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Establishing healthy lifestyle habits as a child can be a difference-maker for an adult’s health and wellness. To help kids get invested in their health and wellness early, the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA, with 15 locations in and around Tampa, Florida, implemented the Fit and Fun at the Y program.

Launched in 2019 through a partnership with the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, Fit and Fun at the Y provides each participating child a Fitbit activity tracker, and a curriculum-based setting in which they can learn about exercising and eating right.

“Two Fit and Fun instructors work with the children for an hour two days a week,” said Nicole Ketterman, the healthy and safe children director at the Tampa YMCA. “Through different exercises and active games, they’re learning about different muscle groups and the importance of keeping the body active.”

Along with encouraging 60 active minutes a day, nutrition is a major focus of the Fit and Fun program. “Fit and Fun is not about weight loss or diets,” explained Ketterman. “Instead, it’s about healthy lifestyle habits, family awareness and understanding basic nutrition. Kids learn the difference between high nutritional value foods and low nutritional value foods. They learn how to read food labels, understand what proteins, carbohydrates and fats are, and how they relate to a current nutrition guide.”

Kids learn functional exercises in the Fit and Fun program.

Fit and Fun serves roughly 75 kids, ages six to 11, and according to Ketterman, has been very well received by the parents of participating children. “Parents have raved about the positive impacts the program is having on their kids,” she said.

Getting parents involved in their children’s health and wellness is important to their development, so educating parents on the benefits of healthy habits for kids is a major focus of Fit and Fun.

“An additional goal of this program is to have parents pass a free CPR/AED/First Aid course to help keep their kids healthier and safer,” said Ketterman. “Our goal is to show them the value and importance of this program and, hopefully, as a family they can make exercise and nutrition more of a priority.”

Fit and Fun has gained a lot of ground in promoting healthy habits for kids in the community, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. When nationwide coronavirus responses forced the Tampa YMCA to close its doors, the organization pivoted Fit and Fun to a virtual platform.

While families were in their homes most of the day, kids could participate virtually in interval training exercises — jumping jacks, mountain climbers, squats and reverse lunges, to name a few — as well as strength training with weights, and cool down time including yoga.

Participants have responded well to the virtual offering, but the Tampa YMCA is ready to get back to in-person programs, with an anticipated date of October 1 to return to the program as normal. At that time, the Fit and Fun program can engage kids on a more personal level, which is the most important goal of this initiative.

“Children are this community’s most precious gift, and it is our job as parents and caregivers to promote their overall well-being,” said Kelley Parris, the executive director of the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County. “Teaching them the importance of being active as part of a daily routine will benefit them for the rest of their lives.”

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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