Originally published Jan. 15, 2020 in Press of Atlantic City.

By Claire Lowe

One group of kids in the center of the gym jumped over bars arranged on the ground while another ran back and forth between two neon-colored cones. In another area, students learned to use exercise bands.

The circuit training session at Fernwood Avenue Middle School was part of Kids 360, an AtlantiCare Healthy Schools, Healthy Children initiative to promote healthy activity among tweens and young teenagers.

“The whole purpose, why they’re targeting this age group is studies show a slide in physical activity,” said Krista Bair, wellness specialist at AtlantiCare. “What we can promote now can continue lifelong.”

Fitness specialist Jodi Piereth, who teaches Kids 360 at the AtlantiCare Life Center, said studies show that around seventh grade, kids begin to lose interest in exercise, especially if they aren’t involved in sports. Circuit training, she said, is a way to make fitness interesting and fun.

“That way they don’t get bored,” Piereth said. “You’re all laughing, having a good time, but you got exercise.”

Bair said in addition to exercise, she also talks to the students about a healthy diet and weight because heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer are on the rise at a younger age.

“I talk to them about MyPlate, talking about the power they have over their health,” Bair said. “We talk about filling half their plate with fruit and vegetable, processed foods versus whole foods.”

“We feel very passionate about it. Fitness is so important, and we don’t think kids get enough of it,” Nolan said.

Throughout the year, Nolan said, they implement circuit training for their students and talk about the importance of exercise, even if they do not play sports.

“That way, in the future, they know how to stay healthy,” Nolan said.

The circuit training program gives kids a taste of exercises and equipment they might not normally be exposed to, she said, and gives them the confidence to work out on their own.

About 40 seventh grade students participated in the visit Wednesday in Egg Harbor Township.

AtlantiCare has been to several other area middle and elementary schools with Kids 360, including Mullica Township, Roland Rogers Elementary School in Galloway Township, Our Lady Star of the Sea in Atlantic City, Ocean City, Folsom and Buena. They have planned visits to Woodbine and Estell Manor in the coming weeks.

“At first they’re a little hesitant because it’s hard and some of them have never tried it before,” Nolan said.

After a while, they catch on and begin to push themselves, she said.

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