There’s more to the good life at the LiveWell Expo

JAZZ IT UP: Susan Welch and Mackenzie Jones teamed up to lead demonstrations in the Jazzercise booth at the LiveWell Expo last month. Photo by Anna Wilcox

From live entertainment to cooking demonstations, the fourth annual News 13’s LiveWell Expo opened a window onto a multitude of ways Asheville locals can live well. Held in late March at the WNC Agricultural Center, the expo featured over 120 vendors who shared health care and physical fitness information to large crowds visiting their booths.

Xpress talked with several participants before and during the expo about how people can live the good life in ways they might not have imagined.

“There are many factors in life to living healthy,” said Hiliary Parham, marketing manager for WLOS News 13 and director of the expo since its flagship year in 2014. Parham was the VIP behind the scenes this year, organizing vendor outreach and setting up the 27,750 square feet of indoor exhibit space. Parham advertised the for-sale booths to a broad range of lifestyle businesses, medical facilities and nonprofits.

Last year, the expo saw more than 9,000 visitors. This time around, 11,000 visitors checked out the expo.

Parham noted, “If your money’s not in order, then your mentality might not be healthy.” Attendees seemed to get the connection of finances to health. Asheville Savings Bank’s booth had one of the longest lines at the expo; at least 30 people were queued up to chat with employees and take home free swag. A sponsor of the expo, along with Ingles and Mission Health, the bank gave away white and blue piggy banks, signifying its goal to promote the idea of saving money.

Aimee Sprinkel, the bank’s vice president and director of marketing and communications, cited a 2015 American Psychological Association study to clarify why financial health matters. “In the study, the thing that most people worried about is finances, ahead of work, family and health,” she said. “If people are stressed out, they’re more likely to smoke, to overeat, to drink, to not exercise. All of those things contribute to diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

“It’s amazing how connected financial health and overall wellness are,” Sprinkel continued. “If you’re having trouble paying your bills, or having problems with your credit, that constant stress causes so many problems in emotional, personal and physical health.”

Sprinkel loves her job because of the genuinely local focus of the bank. “It’s rare to find a company that really tries to do what’s right,” she said. “All the money that comes in through deposits goes back out through loans locally.” The bank’s 160 employees in its 13 banking centers volunteer more than 800 hours a month at more than 80 organizations, most of which provide basic needs, she said. “If people don’t have the basic needs to survive  — if they don’t have nutritious food every day, if they don’t have a place to live — you can’t expect people to thrive. That has been the platform of the bank, and that’s what does the most to contribute to good financial health and overall physical wellness.”

Sprinkel also discussed what can happen when people live beyond their means. “Unfortunately, some people don’t have the financial tools to manage their budgets and put together a savings plan,” Sprinkel said. “It’s not always based on income. Some people have never focused on that. It just gets away from them, and then they realize that they can’t pay that bill.”

Helping people gain knowledge of their finances is a big part of the reason the bank sponsors the expo every year, Sprinkel said. “When people hear the name LiveWell Expo, they always think about physical fitness or medical care. But a huge part of living well is trying to help people with their finances and show them that there is a local facility here that has people who can advise them.”

Parham, a competitive Crossfit athlete, spoke personally about the medical benefits the expo can provide. She revealed that she had a persistent health issue in 2016 but  was able to heal when a doctor she met at the expo helped her change her diet.

“I had strep throat for three months,” Parham says. “I went to a doctor from the health expo, and he fixed my immune system. When we did blood and urine tests. I had zero vitamin C in my body. I was eating so many sweet potatoes, which are high in vitamin C, but I can’t process sweet potatoes. As a Crossfit athlete, I’m downing three protein shakes a day, but I can’t process whey protein. [The doctor] gave me vegan plant-based enzymes that helped me digest my food so I could get the nutrients to my organs and systems. So my whole nutrition changed.”

Laurie Stradley, director of wellness for Mission Health Systems, staffed the Mission booth, along with representatives from 11 departments — among them healthy weight, nicotine cessation and Mission Children’s Hospital.

“The LiveWell Expo was incredibly well-attended,” Stradley said. “We saw people from across the region, from all walks of life. The focus of the Mission Health System booth was to share all of the ways that we can meet people where they are and support them in their journey to be well, get well and stay well.”  Some of its giveaways included eye masks, water bottles and coupons for wellness services such as massage therapy and acupuncture.

Stradley emphasized the importance of her role for Mission’s nearly 12,000 employees. “There is no one that comes into the system that isn’t related to a nurse or lives next door to the intake clinician. We are our community,” she said. “It’s really important to us to be connected in all the different ways that we can. That’s why events like LiveWell give us a chance to see each other outside of that clinical setting and see our neighbors and our friends. That was a really fun part of LiveWell, seeing my colleagues watch one of their cousins walk by or a first-grade teacher. Mission can be seen as this large organization that is a part of Western North Carolina, but I think we forget that personal level sometimes. That’s why those kinds of events are so much fun.”

Asheville Humane Society’s booth featured Adam Cotton, manager of Community Alliances, and his furry friend, a gray pit bull named Memphis. “Our goal is to let the community know how important it is for our animals in our community to live a life worth living,” Cotton says. “[Our] being here is another way to show that animals can really improve the health of the people in our community.

“One initiative within the [Community Solutions] department that is making a huge impact is Community Pets, a program where staff literally go door to door in targeted underserved communities, providing spay/neuter vouchers, vaccines, flea and tick preventive and various other lifesaving services to pets,” said Cotton. “We’re in our second year of this program and have served hundreds of pets in need.”

PETS FOR HEALTH: Adam Cotton and pit bull Memphis share a loving moment at the Asheville Humane Society. Photo by Pam Burgess

Cotton has spent six years working for animal shelters around the country and nearly two more working for Asheville Humane Society. “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he said. “Nothing is more rewarding than knowing that your work has led to a shelter pet getting adopted to their forever home.”

Susan Welch, owner of Jazzercise South Asheville and fourth-time expo participant, admitted she struggled to keep up in her first Jazzercise class but had fun and kept going. “I knew if ladies 20 years older than I could move like that, then I could too,” Welch said. “The more classes I took, the more I loved it. The instructors made it fun, and it was a great workout. I lost all of my ‘freshman 15,’ toned up, and was back to my high school size, which I maintain today. I felt good about myself because of how I looked and felt. Seeing the results and loving the supportive, fun classes and instructors, I wondered if maybe I could teach it one day.”

Welch did just that, opening Jazzercise South Asheville in March 2006 as the lone instructor and then moving into a larger location on Sweeten Creek Road in August 2007. The class offerings and staff have grown exponentially, she said. “We offer 25 weekly fitness classes and have a dedicated team of nine instructors, all of whom share my passion for Jazzercise,” Welch said.

Welch and her Hendersonville/Flat Rock counterpart, Mackenzie Jones, said they enjoy performing dance moves onstage at the expo and seeing fresh faces each year, even as they combat old stereotypes. “Some people have the misconception of what Jazzercise is because of what it used to be back in the ’70s and ’80s. There are videos all over the Internet of what it used to look like. I cringe when I see them,” Welch said.

“But cars do not look the same as they did back then. Clothes don’t, hairstyles don’t, house decor doesn’t. Jazzercise has evolved with the times, and what’s hot and new today and on-trend will change, and we will continue to change.” Welch credited the expo for creating visibility. “Hopefully, it will motivate people to be active and live a better, healthier life through movement,” she said.

But some instructional platforms don’t lend themselves easily to demonstration. Arnaldo Alvarez, owner of Hard Exercise Works in South Asheville since  2015, paid for a booth in 2016 at the request of Evan Donovan, weekend anchor of WLOS News 13. Donovan worked out five days a week at HEW and lost more than 40 pounds in five weeks as he prepared for the expo last year. But Alvarez said he wasn’t successful selling his gym to the public there.

“I found that it was more difficult than I thought trying to convince people to do what we do here,” Alvarez said. “We had a workout sample at our booth, and it was hard to convince someone to give it a shot. We have this all-inclusive community at the gym, and we thought the expo was going to be a great way to introduce that. But a 10-by-10 booth is just not enough room for people to see what we can do.”

But Alvarez says he appreciates what the LiveWell Expo can introduce into people’s lives. “I think it’s a great way for people who are interested in changing their lives to peer into the window and see what’s out there, what’s available to them,” he said. “I think the LiveWell Expo does a lot of good things, and for the size of it, they do a great job.”


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