DeAndra Mercer never had a hula hoop as a child but is rarely without one these days.
It was about two years ago she discovered not only how much fun using one can be but the role it can play in keeping fit.
"I used to do the usual stuff like running to stay in shape," she said.
But she likes hooping better, calling it a "low impact exercise."
Mercer entertains with hula hoop performances that include special hoop dances. She does so under the stage name Valerie Hoops.
The Phenix City resident will be teaching others not just the basics of hooping, but how to do various tricks such as the "vortex" and "helicopter" in a continuing education class at Columbus State University beginning Jan. 22.
"Hooping burns up about seven calories per minute," Mercer said.
She added that it is also a strong cardiovascular workout.
"At the end of the hour class you will know you have had a workout," she said.
Mercer, 20, a Central High graduate who attends Chattahoochee Valley Community College, said while abdominal muscles get the most benefit from hooping, moves she teaches benefit the legs, arms and neck.
Mercer first got interested in hooping after viewing a video on YouTube.
"I gave it a try and it grew into a passion," she said.
She began with a toy hoop she purchased at Walmart. She then moved to an adult model which has more weight and does not go as fast, which makes it easier to control. At 38 inches in diameter, it is also bigger.
Mercer can now use as many as four hoops at once.
Hooping has been around for centuries. It became enormously popular in the United States in 1958 when the Wham-O company manufactured and marketed a plastic hoop. While its popularity has faded, it has never left stores.
"Some think of a hoop as a toy but it is a gateway to health and happiness," Mercer said.
The website Web MD reports that a 2011 study conducted by the American Council on Exercise found working with a hoop burns about as many calories per minute as step aerobics or very brisk walking.
The findings from the commissioned study indicated that hooping delivers a total body workout that can improve flexibility and balance while strengthening the back, abdominal, arm and leg muscles.
Mercer, who also gives private lessons, said many people believe using a hoop means moving the hips in a circle but said the key is really putting one foot in front of the other and shifting your weight back and forth.
"It can be frustrating at first. It was for me," she said. "It doesn't take long to get good at it."
Mercer said some people use weighted hoops.
"You can get a better workout with one but there can be some bruising," she said.
Of the class she is offering for the first time, Mercer remarked it is easier to get good at hooping if there is someone to work with you, someone to tell you what you did wrong.
"People will get plenty of support," she said.
Mercer said the class is for adults and that senior citizens might especially enjoy it.
She said she knows a 65-year-old woman who swears hooping helps with her arthritis.
Mercer said hoops will be provided for the class.
The cost for the hoops she uses can run $15 to $40.
"We're going to have some upbeat music, some Michael Jackson," Mercer said.
The class will meet on Wednesdays from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Elizabeth Bradley Turner Center on East Lindsay Drive.
The cost for the six-week class is $69.
For information or to register, call 706-507-8070 or visit continuinged.columbusstate.edu.