Grass-Roots Groups Plugging Into Michelle Obama's Let's Move Campaign
Families at rest tend to stay at rest, and that's a problem when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle -- so says Cliff Sperber, executive director of the New York Road Runners Youth Programs.
Sperber, who oversees the organization's school- and community-based running program, Mighty Milers, says when kids see their parents plugged into technology 24 hours a day, they're less likely to engage in an active, healthy lifestyle, such as the one promoted by first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, which aims to eliminate childhood obesity within a generation.
"Like all things, a sedentary lifestyle becomes habitual," Sperber tells ParentDish. "It's all about lifestyle and momentum. And if you're playing video games or engaging with technology all the time, that becomes a kind of lifestyle."
Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of NYRR, was invited to the White House to meet with Obama and members of her Let's Move task force. And on June 15, Peter Orszag, director of the White House Office of Budget Management, joined the Mighty Milers in a run to promote Let's Move, which has four key components:
- Help families make healthy choices.
- Improve the quality of food in schools.
- Improve access to healthy, affordable food.
- Increase kids' physical education.
Sperber, a runner himself, says couch potato kids aren't getting the kind of physical activity at school that could offset their sedentary at-home habits.
"The lack of physical education programs in schools is one of the big problems when it comes to fighting childhood obesity," he says. "In the march toward higher test scores, a lot of schools have eliminated PE. While educating kids' minds is, of course, very important, it's important to educate their bodies, as well."
That's the aim of NYRR's Mighty Milers, which teaches youngsters the healthy habit of walking or running for physical fitness and well-being. While the program is based in New York City, it's available to any school in all 50 states. The goal is for each child who participates to walk the equivalent of a marathon -- 26.2 miles -- over the duration of the program, which can last for as little as 12 weeks or as long as a school year. Kids ages 6 to 11 participate in Mighty Milers.
Any school can create a Mighty Milers program, Sperber says, and the group is creating a series of educational videos that parents and teachers can use to help train kids to run properly. The key to a lifelong healthy lifestyle, he adds, is not taking a belly flop into physical fitness, but rather a series of small, incremental steps toward making activity part of your daily routine as a family.
"Even just take a walk around the block, and view that walk not as 'exercise,' but as a recreational, social and physical experience," Sperber says.
The tendency is to take the joy out of physical activity, to make it a chore or a job, rather than engaging in the kind of active play that kids throughout the ages have enjoyed. Play catch in the backyard or gather a group for a rousing game of Kick the Can, Sperber suggests, rather than feel like you have to join a baseball league or take up professional-level tennis.
A father himself, Sperber points out that kids who enjoy physical activity don't need to be world-class athletes. He adds that the excuse that we're too busy to fit healthy exercise into our lives is hogwash. His analogy: You say you don't have any money, and then the car breaks down. Somehow, you find the money to fix it.
"The same thing applies here," Sperber says. "If you make it a priority, you can find the time."
He adds that he sees the Let's Move campaign as a movement toward national health, one that is "of vital necessity."
"We have to get kids moving," Sperber says, "lest the entire country drown in obesity."
On Tuesday, July 13, at 10 a.m. ET, Michelle Obama will discuss the Let's Move campaign and other topics with AOL readers in a live web chat. Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll send them her way.
Related: Michelle Obama Kicks Off Summer Exercise Series
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