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updated: 2/15/2011 10:48 AM

Fitness Fun Fair to teach families about exercise

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Today's kids have the best-conditioned thumbs of any generation. Lightning-quick reflexes, too.

Problem is, those are the only targets Xbox and PlayStation hit when it comes to muscle groups and physical benefits.

No measure of surround sound and virtual effects can turn the couch into a ball field or a basketball court. Despite all our technological luxuries, the pursuit of fitness still requires good old-fashioned exercise and play.

By and large, we weigh too much and exercise too little. It's no longer exclusive to adults either. Childhood obesity has become a national epidemic that is considered among the nation's biggest public health challenges in recent times.

One of every three children in the United States is overweight or, worse, obese. In 1980, just 6.5 percent of U.S. children aged 6 to 11 years were considered obese, but that percentage rose to nearly 20 percent by 2010.

A lot of us have good intentions -- we work out when we can and try to eat right mostly -- but children have a decided advantage over us older folks.

They have a clean slate. Rather than having to undo what's been done over the course of many years, they can be proactive and prevent bad habits from developing. With guidance and education, we can put them on a path early that increases the likelihood of them living longer, healthier lives.

That's what the Fitness Fun Fair for Kids aims to do. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19, at the Vaughan Athletic Center, kids and families take center stage at this gala event that will spotlight health and fitness among the younger generation.

And, like the best things in life, the Fitness Fun Fair is free to all who attend.

"Any form of play is beneficial," said recreation supervisor Tammi Cosola. "Exercise is more than just walking on a treadmill. It's about being active on a regular basis and making it enjoyable."

But for many children, biking to the playground and playing kick ball in the back yard have given way to watching TV, playing video games and spending endless hours online. Sedentary lifestyles among children -- once unthinkable -- are becoming frighteningly prevalent.

The Fitness Fun Fair will teach children and families that exercise is a way to take care of your body, rather than a chore or punishment that must be performed. By promoting activities that incorporate play, kids are more inclined to get involved and stay involved, setting the foundation for a lifetime of fitness, health and good fun.

"The Park District offers a lot of fun activities where kids can be active and fit," said Cosola. "We aim to instill that sense of fun so they develop a love for being active, which will make them more inclined to exercise on a regular basis."

The Fitness Fun Fair; it's an open-house format where families can pick and choose and bounce around among numerous activities that include an inflatable obstacle course, ZumbAtomic sessions, KitFit demos and loads of other activities designed to endear kids to exercise, er, play.

More than 20 health-conscious vendors will be on hand as well to promote the most important qualities in life -- good health and happiness.

Call it play. Call it exercise. Better yet, call it a lifestyle. The kids won't know the difference. They'll just reap the rewards -- for a lifetime.

• Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District.