Taking its cue from the scientific premise that it takes 21 days to form a habit, a new program has launched with the goal of getting children into the habit of outdoor play after school.
The 21-Day Fitness Challenge is under way at Brainerd Recreation Center for 9- to 12-year-olds. It's teaching kids that healthy foods can taste good and that exercise can be fun.
"We get back to basics, playing kickball or swimming, things we all did when we were kids," said Demetrius Alexander, Brainerd Rec Center's recreation specialist.
"We want to make kids more active, steer them away from sitting around typing on cell phones and playing video games. We're just trying to push them in the right direction," he said.
Alexander leads the free, after-school sessions with Bryan Mitchell of the sponsoring nonprofit, Friends for Families.
The mission of Friends for Families is to teach skills necessary to promote healthy environments for families as well as to educate families on childhood obesity, according to its website.
"When Bryan came to us with the idea for this program, we had just finished classes on childhood obesity for all the rec centers' staff," Alexander said.
Information provided by the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department states that childhood obesity has nearly quintupled over the last 30 years, from 4 percent to 19 percent. The greatest increase has been among children ages 6 to 11.
So this challenge was opened to any child in a city recreation center, said Rhonda Seeber, Chattanooga Parks and Recreation public information spokeswoman. Children were asked to commit to 21 days of participation in exercise and eating healthy foods.
Alexander said they began with 20 kids; 15 are expected to complete the program on Monday.
Seeber explains that a van picks up participants at South Chattanooga, Carver and East Chattanooga rec centers each weekday afternoon and delivers them to the Brainerd center for their 5 p.m. sessions.
Alexander said kids sit down to flashcard sessions teaching nutrition and they play games that develop listening skills, in addition to enjoying field games, soccer, kickball, basketball and swimming.
"I like soccer, basketball and playing Land, Sea and Air," said Demetrius Edwards, 10, a student at East Brainerd Elementary.
Alexander explained Land, Sea and Air is a game similar to Simon Says, in which kids must listen for verbal commands.
Jeremiah Mitchell, from Calvin Donaldson Elementary, said one reason he signed up for the challenge was to see a "new rec center I've never been to."
"I like to work out, and I like to come here and shoot ball," said the 11-year-old.
As the challenge nears completion, Alexander reports he's seen a change in attitudes.
"When we first got them, they weren't trying to be active. Now they come in and ask me to get started in the afternoons," he said with a broad smile.
Contact Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.