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City Teens to Spin, Bike and Kayak to New Fitness Levels

Community Celebrates the Start of the Urban Fitness Challenge

Thursday, September 25, 2003

All of our teens in city schools will be exposed to new and fun ways to stay physically fit that hopefully they will use throughout their lifetime.

Kayaks, heart rate monitors, mountain bikes and spinning bikes are not typically part of high school phys ed class.  But that’s changing this year in all of the Rochester City School District’s secondary schools where students are now participating in the Urban Fitness Challenge. 

A partnership between the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Project Believe initiative and the Rochester City School District, the Urban Fitness Challenge is a new physical activity program designed to heighten enthusiasm for and participation in physical activity among city teens.  New York State Senator Jim Alesi championed the $250,000 funding to support the program.

The goal of the Urban Fitness Challenge is to improve the health status of students in grades 7-12 by providing them with the resources to learn lasting fitness skills that they can use throughout their lifetime. Currently, students in the city’s 17 secondary schools take physical education classes two times a week for half of the school year, and then three times a week for the remainder. 

A total of 52 kayaks, 78 paddles, 385 heart rate monitors, 210 mountain bikes mounted to indoor stands, 144 spinning bikes and 266 bike helmets have been distributed among the 13 schools.  Using the new equipment, students will be able to work on all major muscle groups throughout the year, and keep track of their progress. Heart rate monitors will ensure students are exercising within their own fitness levels. In addition, at the beginning and end of each school year, students will be pre- and post-tested to determine their fitness levels and measure any improvement. 

Fighting an Epidemic

Recent statistics point to a troubling health trend with our nation’s weight.  Obesity causes approximately 300,000 deaths a year and costs an estimated $117 billion annually in direct and indirect costs. It is approaching epidemic status in the United States, with almost one-third of adults considered obese according to their body mass index (BMI), a 61 percent increase since 1991.  Nationwide teens and adolescents are becoming heavier as well, with 15 percent of all adolescents considered overweight, up from 11 percent in 1994.  The health consequences of overweight and obesity for teens include the early onset of Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, as well as complications with asthma. 

"Nationwide, our children and teens are the heaviest they have ever been.  We have a responsibility to seek solutions and provide access to programs that will help our children maintain a healthy weight and live healthy lives,” New York State Senator Jim Alesi said.  “I am pleased that I was able to secure $250,000 in funding for such an innovative program that I am confident will become a model for school districts across the country.”

"We’ve been fortunate in the past to attract funding for other programs aimed at helping our students achieve their ‘physical best,’” said Neil Zwierlein, director of Health and Physical Education for the Rochester City School District. “This program will allow us to take it further, exposing our kids to some exciting and new ways to stay fit with state-of-the art fitness equipment.”

Zwierlein said that indoor biking will be conducted in all schools, using either spinning or mountain bikes.  Practice with kayaks will occur in schools with pools, and in the spring, Zwierlein hopes to form a partnership with Genesee Waterways Center so teens can experience kayaking on some of the region’s waterways.

“It’s gratifying to see the talents and resources of each of our organizations come together to create such a unique and important program,” C. McCollister “Mac” Evarts, M.D., CEO of the Medical Center, said.  “On our own, we never would have been able to achieve what we have accomplished working as a team.  As a result, all of our teens in city schools will be exposed to new and fun ways to stay physically fit that hopefully they will use throughout their lifetime.”

Alesi, Evarts, Zwierlein and Manuel Rivera, Ed.D., superintendent, Rochester City School District will help launch the Urban Fitness Challenge Thursday, September 25 at 6:00 p.m. at Edison Technical and Occupational Education Center.  More than 140 teens will participate in a 30-minute spinning routine, and kayak demonstrations will take place in the nearby pool.  In addition, a Health Fair will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. for parents and neighborhood residents to provide information on such topics as obesity, nutrition, physical activity, smoking, adolescent health, diabetes, asthma HIV prevention, cancer and heart disease prevention and bicycle safety.  Food, beverages and prizes will also be provided throughout the evening.

Introduced in October 2000, Project Believe is a community-wide initiative led by the University of Rochester Medical Center to help make Rochester America’s healthiest community by 2020. Since that time, Medical Center faculty and their community partners have created and implemented more than two dozen health interventions.

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Germaine Reinhardt

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