In today's world, there is an increasing awareness of how sedentary lifestyles and poor nutritional habits affect our children's overall health and wellness. As fitness professionals, we are aware that most overweight children end up being overweight adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 60% of adults don't take part in enough physical activity to benefit their health, and close to 30% get no activity at all! With some estimates of healthcare costs, relating to obesity, being well over $100 billion in the United States, many are looking for alternative methods to circumvent these costs. And now the fitness industry, and more specifically, the fitness professional, is specially positioned to target the youth market to assist them in making lifestyle changes and to profit from this growing base of clientele.


A First Step

            While a majority of school districts now employ an athletic trainer to evaluate and provide the necessary treatment for interscholastic athletes, many young children in community athletic programs do not have that luxury. In community organizations, injury may be one reason why young children quit a particular activity. The mechanism of injury could be overuse, improper coaching or due to an accident during play. In this regard, health and fitness professionals are in a position to provide a very important service in these community youth sports programs. Prior to the start of a season, consider getting in touch with an organization's local Board of Directors and offer to put on a clinic for their coaches. If time, additional personnel and equipment are available, the health professional (provided he or she has the necessary instructor certifications) could also provide or assist with a more in-depth coaches clinic that also includes a basic first aid and a CPR course (with or without AED instruction) for the coaching staff.


The New Physical Education Program

            Start looking at your local school district's physical education program as a place to begin towards improving the activity level of adolescents. While many states have reduced or have eliminated physical education class altogether from their curriculum (in fact, there is only one state that requires daily physical education in grades K-12 and one other state that meets the national recommendation of 225 minutes of activity per week), there are a number of schools that now engage in what is being termed "The New PE." Today, many schools no longer just "roll out the ball and play" but focus on incorporating more movement and inclusive activities rather than promote actual competition in class. Activities, such as rock climbing, inline skating, aerobics, circus skills (juggling or walking on stilts), strength training, yoga and Pilates and even the ever popular Dance, Dance Revolution (DDR) are becoming commonplace in the classroom and are getting kids excited about exercise. These types of activities can be easily incorporated into your fitness studio/wellness facility, adapted to an outdoor park or even a contained portion of a parking lot.


The Family Member

            Many fitness facilities now offer family memberships, which encourages the entire family to sign up by providing child care for the children while the parents work out. However, instead of just providing a babysitting service in a designated area where kids can color or sit in front of a TV, pop in an aerobics video that is designed for kids or have one of your staff members lead a 10-minute aerobic class. Show them how to do a sit up, push up or jumping jacks. These young clients love to know that they are doing some of the same exercises that mom and dad are doing in the next room. Make sure you have a container available with jump ropes, small balls and hula hoops for the kids to use, or you can even help them make up a new game that incorporates movement and activity. In addition, lessons on nutrition can also be taught to real young children: plastic fruits and vegetables can be used to educate these kids and provide suggestions on what their family can eat as snacks or to have with dinner. 

            For the teen or "tween" member of the family, some facilities lower the
minimum age of individuals in limited areas of the facility and allow these young clients to work with various machines that are appropriate to their age and size. With the younger client, proper one-on-one supervision and careful instructions as to how to perform each exercise is vital: teaching the fundamental concepts of proper form should be the main focus instead of the amount of weight being lifted.  Combine this with some cardio, either in the form of bikes, stair climbing, elliptical trainers, balls or even an aerobic or hip hop dance class, for overall cross
training benefit.


The Aquatic Option

            The traditional route of incorporating traditional machines and cardio equipment into the youth's fitness program is only the beginning for his or her workout. The swimming pool is another area that can always be utilized for achieving ultimate fitness training, providing it is available. Under the watchful eye of a health professional and lifeguard, classes in water aerobics, running/walking laps in the shallow water, push ups against the wall and the use of kickboards for a leg workout can all be done in addition to or in place of traditional lap swimming. For the younger, more experienced swimmer, water games, such as sharks and minnows, water polo (in the shallow end, if necessary) and tag can be a great workout in a short time period. For children under six, or at any age if they are inexperienced in the water, a supervising adult who is physically in the water providing encouragement and support is strongly recommended.      

            As with any exercise program, it is vital for the program to be FUN in order for it to be successful and effective. Often, you can get a potential client to walk through the doors of your facility to try something once, but what is it going to take to keep him or her coming back? Getting children to be active is no different. As fitness professionals, we need to give them the confidence and the appropriate tools  they need to be active, provide positive and encouraging feedback throughout an activity, offer a variety of exercise options for them to choose from so that boredom does not set in and continue to emphasize (without lecturing) how much they are going to benefit in the long run if they maintain a certain level of activity.

            Betsy Gorse, MS, ATC, is a certified athletic trainer and middle school athletic coordinator at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For more information, email her at