Getting a Jump Start on Heart Health

The American Heart Association’s Jump Rope For Heart program keeps kids jumping for fun.

By: Erin Wilder

o you remember learning to jump rope in elementary school P.E. class? Did you compete with other students, seeing who could jump the longest or do trick jumps? Or maybe you sprinkled sing-songs and claps into your routine to jazz it up and make it a group effort? Wasn’t that fun?

Well, chances are you participated in the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope For Heart program, which is now in its 36th year across the country. This seminal health education program promotes physical activity and heart health through jumping rope while giving kids a fun experience in volunteering and giving back to their community.

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And chances are you haven’t jump roped in years. And maybe you haven’t exercised at all lately, because, well, it isn’t as fun as it used to be. Charla Hatfield, a P.E. instructor at Wood River Elementary in Calallen ISD, who has been bringing the Jump Rope For Heart program to her students for 29 years, believes the missing ingredient for older students and adults is that not-so-elusive fun.

“Kids learn early that exercise is fun,” Hatfield shared in a recent phone conversation, tucked in between busy classes. “That is so important.” While older students look more toward athletic accomplishment and adults may view exercise as drudgery, kids know how to keep a sense of fun and play in their activities.

Hatfield believes that keeping activity fun is what can keep kids – and adults – coming back for more. “If you are having fun and getting healthy at the same time … when my kids leave P.E. class sweaty, I know they got a good workout!”

The need to educate children about the importance of health and physical activity couldn’t be timelier. According to recent studies, one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese, causing a broad range of health problems like high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. In Corpus Christi, 87 percent of adults are overweight or obese and 30 percent of adult residents report getting zero physical activity in the past month. Zero. As in none.

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AHA_CC JRFH for Inspire pix-1

“Getting kids interested in physical activity early is critical if we are going to combat the unhealthy trends in childhood and adult obesity we see in the U.S.,” said Brandi Mulkey, the American Heart Association’s director for the youth market in Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend.

A Jump Rope For Heart program will usually commence with a school-wide celebratory kickoff to inspire the participants and build a sense of common purpose. Then, for two to four weeks, students learn about how exercise influences their cardiovascular health. They also learn about children with sick hearts and special cardiovascular needs, and they collect community donations. The donations raised by these generous jumpers benefit the American Heart Association and fund heart and stroke research, as well as community and education programs.

“A lot of parents get involved,” Hatfield shared. “And parental involvement is often key; they take handouts to work or help raise money online.” The program comes with curriculum resources that kids, and their families, can apply to other aspects of their lives. “The students learn about activity and exercise, and they also learn about heart disease and how to prevent it.”

“You know, our schools really look forward to the program each year as an annual celebration of health,” Mulkey said. “Oftentimes, the kids understand the importance of helping others with sick hearts because they personally know students, teachers or family members who have been impacted by heart disease or stroke.”

This past year, 37 Corpus Christi-area schools and more than 18,000 school children participated in the program, jumping at the chance to fight heart disease and stroke, which are our nation’s No. 1 and No. 5 killers. The program has become a mainstay in elementary physical education over the years. And we’re not jumping to conclusions to point out that trends in childhood obesity are – for the first time in decades – reversing course and improving.

You can check out a local performance jump rope team from Galvan Elementary at this year’s Corpus Christi Heart Walk, presented by H-E-B, on Saturday, Oct. 3, at Whataburger Field. The Heart Walk is sponsored nationally by Subway and with major local support from The Corpus Christi Caller Times and AEP.

If you or your school are interested in supporting the American Heart Association and participating in its Jump Rope For Heart or Hoops For Heart programs, visit www.heart.org/jump or contact Brandi Mulkey at brandi.mulkey@heart.org. And for more information on all the American Heart Association’s local programs and events, visit www.facebook.com/ahacorpus.

Photos courtesy of American Heart Association

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