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Let’s work at children’s fitness

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By: Brad Kearns, Running School Inc.
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We are nearing completion of a fantastic year of “Running School” in Auburn. This charitable organization delivers a cardiovascular fitness and healthy lifestyle program to four Auburn schools (Auburn Elementary, E.V. Cain, Rock Creek and Skyridge as well as six other schools outside the area) during the school day. We serve a total of 4,800 kids. We visit campus regularly to conduct sprint and long distance races as well as a fun-filled endurance obstacle course full of agility and balance challenges. Kids are timed over a half-mile or mile course (based on age) and performance is tracked to promote individual improvement and meet national “Healthy Fitness Zone” performance standards. With our intensive presence at each partner school campus throughout the school year, we shape the attitudes and culture of the school community (students, parents, teachers and staff) towards an emphasis on fitness and health. As a result, we combat the serious problem of unfit, inactive youth and a lack of time and resources for adequate public school P.E.. Our program’s emphasis on simple, individual cardiovascular activity — free from complex rules, equipment and competitive pressures of organized team sports — allows every child to experience an immediate positive impact on health, fitness and self-esteem. Beyond the physical benefits for kids, Running School inspires and cultivates a pure motivation for running. Kids experience the joy and honor of giving their best effort and striving for personal improvement with long-term goals. The program is funded by sponsors (including local companies like Windermere Real Estate, Maki Heating & Air, Wells Fargo Bank and Jamba Juice) and individual donors. The results in Auburn have been spectacular. The Healthy Fitness Zone (“HFZ” — a baseline performance standard for each age, sex and grade that indicates a fitness/activity level that is optimal for good health and protection against inactivity related health problems such as obesity developed by the Cooper Aerobics Institute in Dallas, Texas) is the critical statistic for the Running School program, as we aim to elevate kids from unfit status by improving distance race times. The California statewide average is 60 percent HFZ passing rate (from a 2005 CDE study of 5th graders), while Auburn schools have attained passing rates ranging from 79-96 percent. Our pilot program at Skyridge School is now in year five, leading to the phenomenal statistic of 96 percent passing, as well as 15 students reaching or exceeding the nationwide 100th percentile standard for their age and sex. We need the help of the Auburn community at large to continue our progress and make Auburn not only the Endurance Capital of the World but home to the fittest kids in the country. Today modern culture strongly promotes, facilitates and encourages inactivity in both adults and kids. Surely you’ve seen some of the shocking statistics about childhood obesity that don’t need to be belabored. While the problem is ominous, you can do something about it immediately that is simple and effective: Encourage exercise — Take a family walk around the neighborhood after dinner or a trip to the park on the weekend with a bucket of sports equipment. Walk to school like previous generations (if you live “too far,” park a mile away and walk from there!). Understand that adding even just a few minutes of daily exercise makes a monumental long-term difference in health and lifestyle habits. Get your kids on the right side of the “33 percent of all high school students get zero exercise” stat! Make healthy food choices — Beware things in a bag, wrapper or box (or look carefully for healthy brands). Emphasize healthy, natural, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, organic animal products, and water instead of soda (believed to be a huge contributor to childhood obesity). Emphasize pure motivation — Competition is great, but take care to emphasize the process and release attachment to outcomes. A race has only one winner, but everyone can feel like a champion by doing their best or improving their personal record. For details about the Running School organization and getting your kids fit and healthy, visit runningschool.org. Auburn’s Brad Kearns is the executive director of Running School, Inc.