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With an increase in sedentary lifestyles, obesity amongst children has become a growing concern in many countries around the world. In the United States, three time Olympic medallist in swimming and medical doctor Gary Hall Sr, decided to do something about it.
He co-founded World Fit, a foundation which encourages children in schools across America to get active. Using his Olympic experience and network, a simple concept was developed: an Olympian is paired with a school and challenges its students and teachers to walk 60 miles in 40 days to get them fit.
“Walking is an accessible, affordable way to exercise; you just need a pair of shoes and a goal,” says Hall, now Executive Director of the foundation. “As humans, we are designed to walk and it is one of the best forms of exercise.”
Over 300 Olympians and Paralympians have registered thus far to adopt a school. Once they are assigned a school, they speak annually to its students about the importance of physical fitness activities and a healthy lifestyle and encourage the students to participate in the World Fit Walk, held each spring.
“An Olympian, regardless of the year he/she competed or whether or not he/she ever won a medal, is a hero to every middle school student in America,” says Hall. “What better inspiration than to have an Olympian adopt your school and students for life?”
Since the first World Fit Walk in 2009, 52,399 students from 75 different schools across the United States have logged in a total of 5,033,919 miles (8,101,307 kilometres) during the six-week program.
World Fit is currently looking to introduce its program into Europe in 2014 in partnership with the International Academy of Sports Science and Technology (AISTS), a not-for-profit educational institute based in Lausanne (Switzerland).
“We strongly believe that World Fit brings huge value not only to children but also to the schools and the community they live in,” says Geert Hendriks, AISTS Sports Development Manager. “The great thing is that the program is also attractive and accessible for children who do not necessarily enjoy sport or have physical barriers to overcome.”
What makes World Fit work is the right dynamics of motivation, inspiration and competition that make it fun. Students can log their miles electronically on the World Fit website, www.worldfit.org, which keeps track for them and compares how they are doing with other students and schools in their region. A “buddy” system lets them collect miles from outside participants, for example teachers, parents or siblings who walk along with them and the World Fit social media sites allow them to upload their photos and share their efforts.
“The best time for us to try to establish a lifelong habit of good exercise is with children. Students are still in their formative years when encouragement and role models can make a lifelong impact,” says Hall. “A little bit of exercise goes a long way toward improving overall health.”
Gary Hall Sr will be speaking at the 15th IOC World Conference on Sport for All that takes place in Lima, Peru from 24 to 27 April on the importance of forming partnerships in the growth and development of World Fit.
This international conference will bring together some of the leading experts in the field of Sport for All to share their best practices. Speakers hail from around the world and from diverse professional fields in order to bring a wide and varied perspective to the subject.
Learn more about World Fit here
Learn more about the IOC’s World Conference on Sport for All here