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Shape Month focuses on kids' fitness

COVINGTON -- September is SHAPE Month in Georgia, with a focus on childhood fitness and health.

The Georgia SHAPE Coalition, a network of partners, agencies and athletic teams --including the Atlanta Falcons and the Atlanta Braves, the Georgia Department of Public Health, and the Georgia Department of Education - is offering assistance to help young people improve fitness.

Dozens of free or discounted statewide events are planned to promote child fitness throughout the month; a full list is available at www.GeorgiaSHAPE.org. Schools also have the opportunity to participate in SHAPE initiatives, with physical education teachers receiving professional training, equipment, software and technical support to conduct assessments of physical fitness of students. Participants are eligible for the governor's award and recognition program, which will provide exciting incentives for teachers and schools.

Physical fitness is measured by the FITNESSGRAM tool used for SHAPE's annual standardized fitness assessment evaluates five different parts of health-related fitness, including aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition using objective criteria. FITNESSGRAM is administered to all students enrolled in grades 1-12 and taught by a certified physical education teacher.

"Georgia SHAPE is about improving the health of our state's children," Gov. Nathan Deal said as he signed the official September proclamation. "And SHAPE Month is about letting every Georgia family know we support them and we want them to know fitness is fun.

The month culminates in a special ceremony to honor the work of schools and physical education teachers at the Atlanta Braves game on Sept. 25 and the Atlanta Falcons game on Sept. 30. Student winners of Georgia's Stay in SHAPE contest will also be honored at the Atlanta Falcons game on Sept. 30. All state parks and historic sites will be admission-free on Sept. 29. All month long hundreds of other programs from guided hikes to farmer's markets will be available statewide.

There are ways for parents to make sure their children are getting adequate exercise, according to Audri Ross, with Covington Family YMCA.

"The best way to encourage children to exercise is to have the parents engage in exercise with them and make it fun,” she said. “Children watch their parents and copy the habits they see. Positive reinforcement and encouragement is a great way to motivate children to keep moving. Family activities like going to the park, playing tag, or turning on some music to dance are great ways to make exercise fun.”

Ross said it’s important for kids to receive adequate exercise to create healthy habits at an early stage in life. “When a child learns to embrace exercise he/she will create a healthy lifestyle and a healthy future,” she said. “Exercise also helps children to focus and learn. Children need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. These activities can include running, bike riding, swimming, playing sports, etc.”

Related to diet, Ross said parents can encourage kids to create a colorful plate of vegetables and fruits. “Parents should always make sure their children are drinking plenty of water instead of juice or soda; this will help keep kids hydrated and decrease the cravings for junk food. Parents should also follow the habits they teach their children- children are always watching!” she said.