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Fitness can be fun...for everyone

It’s never too early to initiate a healthy lifestyle

Suburban Life Magazine

Just as many adults commit to fitness in January, it’s a great time for kids to do the same.   Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010.

But there are services available to address healthy adolescent weight, just like there are for adults. For kids eight to 14, whose body mass index is in 85th percentile and above, ProActive Kids offers a safe place to improve health and confidence.

“Everything we do is designed to encourage and empower, so when they’re running and playing with their classmates, they feel confident,” Nicki Klinkhamer, executive director of the four-year-old, hospital-funded program.

The free eight-week program focuses on fitness, nutrition and lifestyle. The fitness component includes structured exercise under the guidance of a personal trainer. Nutrition education focuses on healthy diets, and portion control. Lifestyle classes address body image, self-esteem, communication, stress management and more.

“A lot of these kids have experienced bullying, some are going through difficult times and are using food for comfort. There are so many things that contribute to weight issues,” says Klinkhamer.

Parents are crucial in helping kids establish healthy habits. “The parents are the key component in their child’s health, since they’re the ones buying the food and cooking the meals,” Klinkhamer says.

Participants set measurable goals for during the program, and after. And kids aren’t the only ones making changes. “One of the dads told me he’d lost forty pounds. But even little changes, like being more active, swapping whole milk for skim, can make a difference,” she says.

DuPage County sponsoring partners are Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove and Edward Hospital in Woodridge.  The next session begins January 13 and enrollment is ongoing. For more information, visit 

Developing fitness skills that last a lifetime is one of the goals of the PPL Youth Triathlon Team, sponsored by Peterson Performance Lab in Western Springs.

The team is open to kids age seven to 19, and no previous experience is required.
“I started triathlon at 37, so it’s never too late. Anyone who is interested qualifies. With the kids, the focus is more on building skills and having fun,” says coach Jessica Niekrasz.

Triathlon competitions include running, swimming and bicycling. Running skills are taught through game play and emphasize injury prevention. Bike handling skills include turns, mounting, dismounting and bike safety.  Helmets are required. “Once without a helmet is a warning, twice and they’re off the team,” Niekrasz says.

Because of the difficulty in obtaining pool time, team members are asked to participate in a swim team. “We ask that they work on those skills outside of our program, but we do try to take them to open water in the summer, as schedules permit,” she says.

Participants set personal goals at the beginning of the season and strive to improve. Last year, the team competed in five races. “It’s an individual event, but we go as a team, put up a tent and once the kids have finished, they stay to cheer on their friends,” she says.

Regardless of their competitive level, kids benefit from the camaraderie while developing lifelong skills.  “Triathlon is a sport they can stay with all their life, and even if they don’t, they’ll still find satisfaction with swimming, biking or running,” Niekrasz says.

For more information, go to

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