WORTHINGTON A lifetime of prioritizing movement prepared Anita Leach for her ultimate 2020 challenge: teaching fitness classes online during the pandemic.

"I’ve always said, ‘If your mind is healthy, your body’s healthy, and if your body’s healthy, your mind is healthy,’” said Leach, a former hair stylist who has been a fitness instructor at the Worthington Area YMCA for the past three years.

“Even years ago, when I went to beauty school, it was never about the distance I ran or walked,” she clarified.

“Exercise just made me feel better. Fitting in time for exercise made me a nicer mom and wife and a better, happier person.”

That positive attitude has helped Leach weather two surgeries since 2017 to alleviate pain in her thumbs resulting from her 32 years of curling and cutting.

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“I had arthritis and joint degeneration in my thumbs,” reported Leach.

So in December 2019, after having surgery on her right thumb, Leach was taking a necessary break from teaching Silver Sneakers and chair yoga classes at the Y. Trista Jacobs, a fellow fitness instructor, filled in.

“Trista had been teaching my senior classes, and when I got back from a month in Florida I texted her, ‘I’m home, let me know when I should start teaching again,’” said Leach.

That was …. March 16.

“And basically, the Y and the world shut down,” laughed Leach.

She was prepared to simply keep nursing her hand when Jacobs urged her to begin teaching her classes online.

But the 56-year-old Leach, who gives herself a low grade in the tech department, was hesitant.

“I didn’t even have a Facebook account,” she admitted, “and I didn’t have a clue about Facebook Live.”

YMCA staff, including Jacobs and Cory Greenway, tried to bring her up to speed. Ultimately, it was her millennial daughter, Dena, who helped her make sense of it all.

“I thought I could handle doing it twice a week,” Leach said, not realizing at the outset her online presence would be required for months.

Her regular class participants, ranging in age from their late 60s to early 90s, were clamoring for exercise guidance and missing their group.

“We have some really faithful people,” said Leach.

Leach is amused when remembering the steep learning curve she climbed while learning to offer a meaningful live-streamed exercise experience.

“I had to learn to talk to myself as if they were in front of me, look at myself on camera and try to throw some humor into it,” said Leach.

“It was challenging, and I had to laugh at myself, but I got the hang of it.”

Soon Leach had nine to 13 enthusiastic seniors logging in, whether in real time or at their convenience, to attend her chair yoga or Silver Sneakers classes.

“Chair yoga is primarily about stretching and a little balancing,” explained Leach. “It’s basically yoga, but you’re not doing it on a floor mat.

‘The Silver Sneakers class involves cardio, balance work, strength training and some stretching. Each class lasts about 45 minutes.”

Although yoga balls and traditional weights are typically used at the gym, Leach encouraged her online participants to employ everyday items to enhance their at-home workouts.

“You can use water bottles or soup cans,” she mentioned.

The YMCA reopened in July, at which time Leach resumed in-person classes. Workouts shifted back online in November, and this month the Y is again offering in-person classes, albeit with number and safety restrictions.

As 2021 unfolds, Leach is an online pro, currently balancing her in-person classes with a live-stream aspect for those who still feel safer exercising at home.

“They’re a positive group of people and really faithful,” praised Leach of her students.

“I’m there to keep them moving; they come both for the social contact and the exercise.”

Leach builds on the positivity that naturally proceeds from physical exertion.

“I always ask, ‘Did you feel good about it?’ and I tell them, ‘Put a check in that box; you got your exercise in and you’re good for the day,’” she said.

Leach practiced what she preached to her class members, tackling the technological challenges that came her way in 2020 while maintaining the flow of positivity.

“Find some way to keep your body moving,” she exhorted. “Get outside, walk around the block, get some sunshine.

“Whatever you do, keep your body and mind active and move, move, move.”

Leach’s Silver Sneakers classes are online at the Worthington Area YMCA’s Facebook page, live at 9 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday and on-demand thereafter.