2023 Top Health, Wellness and Fitness Influencers

When it comes to making New Year’s resolutions, many of us renew our commitment to improving our health. In fact, five of the eight most popular resolutions of 2022 focused on fitness. As you begin your 2023 journey, get inspired by these 10 top health and wellness trendsetters to reach your goals this year.

Emily Sisson, Distance Runner

Flagstaff, Arizona

Photo courtesy of USATF

“Not every day is perfect; not every workout is great,” says distance runner Emily Sisson, who finished second in the 2022 Chicago Marathon with the NACAC record breaking time of 2:18:29. “There are some days when I’m feeling better than others, but I’m highly motivated. I like my job.” 

Sisson started running in middle school when a friend on her soccer team asked her to try track to build their fitness. She turned pro in college and decided to chase the goal of becoming an Olympian. “I saw my dream fulfilled with the help of a lot of other people.” 

Sisson finished as the top American — in 10th place — in the women’s 10,000-meter race at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics after breaking records at the Olympics trials. She changes up her motivation each time she competes. “Every race brings out something different in me,” she explains. “I may be trying to run a record or my personal best time or I may not care about time and only be focused on my competition.”  

Sisson usually trains with her husband, Shane Quinn, a mental health counselor, who ran for a few years after college. “Having him there helps me run faster,” she says. “He helps me keep my pace.” 

When she’s running alone, Sisson says it’s her me-time. “Running is a great outlet. It’s really fun and there are so many positive benefits to this sport.” She continues to challenge herself as she enters more races. “What keeps it interesting for me is switching up the types of races I run.”  

Her new goals include more marathons and competing in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France. “I’d like to keep running through at least the next decade. I don’t know if I’ll accomplish all my goals, but I’ll keep working and keep trying and hopefully will get some of them.” 

Adrienne Smith, Endurance Athlete, Rower

Santa Barbara, California 

Photo by Kim Reierson

It wasn’t the years of playing sports in school in suburban Chicago that propelled Adrienne Smith into becoming a world class athlete. It was her dread of sitting in traffic during her daily commute from Naperville to Downers Grove that inspired her to spend hours in the gym. “I hate wasting time sitting in a car going nowhere,” she says. “So, I would wake up super early and go to the gym next door to my office. That cut my commute from 45 to 20 minutes. Sometimes I’d stay after work and work out again to avoid the afternoon traffic.” 

But working out wasn’t enough for Smith. She decided to set a goal for herself; “I loved working out, but if I’m doing all this biking, running and swimming, why don’t I do a race?” 

Smith qualified to run the Boston and Chicago marathons and decided to use triathlon — an endurance sport that combines swimming, cycling and running — as cross training for these events.

Although she loved participating, Adrienne no longer competes; “It stopped being fun. It wasn’t as invigorating as when I first started.” 

A year ago, Smith’s husband, Jason, the strength and endurance coach for the Lat 35 women’s rowing team suggested a new challenge for the 42-year-old mother of a five-year old daughter: to join three female rowers and cross the Pacific Ocean. Never having rowed before, Smith took her first strokes on water in November 2021 and set off with the team the following June. They rowed from San Francisco to Hawai’i, 2400 nautical miles, in the world record time of 34 days, 14 hours and 11 minutes. 

Smith says, “My teammates, all collegiate rowers, went right back to it, but this was a one-time deal for me.” 

Smith who owns and operates the Power of Your Om yoga studio in Santa Barbara has set a new goal of using her experiences in sports to motivate others through storytelling and public speaking. “Fitness can be life-giving. When we move, we feel better. That impacts our lives today and into the future.” 

Sara Kooperman , CEO of SCW Fitness Education, WATERinMOTION® and S.E.A.T. Fitness 

Wilmette, Illinois & Colorado 

Sara Kooperman started dancing as a three-year-old. She never wanted to stop, but because of an issue with her foot that required surgery, she decided that rather than go pro she would attend college and eventually law school. “I loved dancing,” Kooperman recalls. “The only time I felt good about myself was when I was dancing.” Once she recovered from the foot surgery, Kooperman did start dancing again.  Although given the opportunity to join a touring company, she chose to stay at Macalester College where she was studying political philosophy and literature, and was teaching dance in her spare time. She says, “What started as a love of dance grew into a love of teaching. I realized I could teach anybody how to dance. It’s the movement I love, and anybody can learn to move.” 

Kooperman graduated from Washington University Law School and passed the bar, but instead of practicing law, she opened a fitness business. Now 63, Kooperman is recognized as a leader in the industry. She has launched seven successful MANIA® fitness-professional conventions & business summits, six streaming conferences and over 40 live and online certification programs. Kooperman has also produced more than 600 fitness instructor training videos and is the author of the soon-to-be-published book, Fit for Business. She is the 2022 winner of the Most Innovating Fitness Pro by Fitness Industry Technology Council

Recognizing the importance of movement for older adults, Kooperman is designing programs specifically for this age group. “Now more than ever we need to pay attention to the active agers. By 2030, adults 85 years plus will be the fastest growing segment of the population. We better learn how to take care of ourselves now or we’ll be saddling our kids with our medical expenses.” 

Kooperman acknowledges the connection between strength, fitness and mental well-being. She works with the John W. Brick Foundation which emphasizes fitness as wellness. The Foundation is a sponsor at Kooperman’s conferences where she promotes their work. “Wellness means fitness and that leads to better mental health. It doesn’t have to involve high intensity interval training or heavy-duty weightlifting, just some type of integrated wellness program.” 

Elena Delle Donne, WNBA player, Washington Mystics

Wilmington, Delaware

After sitting out two seasons to recover from a back injury, Elena Delle Donne came back to the WNBA with a vengeance leading the Washington Mystics into the first round of the 2022 WNBA playoff series. The two-time MVP, 2013’s second overall draft  pick, and 2016 Olympic gold medalist was named one of the league’s 25 greatest and  influential players of its 25-year history. She played for the Chicago Sky from 2013 until she was traded to the Mystics in 2017 and led that team to its first WNBA championship in 2019. 

A big reason Delle Donne pushed for the trade was to be geographically closer to her family in Wilmington, Delaware. She did the same in college when she was awarded a basketball scholarship to the University of Connecticut, but decided to attend the University of Delaware. Delle Donne’s older sister Lizzie is blind, deaf and has cerebral palsy and autism. They use touch to communicate, something she could not do from a distance. In a video produced to introduce the Air Deldon — a shoe she designed in partnership with Nike — Delle Donne says, “My sister is the inspiration for all of my choices. She gives me strength. Everyone thinks I carry her, but she’s the one carrying me.” 

The Air Deldon is Nike’s most inclusive basketball shoe and features a collapsible heel, an upper that opens wide for easy entry and a Velcro Ease strap to secure it. 

Delle Donne is a global ambassador for the Special Olympics and the first national ambassador for the Lyme Research Alliance. She has been battling Lyme Disease since 2008. She established the Elena Delle Donne Charitable Foundation to raise funds and awareness of Lyme Disease research and special needs programs. Last March President Biden appointed Delle Donne to co-chair the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition along with world-renowned chef, restaurateur and founder of the World Central Kitchen, José Andrés.

Javier Gutierrez, Strength And Conditioning Coach at Fitness with Javier

Chicago, Illinois 

When Javier Gutierrez was at his lowest point, he made the life-changing decision to get into shape and take care of himself. He recalls, “I was in my mid-twenties and going through a divorce. I was at my heaviest weight, 260 pounds. My mental health wasn’t great. My finances weren’t great. I realized I had to get my life  together.” 

He decided to first address his physical health, but as Gutierrez started to work out his mental health improved as well. “I became a lot more confident and that really helped me achieve a lot,” he says. 

Gutierrez, a former athlete from Monterrey, Mexico moved to Chicago six and half years ago. He now co-owns a private gym in the West Loop where he trains a diverse group of clients that includes athletes and adults of all ages. “It’s a great range from retired grandmas to professional basketball players. They all have different goals, but everyone’s trying to get better.”  

Gutierrez tailors the fitness routines to each individual, but always stresses the importance of being consistent. “The main thing I try to instill in every single person I work with is the fact that you have to stay disciplined. There will be days when you’re motivated and days when you’re not, but that shouldn’t change the fact that you must be consistent.” 

Gutierrez appreciates how much better his life is today and that motivates him to support others by volunteering with nonprofit organizations that help families and children. He recently emceed the gala for the Break the Silence Foundation, an organization that helps victims of domestic violence. He also works with A Boy and His Dream. “We all have troubles. We all go through moments when we’re down on  ourselves,” he says. “We’re trying to figure this thing called life out. It can be tricky, but once we start building good habits and doing them consistently, we’re going to see better things.”

Danya Rosen, Executive Director, Chicago Run 

Chicago, Illinois 

Danya Rosen was a very active child growing up in Los Angeles, but she admits to being a mediocre athlete. That doesn’t mean she didn’t enjoy playing sports. “I wasn’t good enough to make a lot of the teams,” she says. “But I loved what sports did for me — the joy and power of movement.” 

As the Executive Director of Chicago Run, Rosen sees what sports, and more specifically movement, can do for the city’s youth. “Running and movement can be used as catalysts for transformative change and youth empowerment.” 

Co-founded by Bryan Traubert and Penny Pritzker in 2007 to aid in the fight against childhood obesity, the nonprofit organization now partners with 50 schools and community-based organizations in 33 Chicago neighborhoods to engage youth from Pre-K through high school in inclusive running and physical activity programs. “Our programming bolsters resilience to stress and to trauma, develops social and emotional skills, and supports young folks developing a positive sense of self and identity,” Rosen  explains. 

Rosen, who enjoyed sprinting as a youth, is now training for the 2023 Bank of America Chicago Marathon — she ran her first half-marathon last June. “We always say, ‘Everyone is a runner.’ I don’t care if you’re walking a 20-minute mile or running a sub 5- minute mile, it’s about how you find joy for yourself in the movement.” Although most of the programming is for students, Chicago Run is launching a new strategic plan that considers how to have a deeper intergenerational impact with more events like its annual fun-run in Washington Park that Rosen describes as 3,000 – 4,000 people joining together for a day of movement and wellness. “It’s beautiful to see a grandparent pushing a toddler in a stroller alongside an elementary school student.” As Rosen begins her slow training for her marathon run, she looks forward to Chicago Run developing more community partnerships across the city. “This is an exciting moment for this field called sport-based youth development and for organizations like ours that are using sport as a key way to support young people, families and communities.” 

Todd Anderson, Strength, Sleep and Human Performance Coach 

New Jersey 

One in three adults in the U.S. do not get enough sleep. “Every system in the body is affected by sleep,” says Strength, Sleep and Human Performance coach, Todd Anderson. “A minimum of 7 hours needs to be an absolute priority for optimal levels of physical and cognitive performance.” 

Anderson is a former football player who started as a fullback at Michigan State University and then in 2012 played for the St. Louis Rams. He is a certified strength and conditioning coach who trained his wife, Katie Hoff Anderson, a two-time Olympian swimmer who has earned three Olympic medals. Anderson works with athletes in all sports at all levels, from high school to pro. He and Katie founded Synergy Dryland, a  training program for individual swimmers and swim teams. 

His commitment to sport extends to his interest in supporting charitable endeavors. After participating in the 2-day Hell on the Hill event that includes a 13.1-mile hillside run, Anderson donated $1,000 to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in honor of his late cousin Donny and friend, Jason “Spoon” Weatherspoon. 

The interest in sleep coaching developed while Anderson was with the Rams. The team had the most strenuous travel schedule in the NFL, so they brought in a sleep doctor to work with the players on optimizing rest. “That’s when I became fascinated with the human body and the brain,” he recalls. “More and more as we peel back the layers, it seems that sleep is the untapped resource for a lot of athletes.” 

With his knowledge of the importance of sleep, Anderson conducts seminars for sports teams and Fortune 500 companies around the country. “Essentially I help people make behavior changes,” he explains. “Sleep is as important to our health as eating and working out. I help people figure out how they can improve their environment and healthful longevity through sleep.” 

According to Anderson, more sleep is better than less. “Bet on the over, not the under for sure. Nine hours is great. If I’m not getting 8 hours, I’m cranky.” 

Massy Arias, Celebrity Fitness Coach

Los Angeles, California 

Massy Arias is leading her fitness community of MA Warriors to Mas Vida (More Life) through exercise, nutrition and healthful living. Her 2.7 million Instagram followers include Hollywood celebrities like Gabrielle Union-Wade, SZA and Chris Hemsworth, but her biggest devotee is probably her six-year-old daughter, Indira Sarai. Arias says that her daughter, as the next generation, should learn what healthy looks and feels like at an early age; “Beauty is how you see yourself,” she says. “Beauty is confidence in oneself.” 

Arias explains that kindness, positivity, a sense of humor, friendliness and empathy are some of the characteristics that make a person beautiful. It took a while for Arias herself to feel beautiful. She’s suffered from bouts of depression, including postpartum, which she considers one of the most difficult experiences she’s gone through. “I don’t think people really understand what it is to be depressed, to not want to wake up in the morning, or have any motivation whatsoever to even breathe.” 

Arias, who came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic at the age of 14, tried several different forms of therapy to combat her depression, but says it was fitness that saved her life. “When I hit rock bottom, I used exercise as a form of relieving or curing my depression. Fitness is about getting your life together. It’s about being healthy mentally, emotionally, physically.” 

Arias’s training techniques include resistance training, calisthenics, yoga, high intensity interval training and sprinting. Nutrition is also important, so Arias’s MA Warriors program includes customized meal plans. “There are a lot of women who are depressed right now, who are in the same shoes I used to be in. I want to be the reason they feel better about themselves.” 

Bart Kwan, Powerlifter 

Los Angeles, California 

Bart Kwan is a multi-hyphenate – actor-comedian-YouTuber-powerlifter-MMA  enthusiast-entrepreneur-gym owner. His comedy career may have started when as a three-year-old he entertained his family in the living room of their Monterey Park, California home. But his fitness journey began when he looked in the mirror and decided he didn’t like what he saw. At 215 pounds, Kwan was out of shape and unhappy with his looks. He lost 30 pounds by changing his diet and lifting weights. Kwan says, “From someone who has swung back and forth in weight like a pendulum, trust that your body can do amazing things regardless of your weight.” 

Now when he’s not recording Get Close podcasts or videos with his wife, Geo Antoinette, Kwan attends powerlifting competitions where his events are bench press, squat and deadlifts. His personal records are Deadlift: 495 x 2, Squat: 370 x 8, Bench: 355 x 2. 

Kwan, who is Taiwanese/Cantonese, credits his mother with his interest in fitness. He told a reporter from Men’s Health, “There’s something about the Asian culture where movement is embedded. … My mom would jog every morning, and in the  summers, she would take me to the pool and go swim 20 laps.” 

When he is not powerlifting, Kwan does cardio to improve his stamina and endurance. He also does HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) several times a week. HIIT involves repeated quick bursts of exercise at maximum or near maximal effort, alternated with periods of rest or low activity.  

Kwan and Antoinette have a five-year-old son, Taika. Their YouTube channel  includes husband and wife weightlifting and weight loss competitions. Kwan advises, “My message to others would be that your body is amazing. The most fun part is the journey, maximizing every step and having fun.”

Seobia Rivers, Fitness and Health Creative 

Chicago, Illinois 

For Seobia Rivers, fitness is art. That’s why she calls herself the Fitness and Health Creative as she explains, “I did not want to put myself in a box. I’m not just a trainer. I am an artist.” 

Rivers practices her art at the nonprofit Healthy Hood in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. It’s an organization she co-founded with Tanya Lozano in 2014 to provide affordable programming and resources to combat the current 20-year life expectancy gap between underserved and high-income communities. “At Healthy Hood we see that gap as unfair and an injustice,” Rivers says. “We are choosing to be a solution to the problem, rather than complaining about it.” 

The Healthy Hood solution is offering $5 fitness classes which makes them affordable for anyone in the community. “I want to work against the system and give my people a place to go where they can get healthy,” she adds. 

Rivers’ fitness journey began as a child in the south suburbs of Chicago where she tried all kinds of physical activity including ballet, tap, cheerleading, karate and  tumbling. “I didn’t know I was working out then,” she recalls. “I was just having fun.” 

She wants her current classes to be fun for her clients, so she adds an eclectic variety of exercises to each workout. “I like to mesh formats together — a mix of pilates, yoga, restorative meditation, cardio dance, Zumba, twerking. You’re getting all that in one class and I make it fun because if you’re enjoying it, you’re going to keep doing it.” 

Rivers attended Illinois State University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. She is an ACSM certified group fitness instructor and personal trainer. “Working with Healthy Hood has changed my whole perspective on fitness and health,” says Rivers. “Ours is a holistic vision of what health and fitness should be — mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally.” 

As the Director of Fitness and Chief Development Officer at Healthy Hood, Rivers is fulfilling her desire to give back to the community. “It’s my job to share the resources, the knowledge and the education to help other Black women to get healthier.” 

More From Better

Susan Solomon Yem is an internationally published writer specializing in family, education, and women’s issues. Throughout her career she has focused on families, but her own five children are her biggest priority.

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