far more than just magazine covers. "When I was hosting Dancing with the Stars and all my entertainment news shows, I just wanted to look good in a dress on TV," she says. "When I returned to sport after my cancer, I realized that I needed to train my body so I could feel what my body could do for me. How can this body, this one vessel that I have for a lifetime, carry me through what I hope will be a very long life? physically and mentally fit to hopefully one day be able to play with my grandchildren? That is the goal that drives me forward.”
Learn more about YogaWorks Pink and sign up for free here!