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Tips to stay fit during a pandemic

Q&A with Beth Sanderson Hooper: Teacher, Mom and Fitness Extraordinaire 

RUMBLE: Have you always been into fitness? 

Beth Sanderson Hooper: My parents set really good examples for my brothers and me and always made space in their lives for fitness. I think as parents we sometimes feel guilty for giving ourselves that time, but it's so important! I was a runner in high school and college, a real "cardio bunny!" In college I worked at UNC's student recreation center, and my mentors there encouraged me to get my group fitness and spin certifications. At this point, I guess I've been teaching group fitness in some capacity for over 20 years, which is crazy to me! My love of traditional cardio eventually evolved into an obsession with all things HIIT - high intensity interval training. Over the past five years, I've slowly become a weight lifter, and I've seen more physical change from that than anything else. With the right nutrition in place to support your weight training, women (and men!) can make real and lasting changes to their physiques. This summer I was certified as a personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and my passion now is educating women about fitness and nutrition. There's so much misinformation out there, and it's designed to keep us confused, frustrated, and ashamed. (But that's a discussion for another day!)


RUMBLE: What are your favorite types of workouts and why? 

Hooper: Like I said, I used to be a cardio-only kind of girl. And there's nothing wrong with running, if you like to run, or spinning, or whatever other form of heart-pumping cardio you love. But there is absolutely no reason you should feel obligated to engage in any form of exercise that you find unenjoyable (hello, treadmill, we're looking at you!). However, I will always be a huge advocate for having some weight training in your fitness routine because I know the impact it has on your overall health and longevity. The more muscle tissue you have, the higher your metabolic rate, which translates into all sorts of good news for maintaining a healthy body composition (body composition, remember, is WAY more important than weight on a scale). Having more muscle means you can continue to do the things you love even as you age. Weight training improves posture and muscle compensations that can lead to injury. Weight training also promotes bone retention and growth, preventing and even reversing osteoporosis. And, gosh, I just love the way it makes me look and feel! Getting stronger and actually being able to see yourself progressing is such a huge motivator. And by the way, if you're lifting heavy and pushing yourself, your heart rate can really get up there, so it can double as a cardiovascular workout as well.


RUMBLE: You’ve been a longtime member and fitness instructor at Haywood Regional Health and Fitness Center. With gyms closed due to COVID-19, what are you missing most?


Hooper: The thing I'm missing most about working and working out at the fitness center is definitely the people. The bonds you build with people when you are pushing yourself to get uncomfortable and maybe do something you never thought you could are some pretty strong bonds. I miss the adrenaline of a good bootcamp class, the camaraderie, and the laughs. 

RUMBLE: How have you stayed fit during the pandemic? Hooper: I know it's hard for a lot of people to stay motivated when things are so out of whack, so even though I write training plans for other people, I hired a coach to write home training plans for me. It's motivating to try and beat your reps or weight from the previous week, and it's also nice to not have to think about what you're going to do that day — it's already been decided for you. I've lifted weights at home five days a week and incorporated a lot of walking. People don't realize the impact your non-exercise activity (NEAT) has on your day, but it's huge. Think about it, you spend an hour working out, so sure, you can burn a relatively decent number of calories in that hour. But, there are perhaps 8 more active hours in your day, so the activity you're doing — cleaning, walking to your car, playing with your kids, gardening, fidgeting — these all add up! 


RUMBLE: What advice would you give folks who are having a hard time with gyms being closed? 

Hooper: First of all, I think we all deserve some grace. These are stressful times for a multitude of reasons, and I know many of us need the gym to help work through that stress. Physical activity releases endorphins, and when you no longer have that outlet to make you feel good, you might turn to other coping mechanisms that aren't so healthy. So, yes, I think you need to focus on feeling good and allowing yourself grace for maybe not adhering to the healthiest lifestyle lately. Start by making time for a walk outside. Being outside will instantly make you feel better, and the movement makes your body happy, too. Take a little time to plan your meals for the day. Try to get in about 30 grams of protein at each meal and choose nutrient dense food that makes your body feel good (side note: just because a food is good for my body doesn't mean your body will thrive on it as well — we are all different in that regard, so listen to what your body is telling you). Drink water! If you aren't drinking water throughout the day, I guarantee you aren't feeling as good as you could. Shoot for about one gallon per day. Pay attention to fiber and how well your body is digesting the foods you're choosing. If you are moving some every day, eating adequate protein, drinking enough water, and choosing nutrient dense foods, you are going to feel much better. And remember, our bodies are smart and they are resilient. The progress you made in the gym is not lost forever. Take care of yourself now so that when you can go back, you are in the perfect place to smash those gym goals!


RUMBLE: What are some ways people can stay fit while being at home?

Hooper: Hiring a coach to write workout plans for you is a luxury, I know. If hiring a coach isn't feasible for you, make yourself a plan! First decide how many days you can realistically work out; you don't want to set yourself up for failure. Also, decide what kinds of workouts you really enjoy — do you love running? Walking? Yoga? Biking? Hiking? I would make at least two of your weekly workouts strength-based and the rest whatever other form of activity you love. To plan your weighted workouts, you'll have to take stock of what you have at home, but you'd be surprised at what you can do with just your bodyweight! If I was only doing two strength workouts per week, I'd make them both full body workouts, so a mix of upper and lower body exercises — think body weight squats, push-ups, lunges, triceps dips. You can also get a lot of versatility out of resistance bands — they're great for biceps curls, upright rows, back rows, and shoulder presses. The most important thing is to make yourself a realistic plan IN WRITING. Create workouts you enjoy and workouts that will keep you strong. And then challenge yourself to progress every week — record the number of reps you do. You’ll be so proud when you see yourself going from 5 push-ups to 10. 

Beth Sanderson Hooper is an English teacher at Haywood Early College. She and her husband live in Haywood County with their young daughter. When gyms open back up, you can catch Beth at Haywood Regional Health and Fitness center lifting weights, teaching classes and encouraging her fitness buddies to work hard and challenge themselves. 

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