Fitting in Fitness: Assistant Dean Sarah Simmons

Written by ROSE NGUYEN

Wondering how busy people stay healthy and active? In this interview, Dr. Sarah Simmons, Assistant Dean for Honors, Research and International Studies, discusses her workout plan, how she views fitness, and resources she uses to help her get on track. She also shares her inspirational views on self-care and motivation.

What is your typical workout routine? Do you also have a specific food plan that goes with it?

I try to work out most days, with lighter workouts during the week (1/2 -1 hour) and “long” workouts on the weekend (2-3 hours running or biking).  I try to have at least one “rest day” – usually Monday after one of the long weekend workouts. Depending on my focus and the season, those workouts involve strength training (often a class), yoga, swimming, biking, or running. I don’t have a specific food plan [but I do use MyFitnessPal; see below].

What is the most fun way to be active?

For, me it is to keep variety in my practice, and to set goals that scare you a little.  I usually have a race or two a year that I register for because simply finishing it will challenge me (and motivate me to work out when I’d rather not). I love to exercise with other people; I have running partners, riding partners, people I swim with, but I never let the workout become about them or the friendship.  Exercise is something very personal and is a gift to myself.

How do you manage busy weeks when you have a lot of administrative duties to deal with?

I schedule my workouts before anything else on my calendar at the beginning of the semester.  When things get crazy, I might lose one or two in a week, but not all of them. I remind myself continually that I do better intellectual work when my body is healthy (long term) but also when I’ve given it a break and exercised.  I come back to problems refreshed and often with new ideas for solving them.

What is your motivation that keeps you going?

Honestly, sanity. Life is hard, and complicated, and can get you down.  The best way to keep those things at bay and give yourself a mental and emotional treat is to exercise.  Registering for races (road races, triathlons, etc.) as an age-grouper (someone who pays but isn’t an elite athlete in contention to win) helps me keep regular workouts as a priority.  When other things crash in on my workout time, knowing I have a race coming up helps me put the workout back on the schedule somewhere.

What practical tips do you have for students who want to start incorporating working out into their lives?

My best advice is to lower your expectations and just start. When I’ve been off for a few weeks or fallen out of a routine, I think I can just hop back in full-throttle, but that is nearly impossible. Successfully working exercise into a busy life requires preparation, efficiency, planning, and flexibility.  And you can’t just snap all those things into place on a whim. So, at first, I dial way back and aim for something I can do. Sometimes I even have to start with something as simple as “run a mile” or “pack your workout bag,” and ramp up slowly, understanding that these baby steps are on the path back to where I want to be.

How do you think the discipline to maintain your physical health affects other areas of your life?

Self-care is important in every aspect of life. Things you learn about yourself through exercise and physical challenges give you confidence and a determination to persevere when life becomes particularly challenging. I work full-time and have two teenagers, but the time I spend on my health is almost like a savings account where I put energy that I then get to spend on my kids, my husband, my work, or my friends.

Do you use any resources, like phone apps or websites, to guide or keep track of your workouts?

When I’m training for a race, I make and keep a plan on a paper calendar I print out just for that purpose. [I use] highlighters to indicate the type of training I hope to do on that day (swim, bike, run, strength).  Then I fill in what I did that day as a little “congratulations.”  And, as I mentioned before, exercise has to be blocked on my official calendar in advance if there is any chance of me making it fit. For pace and distance, I use both MapMyRun and MapMyRide. For strength when I travel, I use the Nike Training Club app (great in a hotel or just at home). And, I’ve recently started using MyFitnessPal which has been really useful to understand how I eat and how I need to eat – for example, I often eat too few calories during the day, especially if I workout, and this app helps remind me to eat more, making my day more productive and helping me feel good.

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