Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

VERB Project Takes Action for Young Physical Fitness; Approach Adapts Exercise for Children, Youths According to Their Likes to Keep Them Active

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

VERB Project Takes Action for Young Physical Fitness; Approach Adapts Exercise for Children, Youths According to Their Likes to Keep Them Active

Article excerpt

Byline: CYNTHIA L. GARZA, The Times-Union

Seven-year-old A.J. Jones wants to be a dancer, he says with an unflinching and serious look.

That was after he had danced the Cha Cha Slide for a half hour with about two dozen other Thunderbolt Elementary School students in Clay County.

To adults, the kids were doing more than just a "slide to the left, slide to the right, criss-cross, criss-cross and then a cha cha real smooth."

They were being active.

"Don't call it fitness," said Natalie Showalter, Clay County YMCA site director and fitness coordinator. "Just make it fun."

It's exercise, but "sometimes it's better to just keep it a secret," Showalter said.

Slide. Criss-cross. Cha cha. They're all verbs -- action words that are taking on a new meaning for children across the country through a new campaign called VERB. The program encourages those from 9 to 13 -- a group dubbed "tweens" -- to get active.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention effort is designed to entice the age group away from video game playing, Internet surfing and television viewing and get them physically active. The CDC said the campaign has resulted in a 34 percent increase in weekly free-time physical activity among more than 8 million children since its start in 2003.

"By picking their own VERB or several VERBs, tweens can identify the activities that fit their personalities and interests and use them as a launching pad to better their health," said Mike Greenwell, director of communications for the CDC's chronic disease center. "The VERB campaign lets tweens do their own thing -- or find a new thing -- and do it whenever and wherever they want."

That is what Showalter has tried to do with the VERB program at Thunderbolt Elementary. Showalter has taken some of the VERB program's activities, which she used in the fall with students at Lakeside Elementary, and continues to use the concept at Thunderbolt. She said she likes the program and the ideas it gives kids to stay active.

Showalter flipped through materials of the VERB program, including decks of cards that kids pick out that list an activity for them to do.

One card reads: "Bunny Hip Hop: Hip hop, get up. Grab some friends and bust a move."

Other cards are simpler and describe easier activities, such as kicking a soccer ball, stretching or dribbling a basketball.

The words "exercise" and "fitness" don't come out of 12-year-old Matt Smith's mouth when talking about what he was doing Thursday afternoon.

"It's fun. I hang out with all the other kids and stuff," he said. "I just hang out with my friends and play a lot of games."

Getting tweens attuned to a healthy lifestyle early is crucial, Showalter said.

"It's hard to start late in life being physically fit," she said. "Start them young. …

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