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Stomp, left, stomp, right,” Shamque Pearson yelled to the group. “Y’all aren’t tired yet, are you?”
The beat of Eminem’s “Music Box” pulsed through the room at the Aquadome Recreation Center as the tiled floor slightly vibrated with each stomp.
It was time to work out the legs.
“Can you feel it? You can, can’t you, in your inner thighs and calves. That’s the way to work it,” said Pearson, who is with the Decatur Parks and Recreation Department.
The five children, ages 5 to 11, nodded their heads, continuing to stomp along with the music. For an hour, the group danced, shook their hips and threw punches to hip-hop, gospel and Latin music.
This was the third session of Promoting Healthy Activities Together, aptly nicknamed P.H.A.T.
Pearson, who joined the Parks and Recreation staff last month after a two-month internship, created the exercise program, featuring hip-hop dance and Zumba classes, plus nutrition tips, to fill a need in the community.
“I noticed at the Aquadome and Carrie Matthews (Recreation Center), most of the boys just shoot the basketball around, and the girls sit on the sideline, talking and watching. There was not much else,” said the 31-year-old Zumba-certified instructor and lover of dance.
After a trial run at the department’s Camp Safe Haven this summer proved successful, Parks and Recreation decided to implement P.H.A.T. year-round.
Pearson hopes the program also combats a growing problem in the country — childhood obesity.
Every year, health organizations warn about the nation’s high obesity rate and the consequences of obesity: diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure. And every year the percentage of obese Americans rises although the solution is usually simple — eat correctly and exercise.
But the problem continues.
According to the 2011 “F as in Fat,” a report by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 12 states have an obesity rate topping 30 percent. Four years ago, only one state broke the 30 percent mark. In Alabama, 32.3 percent of adults and 17.9 percent of children and teenagers classify as obese.
To battle the issue, the United States Department of Agriculture revamped the food pyramid, schools removed soda and candy machines and first lady Michelle Obama promoted exercise. None of the efforts has changed the picture of obesity in America, where one in three adults is obese.
“In theory, on paper, it’s so easy to fix this problem. All you have to do is exercise and eat right,” Pearson said. “In real life, it’s hard. That’s why I want to make it fun. And it is; it is so much fun you don’t even feel like you are working out — that is, not until you stop; then you feel it.”
Jada Rice, 8, agreed.
“I always have fun. I think my favorite part is dancing,” Rice said.
On Wednesday, Angela Munford watched her 8-year-old son Jaylon and 5-year-old twins Kymeisha and Kenyon groove to the music.
“They need to get active. The boys play football but besides that they aren’t too active. This gives them something fun to do,” Munford said.
Pearson, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in health and fitness management and psychology from Clayton State University in December, hopes by engaging the children, the message of nutrition and exercise will reach the parents.
Her passion for nutrition and exercise emerged while working as a kids’ club attendant at a gym.
“I really didn’t like the fact that the parents would drop off their children for us to babysit and they would go work out and get fit. I would think of games to play with them so they could get some exercise as well,” said Pearson, who encouraged parents to take the class with their children. “I want families to be able to exercise together so they can encourage each other.”
Along with dance, Zumba and exercise games, Pearson dispenses nutritional advice and issues challenges. Last week, the challenges included drinking four glasses a water a day, eating four servings of fruit and vegetables and ordering a salad instead of pizza at Chuck E. Cheese.
“You think you can do it? It’s a hard challenge,” Pearson said. “We need to eat healthy, though, to help with the muscles we are building. Can you feel them? What part of your body did you feel you worked out the most today?”
“My arms,” said 5-year-old Kymeisha Munford.
“You’re going to have some big muscles aren’t you?” Pearson said.
Munford flexed her right arm, felt the muscle and grinned.
“That’s what this is all about,” Pearson said, “making the children feel good about themselves so they want to continue. Fitness can be fun.”
What: An exercise program using hip-hop dance and Zumba for children, teenagers and their parents.
When: Mondays and Wednesdays, 3:30-4:30 p.m.; Tuesdays, 4-5 p.m.
Where: Mondays and Wednesdays at the Aquadome; Tuesdays at Carrie Matthews.
Cost: $10 per month or $2 per class. Interested individuals can try the class once for free.
Contact: Shamque Pearson- 256-341-4941 or firstname.lastname@example.org