Students at more than 350 schools across the country will be working up quite a sweat tomorrow. They will be exercising for 10 hours straight.
But not all at once. In a unique attempt to fight childhood obesity and cuts being made to school physical education programs, elementary, middle, and high schools from New York to Hawaii and Alaska have signed on to a newfangled "fitness relay" event: Each school will have students exercise during a prearranged 15-minute time slot, beginning at 8 a.m. Standard Time. As each short exercise period ends, another school in a different location will pick up where the last school left off, and the pattern will continue for 10 hours, until 3 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. It's being called the first Exercise United States Day.
The ambitious project is the brainchild of Len Saunders, a physical education instructor in New Jersey and an expert in child health and nutrition. He says that although the concept is "a little gimmicky," his hope is that it will jump-start a trend among young people to adopt regular exercising habits.
"I'm trying to find new ways to motivate kids to exercise, because right now they don't respond to working out on their own," he says.
According to the American Heart Association, about two thirds of students in grades nine through 12 don't get the recommended levels of physical activity, which is at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Fewer than 4 percent of elementary schools provide daily physical education for the entire school year. And approximately one third of youths in the United States are overweight or obese.
There is no cost for schools to participate in the Exercise United States Day and no limit on the number of schools that can sign up for each 15-minute block of time. There are also no set rules for what schools should do during the event, but the project's website offers a list of recommended activities, such as calisthenics, dance, or yoga.
Says Saunders, who has created a variety of children's fitness programs over the past 25 years, "Schools have the freedom to do what they want. The message is that exercise can be fun but, at the same time, critical for living a healthier life."
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