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May 4, 2010 > A call to exercise

A call to exercise

By David J. Nicolas

This week, thousands of children and their families around the world will take a moment to exercise simultaneously in celebration of two projects created to demonstrate the importance of physical fitness.

Project ACES (All Children Exercise Simultaneously), founded by Len Saunders, a physical education teacher in New Jersey, reminds masses of the necessity of exercise in a young student's healthy lifestyle. Twenty-three years ago, when Saunders created the project, he pursued to instill fun into exercise by having schoolchildren around the country unite and exercise at the same time.

"Originally, my plan was to just organize the event with all the five elementary schools in my school district. Then, the idea came to me that it would be cool to get millions of children from all 50 states to exercise simultaneously," Saunders said in an e-mail.

Saunders expected ACES to run for a single year, but after Sports Illustrated caught wind of the project and as hundreds of letters from the U.S. and around the world poured into his mailbox in support for the project, Saunders looked toward the future. School Kids from 1,200 schools in all 50 states participated in the first ACES event, which has been praised by former presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Regan and other government officials.

There isn't a specific list of activities or routine for the Wednesday, May 5,10 a.m. local time exercise project. Schools are simply asked to use the 15-45 minutes for some form of physical activity.

"The main goal is to motivate children to exercise and not be sedentary. I wanted to make exercise something that was fun, and not un-enjoyable," he said.

Many parents sought to be directly involved with ACES after its inception, so Saunders founded Parents and Children Exercise Simultaneously or PACES. In this program, families will take a break on exercise some time on Saturday, May 8. The event will mark the third anniversary of PACES.

With childhood obesity skyrocketing in recent years, programs that encourage physical activity are the perfect remedy for a big problem in America. According to a recent New York Times article, the childhood obesity rate has surged in the past 30 years, citing that one in three American children is obese.

The New Jersey-based educator and author of "An Adventure in Exercise," a series that promotes spending time with family and an active lifestyle, feels that children's inactivity is due to a new dependency on cyber companions.

"Where children and play used to be natural companions, it now seems like children and technology have become natural companions," he said. "This is causing a generation of sedentary children, whose life expectancy may be shorter than their parents."

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