3 free or cheap summer exercise options for kids


Buchholz High School student Casey Dixon, 17, works out. Free sports and fitness programs are offered to school-aged youth over the summer at Gainesville Health and Fitness in Gainesville on Tuesday, June 25, 2013.

Erica Brough/ Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, June 30, 2013 at 6:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 30, 2013 at 6:21 p.m.

School's out and it's time to play.

Facts

Ways local youth can stay active

Free teen membership at Gainesville Health and Fitness
Center: For a list of opening hours and restrictions for the teen membership program, visit ghfc.com/teen.

Free community fitness classes through Alachua County Health Department: For a schedule and locations, visit www.doh.state.fl.us/chdalachua/CHOICES.htm.

Youth Combine at Westwood Middle School: For more information or to access the members portal, visit youthcombine.org.

Summer Camp at North Central Florida YMCA: To enroll a child, visit www.ncfymca.org and click on “Childcare” under the Programs tab

More specifically, it's time to play outside.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say children and adolescents need at least an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day, but studies show most American children don't get nearly enough. About one-third of them are now considered overweight or obese.

"It's more important than ever to get kids active and to keep them active," said Kourtney Oliver, health education program consultant for the Alachua County Health Department. "With technology and the decrease in physical education classes in schools, it's becoming more and more of a problem and leading to higher rates of childhood obesity."

In Alachua County, opportunities abound for kids to get off the couch and get exercising.

For the sports-minded, dozens of local camps offer instruction in activities like basketball, golf, rowing, synchronized swimming, martial arts, horseback riding, track and other sports.

Summer camp for younger and older children is also offered through the North Central Florida YMCA, with activities running until public schools reopen in August.

But camps can be expensive, and team sports don't appeal to everyone.

Three local organizations aim to keep kids active during the summer with no-frills fitness programming at minimal or no cost.

CHOICES health services

Free fitness classes are available to all Alachua County residents through the CHOICES Health Education and Wellness Program, offered by the Alachua County Health Department.

Children under 18 can participate with parent consent.

The goal of the program is to reduce the risk of chronic disease, Oliver said. To do that, the health department starts with kids, aiming to reduce childhood obesity.

The program offers popular classes like Pilates and Zumba at 12 different locations across the county. A schedule is posted on the health department's website.

Though the classes benefit adults, too, Oliver said the exercise is especially important for youth.

"It increases their chances of being healthier adults and preventing chronic disease as they get older," she said.

Each class is preceded by a health education presentation based on the health awareness issue for that month. July focuses on sun safety.

Gainesville Health and Fitness

For the sixth year in a row, Gainesville Health and Fitness Center is offering free summer memberships to children ages 13 to 17.

The program runs through Aug. 5. A parent or guardian must register each teen member, but parents don't need to be gym members to enroll children.

Teen members can visit the gym for up to two hours a day during certain hours, found at ghfc.com/teen. Use of all weight room equipment and some group fitness classes are included in the membership.

"It's a way for us to give back to the community and promote health for teens, and inspire them to keep living a healthy, active lifestyle," said Mindy Miller, communication specialist for Gainesville Health and Fitness. "They're certainly old enough to be able to benefit from a gym."

Miller said about 1,365 teens are already enrolled this summer, but that's only a small percentage of how many Alachua County teens are eligible for the membership.

Enrollment has increased slightly since last year, but Miller said she hopes to see more teens join the program throughout the next month.

"It's growing," she said.

Youth Combine at Westwood

A low-cost option is the Youth Combine, a non-profit fitness organization housed at Westwood Middle School.

Matthew Howland, executive director of Youth Combine, founded the organization in 2012 to provide "no-excuses access to effective, organized fitness programming" for kids, he said.

Memberships cost $20 a month and are open to all school-aged children. Members get unlimited access to all classes, which are offered in the evenings Monday through Friday at Westwood Middle.

Each 60- to 90-minute class consists of high-intensity interval training that adds up to a whole-body workout.

Intervals may include pull-ups and sit-ups, squats, flipping tires and sprinting.

Participants learn about different muscle groups and why they're doing the exercises. Throughout the program, coaches record data on each child, including height, weight, body mass index, waist measurement, timed runs and number of sit-ups completed. The information is entered into the members' portal of the Youth Combine website so participants and parents can track progress.

Pride in personal progress is a major tenet of Youth Combine, Howland said.

The more kids care about their own fitness goals now, the more likely they are to keep up with them.

"We want to lay a foundation for these kids now to value health and fitness, to take pride in their health and fitness," so healthy living becomes a lifelong habit, Howland said.

Middle school is a crucial age for fitness, he said. Most elementary school students have structured physical education classes every day, and at the high school level, students have the option of joining a variety of sports teams.

It's important to keep up the momentum and ensure middle schoolers have the strength and confidence to be able to go out for high school sports, if they so choose.

Youth Combine originally targeted only middle school-aged children, but is now open to children of any age. Howland said his 16 coaches are able to alter the workouts to suit every age group and fitness level.

So far this summer, Youth Combine has 67 active members. Enrollment is ongoing.

"As soon as they're a member, they can show up that same day," Howland said.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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