Area school employees can stay active with new exercise programs

Friday, September 12, 2008

As childhood obesity rates rise and insurance premiums climb, two local school districts are implementing programs to promote wellness.

A Jackson nurse is starting ShapeUP Jackson, modeled after a long-standing program of a similar name in Cape Girardeau. Participating school employees and junior high and high school students will earn points based on physical activity. After 12 weeks, the team with the most points wins.

In Cape Girardeau, a principal is bringing the Latin-infused aerobics class Zumba to teachers after school, while the Marathon Kids club is expanding to Alma Schrader Elementary and Central Middle School.

"The more active person is healthier, they are more productive at work, and they have to take off fewer days," said Joyce McIntosh, the Orchard Elementary nurse starting the Jackson program.

Last year, McIntosh offered Cardio Challenge, where teachers kept track of the number of minutes they worked out. But unlike ShapeUP, activities were not assigned points, causing disgruntlement and low participation, she said. For example, walking for 20 minutes and jogging for 20 minutes were valued equally. Now, jogging is worth double the number of points as walking.

Students are added to the mix this year, another change. Childhood obesity has been an increasing national concern. The percentage of overweight teens has tripled since 1980, according to a report by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association.

ShapeUP Jackson begins next week, with registration available through the district's website,

In Cape Girardeau, Alma Schrader Elementary principal Ruth Ann Orr is teaching the Zumba class, available to teachers after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the alternative school.

She will also offer the class to parents while their children participate in the Marathon Kids Club after school on Wednesdays. The club got its start at Clippard Elementary several years ago.

Over the course of a semester, students run 26 miles, read 26 books and complete 26 good deeds. A healthy snack is served and students listen to a health lesson before running.

During the 45-minute Zumba class, participants can burn 350 calories, said Orr, who has lost 40 pounds since beginning in January. She became certified to teach the class over the summer.

Jackson has been offering aerobics or circuit workouts for staff for years, but this is the first time in "quite a while" for the Cape Girardeau School District to provide a class.

"We do the cha cha, the Merengue ... You can't be shy. You have to be ready to shake it," Orr said.

335-6611, extension 123

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