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A Head Start on Health 

Nationally and locally, fitness is at the forefront -- especially for kids

Post Falls High School basketball player Luke Thoreson during a workout with former Zag Mike Nilson. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Post Falls High School basketball player Luke Thoreson during a workout with former Zag Mike Nilson.

First Ladies always have a pet project. Laura Bush championed children’s reading programs, and Hillary Clinton helped to pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Nancy Reagan famously just said no to drugs. Lady Bird Johnson formed The Society for a More Beautiful National Capital. Jackie Kennedy re-upholstered half the White House.

No doubt, Michelle Obama had some big shoes to fill. And with those toned biceps, it’s appropriate that her initial reform would be related to health and fitness.

She kicked things off with a sparkling vegetable garden on the south lawn of the White House, which reaped considerable publicity, in addition to a hearty crop of veggies.

Then she coaxed America’s gaze to the Let’s Move! fitness campaign — an aggressive undertaking aimed at puncturing the fattened curve of childhood obesity rates within a generation.

Which isn’t a half-bad idea, considering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the prevalence of obesity among children ages 6 to 11 has increased from 6.5 percent in 1980 to 19.6 percent in 2008, and from 5.0 percent to 18.1 percent among adolescents ages 12 to 19.

Online, the Let’s Move! support program (letsmove.gov) dishes up a user-friendly trove of resources for implementing healthier lifestyles within the household, including getting adequate exercise on a daily basis.

Getting the recommended 60 minutes a day of active play can be a challenge, though, especially as kids turn into teenagers. Fortunately, Spokane has lots of resources to help spark interest in fitness.

Mike Nilson, who helped the Zags make it to the Elite 8 and Sweet 16, and now is the head strength and conditioning coach for the Bulldogs, knows a thing or two about exercise. As a partner at Spokane’s U-District Physical Therapy, he has taken on the challenge of making fitness fun and accessible. For the last couple of years, the U-District Foundation has donated time and facilities to hold a free, biannual Fitness and Fun Camp for kids ages 7 to 17.

“We started the foundation a couple of years ago, and really geared it toward kids,” says Nilson. “If we can reach them early, it will have positive effects throughout their whole lives.”

During camp week, all 25,000 square feet of the clinic is shut down, providing an exclusive chance for athletes and non-athletes alike to romp around with top-notch Gonzaga athletic trainers, sports therapists and coaches. Attendees are taught proper warm-up techniques, core strengthening exercises, agility drills and healthy eating habits.

“When you get in the field of physical therapy and sports therapy, you’re in there because you really care about healthy lifestyle and you love working with people, and you love working with kids,” says Nilson. “Unfortunately, you see lot of the kids who aren’t able to afford it.”

Wanting to give back and act as role models, says Nilson, is what inspired him and his colleagues to designate a camp where cost wasn’t a factor.

“We want to promote health and wellness in our community,” he says. “For two hours a day, these kids who come in can really just feel loved and encouraged. And then, without even knowing it, they’ve also been working out.”

If your brood takes to organized sports like a flightless bird being shoved off a cliff, introduce something alternative, or less competitive — like the free rock-climbing sessions for families every Saturday at Spokane’s R.E.I (http://www.rei.com).

If heights are a no-go, check out Spokane Youth Yoga, a venue catering to ages 3 to 12.

“There is much to be gained by children who have an early experience with yoga,” says owner and certified instructor Amy Iverson. “Developing patterns of movement that support a healthy lifestyle are the most obvious benefits.”

Yoga, says Iverson, is also about developing one’s sense of self. The thrill of mastering a new move — and eventually more challenging poses — gradually manifests into a realization that, with patience and persistence, one can accomplish tasks that initially seemed overwhelming.

“Yoga’s body-mind connection provides an opportunity for children to develop a more positive self-image, and ultimately the self-determination to face challenges head on and bring more balance to their lives,” she says.

RESOURCES

U-District Fitness and Fun Camp, June 21-24

For more information call 458-7686.

Spokane Youth Yoga

509-220-7419, http://www.spokaneyouthyoga.com


Did You Know?

Washington State 2008 Healthy Youth Survey

29 percent report watching three or more hours of TV on an average school day.

17 percent report drinking two or more sodas the previous day.

77 percent report meeting the recommendation for weekly activity level (moderate activity five or more days a week or vigorous activity three or more days a week).

18 percent report meeting guidelines for 60 minutes of activity per day.

Averaged results from 9,998 respondents in 8th, 10th and 12th grades

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