“Joanna is a personal trainer at our facility,” said Charles S. Cook, assistant general manager for programs at the Bayonne facility of New York Sports Clubs. “We were invited here to go over some basic exercises with the kids and talk about health benefits of eating right.”
Connie Maksel, head preschool teacher at Friendship Baptist Church, invited the club on Jan. 25 to help celebrate National Pre-School Health Month and to talk to the children about the benefits of exercise.
In the late 1970s, about five percent of children between ages two and five were overweight, a figure that 10 years ago reached 14 percent. Recent studies have shown as many as 21 percent of pre-schoolers are considered overweight.
According to studies done for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, poor diet and lack of exercise contributed to childhood obesity. The studies showed that the pre-school years are critical for development healthy eating habits and motor skills that could help prevent obesity later in adulthood. These studies suggest that the number of overweight pre-schoolers may soon climb above 25 percent nationwide, and that kids who are obese in their preschool years tend to be obese as adults.
Daycare centers, according to these same reports, provide a good setting to help establish positive patterns that kids can continue later in life.
In 2011, the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education stated that regular physical activity plays a critical role in the prevention of obesity; engaging in active play is essential to healthy development; and play contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of young children.
“The idea is to get them use to exercise when they are young.” – Connie Maksel
Nowak called out various exercises, basic moves for stretching legs and arms, and the kids – all of whom are between two and five – did their best to comply, some laughing so hard they couldn’t, while other focused very carefully on what they were told.
Since she performed each exercise with them, most of the kids got a very good idea of what they wanted to do, although they were shy when discussing the exercises afterward.
Nowak and Cook represent The New York Sports Clubs’ Bayonne facility, a 26,000-square-foot, multi-recreational facility located at 600 Bayonne Crossing. The facility offers a variety of services, from a swimming pool to an extensive array of the latest cardiovascular equipment. The facility has been reaching out into the community through a number of efforts like this, although having Nowak actually go through the routines with them seemed to impress the kids.
While New York Sports Clubs is one of the newest businesses to open in the city, Cook and Nowak came to visit a long-established church with deep roots in the Bayonne. The church has held services at two locations on East 20th Street since 1924, and before that in a storefront nearby. The pre-k and daycare center is relatively new.
“The idea is to get them used to exercise when they are young,” Maksel said, an idea that both Cook and Joanna agree with, knowing that good habits, like bad habits, often get started at a very young age.
The dozens of kids in the program come from all over Hudson County, as far north as Union City and West New York as well as from Jersey City and Bayonne.
“We wanted to give them a lesson on eating healthy foods and exercising,” Maksel said. “So we invited New York Sports Clubs to come here.”
Karen Worrell, director of the Friendship Baptist Daycare Center, she wanted to instill in the children the importance of taking care of their health.
“We wanted them to know how important proper diet and exercise are,” she said. “I know they are very young, but I believe you can never be too young to start.”
Maksel said this visit reinforces exercises that the children do routinely at the school as part of their daily activities. Bringing in the professionals from New York Sports Clubs adds another community-building aspect to the school’s programs.
“We do a lot of activities outside the school,” she said. “But we want to bring people here to the school as well."