Maria Menounos felt as if she’d been hit by a brick. Already stressed with the responsibilities of her dad Constantinos’ diabetes and mom Litsa’s battle with stage IV brain cancer, “I just didn’t feel like myself,” the entertainment industry vet tells Us Weekly. Then she learned she had a brain tumor. “It was like, ‘OK, I get the message,’” she recalls of the February diagnosis.
Two months post-surgery, the 39-year-old, engaged to producer Keven Undergaro, has recalibrated her life. “What this has done,” explains Menounos, “is shift my focus into more of like a mind, body, spiritual kind of grounding that needs to happen.” And that meant rethinking priorities.
“Having a healthy lifestyle was always important for me,” says Menounos. “I think this has convinced me to give myself more time, mentally, to breathe.” For starters, her therapist suggested nurturing more female connections. “It’s not that I don’t have female friends — I was just working,” recalls the Sirius XM host. “There was never, ‘Hey, let’s have drinks!’ It was always work, work, work.”
Now she’s shifted to scheduling her career responsibilities around her life, instead of vice versa. And she’s carving out more time for herself. As she prepares to return to work after Labor Day (Undergaro built a studio in their home), she’s also easing back into her preferred form of exercise: Pure Barre.
Especially during recovery, she wanted to ease her body back into exercise and build strength without feeling overwhelmed, which is exactly what she gets from the routines. “I’m desperately trying to get to a place where I can start getting back again and start doing it because I think this will be the easiest thing I could do,” she explains of the low-impact sequences. “It doesn’t require a lot of moving around and shifting and stuff, so it’s like, you get in your position, you hold it and so I’m just kind of waiting to get back on my feet to be able to jump back on board.”
Another bonus: It caters to her therapist’s request to build a broader network of female friends. “I loved the first time I went in there,” she says of the workout, which she took up before her surgery. “You get a sense of community and you don’t have to feel like you look like an idiot because it’s all like simple movements that you just have to hold. When you’re in these classes with these other women it really is an awesome experience.”
It also helps that she knows she’ll see results. “You feel like a million bucks when you’re done and it really makes such a difference in your body,” she says of the strength-training moves. “It kind of speaks to me because I’ve always done everything in smaller ways — like when I lost weight, I did it really gradually and really slowly and same thing with this. It’s small movements and they give you big changes, and so I feel like that’s why I really gravitate to this so much.”
With wedding planning underway, life is just as busy outside of both studios. Menounos and Undergaro are “definitely thinking sooner rather than later” for their nuptials. “A few weeks after I was home from surgery, I was like, “‘We need to get married! We need to have kids! I can’t wait anymore.’ But it’s like, ‘Alright, let’s get better first.’”
So far, she knows it’ll be a huge celebration. “We talked about a Star Trek wedding in L.A., a carnival in Connecticut and something massive in our village in Greece where we invite the entire country,” she reveals. “I was like, “Yup, that’s probably why we’re never getting married. These are three monster weddings.”
But regardless of how it happens, she knows she picked the perfect partner. “Keven would always tell me how strong I was. I never really believed him, but I one zillion percent understand now,” she shares. “I can take a good hit.”