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Don't try to drive past P.S. 69 in the Bronx around noon on a weekday. Instead of traffic, you'll find the Mighty Milers, the school's pint-size pre-K through fourth-grade walkers and runners, zipping around orange cones on a quarter-mile closed street course. They're some of the 20,000 five- to 10-year-olds in New York City who are taking part in this highly successful New York Road Runners Foundation program.
"There was a lot of huffing and puffing, but by the third week, we noticed children were able to go longer distances," notes Alan D. Cohen, the school's principal. "At first, I could run only a few steps, then I'd have to walk," says third grader Julian Diaz. "Now I can run a whole mile without stopping!" Enthusiasm for Mighty Milers has set off an avalanche of changes, such as a healthy cooking club, a new fitness center, and a student-led nutrition committee that replaced typical vending-machine fare with smarter choices such as soy chips and fruit snacks.
For more info: NYRR Foundation also offers City Sports for Kids, a track program for dedicated budding runners. Go to nyrrfoundation.org and click on Programs.
It's lunchtime at Patrick Henry Middle School, but not everyone's in the cafeteria. Two sixth-graders are stomping to a techno beat in the school's cutting-edge fitness center, eyes glued to the TV screen as they play Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). They follow the arrows on screen that point left, right, forward, and back, then they step on corresponding markers on a foot mat. Currently, 20 percent of 75 middle schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District use DDR as part of their phys-ed program, 15 to 30 minutes, three or four times a week. The kids can't get enough. "I always hope, 'Please let there be DDR today,'" says one student.
For more info: Buy an at-home version of DDR for Xbox or PlayStation, or to hook into your TV, $30 and up; ddrgame.com.
It's a full half hour before the morning bell rings, and a crowd of about 50 fourth- and fifth-graders are clamoring for phys-ed teacher Rick Periandi to let them into the Leola Elementary School gym. He does, and soon kids are darting everywhere on unicycles, riding them backward, with one foot, practicing bunny hops, balancing in idle, helping newcomers learn to mount and dismount. The 15-year-old program was first introduced by Periandi's predecessor as part of a curriculum to teach kids balance and the laws of gravity. It was so popular that the school now owns 30 unicycles, some 7 feet tall. "The kids move for 30 minutes nonstop, but they're grinning at the same time, and they can't wait until their next chance to ride," says Periandi.
For more info: Go to unicycling.org/usa for some basic unicycling tips.
In the Zen room at Decatur Yoga and Pilates, girls and boys in the 7- to 11-year-old YogaKids class lie on a cork floor, relaxing in Lemon Toes -- aka savasna, the corpse pose. An hour earlier, they had bounced in, hyped from their school day, for a class that blends yoga poses with such elements as anatomy, music, language, and math. "Yoga has a balancing effect for children," explains Cheryl Crawford, who runs the YogaKids program. "If you are sad, yoga can make you happy; if you are mad, it can make you feel better; if you are tired, it can make you feel energized," agrees Jack Besser, 9, one of Crawford's students. "And if you do a hard pose in yoga, it makes you feel like you can try other hard things, too."
For more info: Find classes or purchase DVDs at yogakids.com.
This isn't just the end of the week at Bryan Elementary School -- it's also the day when being active can be rewarding. Each week, students in grades three to five jump, run, kick, and play in an effort to log at least 60 minutes of activity. It's all part of Nebraska's "All Recreate on Fridays" program (ARF). Those who hit their numbers for five out of seven weeks are eligible for prizes like water bottles or Hacky Sacks. "Any real movement counts, whether it's bouncing on a trampoline, doing farm chores, shoveling snow, walking the dog, or playing soccer," says Bryan's phys-ed teacher, Donna Stewart. "We choose to focus on physical activity one day a week; this keeps it on the students' radar, but they don't get overwhelmed."
For more info: Learn about ARF at www.hhss.ne. gov/cvh.
Perched on a wide granite outcropping at 2,865 feet, three families savor the stunning view of the U-shaped valley of Crawford Notch, their reward for the heart-pumping, muscle-building 1.6-mile trek up New Hampshire's Mount Willard. As volunteers in the Mountain Watch program of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), they're doing more than admiring foliage -- they're tracking it. Acting as "citizen scientists," they measure color change and leaf drop and then record their observations, contributing to a long-term study on signs of climate change. "My kids love it because they feel like they're doing something to help the environment," says Nancy Ritger, an AMC naturalist and mother of three.
For more info: "Citizen scientist" programs exist across the U.S.; go to citizensci.com to find one near you.
Five-year-old Jasper Schomaker and his parents stand at a trailhead. They're about to go letterboxing. A cross between a hike and a treasure hunt, letterboxing starts with a printout of clues available online or through local devotees. Participants look for corresponding caches, called letter boxes, hidden along trails. When they find a box, they pull out the notebook inside, mark it with their own signature stamp and mark their journals with a stamp that's in the box. Then they search for the next clue. "I like it because I get to run around in the woods like a pirate," says Jasper. "I know I get a ton of exercise, and my kids take two steps to my one," says Jasper's mom, Chris Willow-Schomaker.
For more info: Visit Letterboxing North America at letterboxing.org.
1. Take part in the 11th annual Family Health & Fitness Day USA on Saturday, September 29. Join a community walk, play active games, and find other family-focused fitness events around the country
For information, go to fitnessday.com/family.
2. Sign our Fit Families petition. The Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act is a new bill in Congress that would let Americans put up to $1,000 a year in pretax Health Savings Accounts. Use the money for exercise-related costs such as gym memberships, fitness equipment, and sports-league fees for kids and adults.
Go to www.fitnessmagazine.com/petition and add your name to help move this important legislation forward!
3. Sign up for a local race, ride, or endurance event to benefit a favorite charity.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, September 2007.