June 21, 2004

Teen exercise program expands to SAAC


By Eric Rangus

The Student Activity and Academic Center (SAAC) on the Clairmont Campus will host TeensExercise, a weight management and exercise program for girls ages 12-18 from July 1-Aug.

Sessions will be held Thursday nights from 6-7:30 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Registration for either session of the six-week program is $65, while passes that include 14 additional visits with class registration and full use of the SAAC facility also are being offered for $115.

The TeensExercise curriculum, which combines aerobic activity with nutrition education and basic weight training, was first implemented as "Teens in Motion" at Grady Hospital. The participants were primarily low-income minority girls, who program creator Linda Byams said were most in need of healthy lifestyle changes.

"Most of the programs now are for younger kids," said Byams, a health educator with the Jane Fonda Center. "When you get to be 12, where do you go during the summer months? You sit at home unless you are lucky enough to get a summer job."

All that sitting at home, Byams felt, created a lot of out-of-shape children. For children from low-income families, especially girls, those difficulties were even more prevalent.

"What I learned from the girls is they know they are in trouble," Byams said. "They are frustrated and they are bored and they really are limited, especially inner-city kids. They go from one house to the next house and they sit. Their parents--and this is every parent today--are extremely busy. They often aren't concerned with their kids' health until they're sick. Parents don't always provide avenues for change, and it's not necessarily their fault. Many don't have the time or the resources themselves."

So Byams decided to offer those resources herself. In January 2003, she started Teens in Motion. She did some advertising and contacted families who had been referred by Grady's nutrition department, expecting perhaps 10 girls to show up for the first session. She got 20.

Although Grady's Teen Services Clinic and Grady's nutrition department provided sponsorship and facilities, very little funding came with it. Byams worked pro bono.Teens in Motion was a shoestring operation, which wasn't always a bad thing.

The participants didn't have exercise mats, and instead of dumbbells, students curled books or fully filled water bottles. Their exercise room was a cramped conference room at Grady, although Byams noted the space and lack of fancy amenities matched the atmosphere the students were used to and would probably help them exercise on their own after the program was over.

"The concept was to create an exercise program that anybody could do," she said. Over the year, TeensExercise (Byams eventually changed the name) programs drew nearly 100 girls. "Often these girls come from homes where they have very limited space. They may share a room with a lot of people, or they're in a Grady Homes situation where the rooms are very small."

Byams, along with a nutritionist Sheila Hardison, took a somewhat unconventional approach to the training. Byams, who led the exercise portion, leaned heavily on hip-hop music for working out, to keep the girls interested. Lectures were minimal and they incorporated many visual aids (like a five-pound glob of fat the students could pass around). The nutrition aspect introduced the girls to healthy and relatively inexpensive snacks like yogurt. The girls also were encouraged to choreograph their own dance moves to the music to further personalize the experience.

The success of the program (one student lost 12 pounds and others reported making changes to their diet) led Byams to expand it. She called SAAC manager Frank Gaertner, who offered the facility for new students closer to the Emory community.

For the summer program at the SAAC, the budget has been increased. Students will have weights to work with, and classes will be held in the facility's multipurpose room. Some of the Grady program's edge--the hip-hop music, the rapid-fire changes from subject to subject--will carry over, though.

For $24.95, program participants can purchase a Teens-Exercise DVD so students can continue their workout regimens at home.

For registration infor-mation, contact Byams at 678-580-5027 or by
e-mail at Linda@TeensExercise.com.