David Freeze: Gotta Run

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 5, 2018

Daily Mile ready for banner year

One of my greatest joys comes when I see kids enjoying fitness. The funny thing about kids and fitness is that the best things happen when adults encourage and participate along with them. Great rewards come when smiles and fitness gains are happening at the same time. Such is the case with Healthy Rowan’s Daily Mile program, one of my absolute favorite community projects.

The beginning of the Rowan Salisbury school year is fast approaching. In just a few weeks, kids and staff will be back at school. Starting with the first few days of classes, ten of the elementary schools will be fully immersed in the Daily Mile, a well-planned program that gets kids and staff out of the classroom and physically working to cover a mile on school time. Each and every day! On heavy rain days, most of the schools have worked out ways to use the hallways and measured them off to keep accurate distances. At least five more schools will begin the program by January, 2019.

But most of the pursuit of the Daily Mile happens outside on gravel walking/running tracks of distances from a tenth to a quarter of a mile. Teachers and administrators have scheduled fifteen minutes to cover 5,280 feet. One of the first to get started was Landis Elementary and Principal Brooke Zehmer. She said, ““The Daily Mile is an important part of our day at Landis Elementary!  It offers students and staff time to stretch, move, and get energized for the rest of the day.  Fresh air and sunshine do wonders for people’s activity levels, mood and ability to attend to tasks, and the Daily Mile is a simple but effective way to ensure our students and staff get the exercise needed for optimum health.” I have plenty of chances to drive by Landis Elementary and it seems that the track is a source of constant activity, just as it should be.

Alyssa Smith, Healthy Rowan’s Executive Director, champions the Daily Mile at every opportunity with an exuberance and passion of someone who wholly believes in her pursuit. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, pediatric obesity has been on the rise in children ages 2 to 18 in North Carolina since 2012. The latest North Carolina data shows 15 percent of 2 to 4 year olds, 30.9 percent of 10 to 17 year olds, and 16.4 percent of high school kids are obese. Not only that, NC ranks 16th for adult obesity, and 7th for obesity in teenagers.

Smith said, “It’s commonly known that obesity can contribute to Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults, but it has other implications for children. Not only do kids with obesity often experience bullying and lower self-esteem, but they also experience bone and joint development issues as well. We want to set our kids up to live the longest and healthiest lives possible. It’s unfortunate that the obesity epidemic has become “background noise” to so many because it seems like a daunting and overwhelming issue. One piece of the solution is simple – for all of us, not just kids, to become more active in our daily lives.”

You can see why I like her so much. Smith added, “I am most excited about “The Daily Mile” because I feel it truly shows the mission of Healthy Rowan – to promote collaboration across agencies to improve health outcomes in Rowan County. The Daily Mile provides accountability that builds on long-standing partnerships from organizations that built the walking tracks for schools. It gives a sort of formalized encouragement for schools to utilize these spaces throughout the school day. I see the program as an excellent outlet for youth to engage in physical activity, but also an opportunity for students to spend time with their peers and teachers outside of an academic setting.”

One principal told me that she often spends alone time with students over lunch while addressing a concern and she also uses walking time on the track to do the same. I’ve found that a certain openness develops for all ages when shared exercise is part of the mix.

Smith continued, “One of the more exciting things we have heard about the program is the opportunity for kids to play with friends, to challenge themselves to run a little faster each day, and to have an outlet to get the “wiggles” out. My hope is that children learn that being physically active makes your body and mind feel good. And that they keep that with them throughout their lives. “

There is plenty of data that exercise improves self-esteem, lessens absenteeism and enhances alertness back in the classroom. Corporate partners include Vulcan Materials, Rowan County United Way Day of Caring and Bost Trucking.

Look for upcoming events at salisburyrowanrunners.org