TAKE YOUR marks. Get set. Get movin'!
It's National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, and as part of this effort to energize the nation, special attention is being tossed kids' way -- beginning right here in Western New York.
Sunday is "Children's Fitness Day in Buffalo," and to celebrate, the first annual children's run will kick off at 10 a.m. in Delaware Park.
Why the straight pitch? The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that the level of physical fitness among children in the United States is declining.
Inactivity often is to blame. In addition, up to 50 percent of the children in the United States are not getting enough exercise to develop healthy hearts and lungs, according to the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
It might seem that kids would get enough exercise . . . just being kids. But the academy clarifies some myths and facts.
Myth: Any sport will make a child fit.
Fact: Activities that stress mostly speed, power and agility -- for example, football, basketball and baseball -- are games of skill. They do not necessarily promote fitness, which is defined to include four components: muscle strength and endurance; flexibility; body fat composition, and cardiorespiratory endurance.
Children should be introduced to a variety of "lifetime" activities (those that can be readily carried into adulthood), such as bicycling, swimming, running, fast walking, aerobics and tennis.
Myth: If children play sports occasionally, that's enough.
Fact: The best all-around fitness activities should be done at least three times a week; continue without breaks for 20 to 25 minutes, and increase the heart rate a significant amount, depending on the child's age.
As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics has called for more physical education programs in schools and greater family involvement in fitness at home.
In Western New York, other active steps are taking place.
As part of the month-long fitness celebration called "Buffalo Movin' in May," which coincides with National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, the children's run scheduled for Sunday in Delaware Park promises to be no ordinary race. The participants are young (ages 5 to 17). The distance, short (1.8 miles). And, the best part, everybody wins.
Called "Kids Work Out, Too!," the run begins at 10 a.m. with a balloon launch and pre-event warm-up set to music, followed by a one-mile fun run/walk and a 1.8-mile run looping around the park. Participants can alternate between walking and running. All proceeds will benefit Camp Good Days and Special Times.
The whole family can participate -- parents can walk or run with children, and volunteers will be on hand to do the same. But to emphasize for whom this event is geared, its organizers claim that "all adults must be accompanied by a child."
The run is directed by Mary Anne Marshall of Williamsville, founder of the "Kids Work Out, Too!" exercise program, and co-directed by Lawrence Brownell, vice president of the Niagara Amateur Athletic Union and a senior recreation supervisor for the Town of Cheektowaga.
Mrs. Marshall is director of the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo and a consultant in pediatric exercise for Blue Shield, which is co-sponsoring the event.
"I'm a firm believer in building a fitness base before throwing a child into a competitive sport," said Mrs. Marshall, who recently returned from the Ontario Fitness Council Conference, where she presented a seminar on children's fitness programs.
Her approach focuses on teaching children the importance of regular exercise; encouraging non-competitive physical activities in order to develop a positive attitude about themselves and their health, and developing good health habits early on "before you have to change learned behavioral patterns.
"A community event like this children's run provides a positive atmosphere in which kids can participate in a physical activity," she said.
Local schools have been encouraged to participate, and commemorative certificates will be awarded to the three schools with the highest level of student participation.
Here are some tips to help parents and children prepare for a safe and fun run:
Prepare by walking or running regularly before run day.
Wear sneakers and comfortable clothing. Eat lightly before event.
Get ready by joining in the pre-run warm-up to music.
Pace yourself. Don't work too hard or run too fast.
Cool down by walking around after the event. Be sure to drink plenty of water.
Stretch your muscles after the run and then again later in the day.
For more information about the run, call the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo.
Sunday's children's run in Delaware Park will benefit Camp Good Days and Special Times as part of "Buffalo Movin' in May."