Originally published May 18, 2021 in The Pulse.
By Terran Anderson
Studies have shown physical activity can lessen children’s anxiety and depression – two issues that have been of increasing concern to parents and educators during the pandemic.
The American Heart Association, the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health for all, and Hamilton County Schools are helping students improve physical and emotional well-being during this uncertain school year through Kids Heart Challenge™.
The in-school curriculum is rooted in proven science which has shown that kids who are regularly active can help kids feel better, improve mental health, build self-esteem, and decrease and prevent conditions such as anxiety and depression.
“Schools are a critical link in providing the foundation for cardiovascular wellness in our community by helping students develop healthy habits at an early age,” said Emily Niespodziany, executive director at American Heart Association Chattanooga. “The expanded curriculum resources are designed to improve health outcomes for each individual student while empowering them to create healthier communities by funding research to better understand, diagnose and treat heart disease.”
The educational curriculum and physical activities included in the Kids Heart Challenge program help meet the needs of today’s youth and educators in virtual, hybrid and socially distanced classroom settings. The program, a successful part of thousands of schools for more than 40 years, targets improving whole-body wellness which is vital to drive immediate and long-term health as social distancing lingers.
Allen Elementary has participated in the American Heart Association’s Kids Heart Challenge for 25 years. This year more than 125 students raised $11,304 to support the mission of the American Heart Association, making them the top fundraising school in Hamilton County. The program is led by Coach Katrina Jenkins, PE Teacher at Allen Elementary.
“We are happy to be able to continue to provide this program to our students at a time when prioritizing mental and physical health is essential”, said Coach Jenkins. “I’ve taught many children with congenital heart defects and in honor of those students, we have raised over $172,000 since we first started with the American Heart Association over two decades ago.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans only 20% of kids get enough activity to meet physical activity recommendations. In addition to improved physical health, the benefits of physical activity for children include better grades, school attendance and classroom behavior.
Funds raised by Kids Heart Challenge participants support the American Heart Association’s scientific research and outreach programs, paving the way for technological breakthroughs to improve health outcomes while creating healthier communities.