Physical Education classes have come a long way since the days of having children do jumping jacks and run around a track, as Project Fit America changes gym class from being focused on exercise to including overall health.

In Riverhead School District. pre-teens are working their bodies with sit-ups, pull-ups and weighted hula hoops. Meantime they are also exercising their minds by racing one another to answer math problems and competing to piece together a replica of the human skeleton.

Project Fit America Changes Gym ClassThe Riverhead students are the first in New York State to participate in a physical education curriculum created by Project Fit America, a nonprofit dedicated to getting kids in shape by fostering a love of fitness at an early age.

The program provides schools with state-of-the-art outdoor and indoor fitness equipment and teacher training, allowing instructors to put away the kickballs and encourage exercise in other ways that are both more intense and fun.

Project Fit America was designed to help students find “their fitness self,” said its executive director, Stacey Cook

“Everyone of us has an inner athlete, a fitness activity we’re good at,” she said. “We want the kids to find that magic.”Project Fit America Changes Gym Class

The child obesity rate in America has more than doubled since 1980, with a third of all children and adolescents now considered overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

While getting kids in better shape helps reduce their chances of developing obesity-related illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, it can also improve learning ability and build self-esteem, Cook said.

“Physical fitness doesn’t make you smarter, but it does prepare your brain to fire on all cylinders,” she said. “Data shows that active kids are better learners.”

The program, which has been introduced in 43 states nationwide, was brought to Riverhead’s five elementary schools during the 2013-14 school year. It was made possible through grants from PBMC Health, the Suffolk County Lions Diabetes Education Foundation and Brickman Group landscaping and turf maintenance.

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