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Program encourages a healthy habit




If you get them exercising early in life, maybe they will keep doing it later in life.

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If you get them exercising early in life, maybe they will keep doing it later in life.

That's the goal of Promoting Lifetime Activities for Youth, an after-school program in its second year involving Hays Recreation Commission, Fort Hays State University and HaysMed's Center for Health Improvement.

"They were just talking about how there isn't as much movement in the schools any more, with some of the cuts being made, the childhood obesity that's going on," said Gail Wickham, program director for youth and senior activities at HRC. "We came together to discuss with the schools and principals and after-school programs to see if they would be interested in having this come."

Local grade schools have partnered with HRC, FHSU and CHI for instructors to lead kids from kindergarten through fifth grade in exercises -- some disguised as games.

"Some of it, it's trial and error," Wickham said of the activities she and two other HRC staff members -- Haley Nixon and Kristen Koster -- do with kids from O'Loughlin Elementary School.

The children are divided into two groups -- kindergarten and first-graders, and second-graders through fifth-graders. The two age groups are with HRC staff once a week, alternating Mondays and Wednesdays.

The younger age group would have about two dozen children participating on a typical day, while as many as 50 or 60 kids could be involved in the older age group.

"A lot of time, attention span, you have a little more (varied activities) with them," Wickham said of the younger age group. "Usually, we keep the same kind of activities; we just modify it to whatever their age is."

The children might be on scooters one day, using their arms and legs to zoom from one end of the gym to the other at O'Loughlin. Or, they might be racing from one end to the other, stopping halfway through to do jumping jacks.

At the end of one recent 30-minute session, Wickham promised the kids they would be playing a new game -- Super Chicken -- the next time they meet. In that game, a rubber chicken and foam balls are used like a game of tag. Wickham said if you get tagged, you have to cluck like a chicken.

"We try to incorporate to where there's exercise ... basic exercise that we're trying to teach them that they're already learning in PE classes," Wickham said. "We try to incorporate some games. It's not always exercising; they get to be rewarded with games.

"I'm just glad HRC gets to be part of this with Fort Hays and the hospital to put a program together."

And, it's needed, Wickham said.

"It is becoming more of a problem," she said of childhood obesity. "The main thing that we're trying to do is just try to teach kids to have fun and exercise. They may be playing a game, but they're getting that cardio.

"I feel it's really important that kids get exercise, so they're not just going home, sitting (and) watching TV, playing (video) games. This is teaching them a way of life, starting at an early age, so they can continue that throughout their adult lives."