If there was ever a woman who has done it all, it’s Jessica Matthews! Her resume includes Exercise Physiologist, fitness blogger, yoga instructor, adjunct professor and spokesperson for ACE (American Council on Exercise).
With so many roles, Jessica knows all about balance (both literally and figuratively!). Learn more about her background and how she teaches other women to live a balanced life.
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Tell our community about yourself and about your journey that brought you where you are today in the fitness industry.
I got started in the fitness industry at the age of fifteen working in a privately owned female-only gym in the town I went to high school in.
A friend of mine told me about the job which came at a perfect time in my life as I had put on about 15 pounds and was really starting to pay more attention to my own health and fitness, so I thought working in a gym would be a great way for me to expand my knowledge while connecting with like-minded people.
What started out as job working the front desk folding towels and cleaning bathrooms turned into something much, much more, as by the age of sixteen I was teaching group fitness classes at a number of gyms throughout the area (name a type of group fitness class and I taught it — everything from step and kickboxing, to aqua fitness and indoor cycling, and everything in between with my trusty cassette tapes in hand) and by the age of eighteen I was working with clients as a personal trainer.
Honestly from the moment that I taught my first group fitness class, I knew that I would have a career in health and fitness, as I loved the opportunity to make people smile and to motivate, educate, and inspire them on their health and fitness journeys. And honestly, teaching just came so naturally to me.
It was because of this that I made the decision to pursue both my bachelors and masters degrees in physical education, as I felt it perfectly combined my love of health and fitness with my passion for teaching, and I also ultimately aspired to teach at the collegiate level—something that I’ve actually been doing now part-time for the last three years and loving every minute of it.
How did you get into yoga, and how has that impacted your view on fitness for not only yourself, but also as a group instructor?
I actually got into yoga about ten years ago. At that time the place that I was teaching group fitness classes at had a yoga class that was held immediately after my kickboxing class, and one night the instructor invited me to stay and take class.
I remember honestly being a bit unsure about yoga at first since I was so accustomed to taking and teaching classes that were all about breaking a sweat to upbeat music, so the change of pace definitely took some getting used to.
But once I saw what profound benefits a regular yoga practice provided, both physically (specifically better balance and improved flexibility, both of which were things I needed from years and years of teaching and performing intense workouts) and mentally/spiritually (enhanced clarity and calm, a new perspective on life, and a true connection between mind, body, and spirit) I realized that yoga was the missing piece in my life.
I honestly can still remember to this day the very moment in class when the ujjayi breath finally “clicked” for me and the first time I was really able to be truly present on my mat for a full 60 minutes.
Yoga, in all aspects, absolutely changed my personal view on what wellness is all about (it’s much more than just the physical, although that is an important piece, too) and I began to shift my focus and energy to really understanding and learning more about yoga and ultimately becoming a yoga teacher.
Being a yoga teacher for the last eight years has absolutely changed my life and every single day it brings me such joy and at the same time helps to keep me so humbled in everything that I do.
I personally have taken so many of the things I’ve learned from yoga, both on and off of my mat, and have applied them to the work that I do in the fitness world.
Yoga has also been instrumental in helping me in my personal life, especially over the last four years amidst the unexpected passing of two of my closest family members, and I truly credit the things that I’ve learned through my journey as a yoga teacher and student for being able to help me make sense of the bigger picture of life while enabling me to find my unique place in this world where I can give back and have as much of a positive impact as possible.
Tell us about your role as Exercise Physiologist at ACE.
I’ve had the honor of working for the American Council on Exercise for the last 7+ years, and let’s just say that during my time with ACE I’ve worn quite a number of different hats!
From having involvement in reviewing, developing, and delivering continuing education to fitness professionals to overseeing ACE’s Certification Department, I’ve had the opportunity and privilege of being involved in so many aspects of the organization.
In my current role as Exercise Physiologist, I work within ACE’s Public Outreach Department in which I develop science-based health and fitness content (articles, blog posts, videos, educational materials, etc.) for the general public, which speaks to ACE’s mission of enriching quality of life through safe and effective exercise and physical activity.
I also serve as a spokesperson and educator for ACE, in which I speak to the media and at various conferences and events all about health and fitness, which is something I could do (and actually get to do!) all day long!
What are some of the rules you follow regarding nutrition?
I personally follow a mostly plant-based diet (I’ve been a pescetarian for many years), eating dairy products and seafood on a limited basis.
I opt for whole foods as much as possible (I’m pretty much obsessed with fruits and veggies) and I like to limit the amount of refined sugars, processed foods, and caffeine that I consume.
I opt for smaller “mini meals” throughout the day, and I apply the science of nutrient timing to my pre- and post-workout snack options.
I’m a big believer and advocator of the fact that eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming (I actually just wrote a post for my Weight Watchers blog “Fit for Life” on this exact topic), and it’s something that I personally put into practice in my own life so that I can hopefully lead others by example.
I think there is a lot of confusion about what it means to “eat clean” and I love having the opportunity to help demystify the many misconceptions people have and am humbled to be able to show people just how easy and tasty healthy eating can actually be!
You have a great list of highlights that you’ve been able to experience in your career. What are your future ambitions?
Wow, I don’t even know where to begin! First and foremost thank you for your kind words about some of my career highlights — I’m honestly still humbled by every opportunity and experience I’ve had in my career thus far, and I think I’ll always be that way no matter what I do.
As far as what I aspire to do in the future, I really would love to continue doing a lot of the things that I’m doing right now—blogging about health and fitness, writing articles for various websites and publications, creating YouTube videos, conducting media interviews, teaching at the collegiate level, presenting at various conferences and events, teaching yoga and continuing to collaborate with some of my amazing and inspirational peers in the fitness industry.
In addition to that, I’d love to perhaps one day produce some fitness DVDs, author a book or two, host my own TV show (or have a regularly weekly spot on an existing show talking about health and fitness), start a yoga retreat in a different country (I love to travel and experience different cultures), and most importantly, leverage some of the great work that I’m doing in the health, fitness, and yoga worlds to bring awareness to various causes, as I’m a big believer in giving back as much as possible.
On that note, I’ve actually got something in the works right now that I’m really excited about so stay tuned for more info on that!
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