Fitness Clubs Catering to Kids
Children jump on workout bandwagon at parents' gyms
FRIDAY, June 1, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- When Jordan Moeny goes to the gym, she packs her favorite purple leotard and hops in the car.
But it's her mother who drives her there, because this gym rat is only 8 years old.
"I go to a jump rope class on Saturdays and gymnastics on Wednesdays," says the second-grader from Grants Pass, Ore. "It's fun ... and I'm pretty good."
Jordan is one of about 200 children who attend sports classes at KidZone, a children's fitness center that's part of the Great Indoors Sports facility in Grants Pass.
"A lot of parents start out bringing their kids [for babysitting] while they're working out, and then get turned on to the programs for kids," says Jordan's mother, Angela Moeny, who is the volunteer coordinator for KidZone. "We're trying to raise awareness of children's fitness, to show that there is an alternative to the sedentary lifestyle."
Great Indoor Sports has joined a growing number of adult gyms that offer athletic programs for children.
The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclubs Association (IHRSA) in Boston, one of the largest sports club trade associations in the country, reports that 56 percent of its more than 5,000 member clubs now offer children's sports and fitness programs, a 26 percent increase since 1996.
"It's definitely a growing trend. A lot of clubs are accommodating children and, instead of just babysitting, having the children do something fun," says Paula Dudley, research coordinator for IHRSA.
It's also a good business decision for clubs, adds Frank Napolitano, vice president for special programs for Philadelphia-based Town Sports International, which owns 106 fitness clubs along the East Coast. The company has childrens' sports programs in 16 of its clubs and is in the process of setting up programs in six more locations.
The key, say those who run these programs, is to make them fun.
"Kids don't care about fitness goals. Exercise is not a means to an end for them," says Cheryl Jones, director of the childrens' sports programs for Town Sports. "Kids just want to have fun."
At her clubs, this ranges from kids' spinning classes in front of a 6-foot movie screen to a dance TV program in which the children videotape dance routines they learn. There are also creative movement classes with lots of instruments so the children bang out rhythms as they move.
"The focus isn't on competition, but on building self-esteem and getting kids at a young age into a healthy lifestyle," says Moeny of KidZone, where the programs include games with hula hoops, trampolines and hip-hop dancing.
Her daughter is a good example of the benefits of physical activity, she says.
"In kindergarten, she didn't have confidence [in her physical abilities]... but she's become comfortable with fitness and wants to be active, riding her bike, playing outside. It's been really good," Moeny says.
In fact, she says, Jordan's experience has led the rest of the family into a more active lifestyle. Her younger daughter now takes a class, and her husband has begun to be more active, too.
"We've come to realize the value of being healthy," Moeny says.
Fighting fat with fitness
Anything that gets kids moving is a very good thing, considering the sobering statistics on children's health and physical activity levels.
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that the number of obese children between the ages of 6 and 11 almost doubled from 1980 to 1994, from 6.5 percent to 11.4 percent. Activity levels have also declined, according to those tracking exercise in the country today.
"There's been a documented decline of the physical activity of adolescents and early adolescents. And while we don't have the same data for elementary school children, I would say, based on anecdotal evidence, that it has also declined," says Judy Young, executive director of the National Association for Sports and Physical Education (NASPE), an 18,000-member non-profit organization for professionals who study and work in the exercise field.
According to guidelines formulated by NASPE, children between the ages of 5 and 12 need at minimum an hour a day of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, like bike riding or general active play.
But, Young says, only 20 percent to 40 percent of American kids get that much.
"Organized physical education [in schools] has also declined for children," she adds, which means elementary school kids have gym only two or three times a week instead of daily.
"I think that [health club programs] are a good alternative. I'm glad [the sports clubs] are not just offering babysitting but using the site for the kids."
The only downside to the trend, Young says: Sports clubs are "only accessible to people who can afford the sports clubs."
Dr. Eric Small, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' sports medicine committee, adds, "The health clubs are a great idea, but it should be parents initiating physical activity."
It only takes a 15-minute bike ride or throwing a ball Saturday mornings with your child to teach kids to be more active, Small says.
In the meantime, Jordan likes her exercise any way she can get it.
"A lot of time on Wednesdays I come home really tired. I kind of like being worn out from the gym. It's a good feeling," she says.
What To Do
By encouraging your children to be physically active, you're helping them develop healthy behavior patterns for the rest of their lives. You can read parts of the Surgeon General's report on the importance of physical fitness by going to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Another good source for information about fitness is The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
HealthDay also has a number of stories on physical fitness.