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Schoolchildren from across the state do the electric slide as they participate in the HEAL Alabama activities on the grounds of the Capitol in Montgomery on Wednesday.
AP photo by Mickey Welsh
Schoolchildren from across the state do the electric slide as they participate in the HEAL Alabama activities on the grounds of the Capitol in Montgomery on Wednesday.

5th-graders exercise at Capitol in fitness program

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Kara Jackson is a pretty healthy fifth-grader. She's on a swim team and plays soccer. But she's also part of a pilot program at West Elementary School in Cullman, learning how to be healthy for the rest of her life.

"Now sometimes when I go out to eat, I think maybe I don't want to have those fries," Kara said.

Alabama fist lady Patsy Riley and Marsha Folsom, wife of Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., led Kara and about 300 other fifth-graders from across the state in a giant exercise class Wednesday on the north lawn of the state Capitol.

The children danced to "The Electric Slide" as music blared in a program organizers say is designed to make exercise fun.

"They don't even realize they are exercising when they are having fun," said Emily Stapler, Kara's physical education teacher at West Elementary School.

The pilot program, called Healthy Eating Active Living or HEAL, is being tried in fifth grade classes in six elementary schools, and organizers hope it will be expanded to other schools. The students spend their physical education classes learning about healthy foods and how to live a healthy lifestyle using curriculums developed at Samford University and at UAB.

They spend at least 30 minutes running or doing exercises and are encouraged to spend at least 30 minutes after getting home in physical activity.

While exercising, the students wear a wrist watch that monitors their heart rate.

Kara said her targeted heart rate is 140 to 170 beats per minute.

"If it's too low I have to speed up. If it's too fast I have to slow down," Kara said.

After exercising Wednesday, the students walked around the Capitol.

Gov. Bob Riley posed for pictures with the children and joined them for part of the walk. Riley said he is concerned about recent studies that showed Alabama faring poorly in childhood obesity statistics.

"There are very few things more important than healthy eating and exercise for kids this age," Riley said.

Patsy Riley said she hopes the program will teach children how to live healthy lives.

"Otherwise the next generation may not live as long as ours," the first lady said.

Another West Elementary School fifth-grader, 10-year-old Will Crenshaw, said he is trying to stay active even when he is not at school.

"Me and my dad go to the gym together," Will said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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