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August 13, 2013

Tree poses for saplings: Kid-friendly yoga, cardio and strength exercises

It sounds like the setup for a sitcom plot: A school nurse at Marie Reed Elementary in Washington called up Mint, a boutique health club in the neighborhood, to find experts to lead a presentation on kids' fitness. Personal trainers Lance Breger and Tanya Colucci immediately agreed. It was only after they'd hung up that they realized that neither of them had ever worked with children before.

"I didn't even like kids," says Breger, who figured they might as well try to get some experience before they delivered the talk. So the duo set up a five-week after-school program in the hopes of collecting data and pointers. After being charmed by some adorable smiles, and recognizing how little these students had been exposed to good nutrition and exercise habits, Breger says, "I found my calling."

The experience spurred Breger and Colucci to co-found the Infinity Wellness Foundation (www.infinitywellness.org), a nonprofit organization that brings health and fitness professionals out of the gym and into the community.

More than 4,000 students at 19 Washington area elementary schools have now gone through their WellKids program, which has evolved considerably since that 2008 trial. Sessions are now 16 weeks, the length of a semester. And the structure has been tweaked along the way.

Classes were originally 30 minutes of education, followed by 30 minutes of movement. Or, at least, that's what was supposed to happen. These days, the sessions are broken down into a series of 10-minute segments to keep short attention spans occupied. Nearly everything they do keeps the kids on their toes, adds Breger, who tries to minimize sitting time while covering "moving, eating, stretching and breathing."

And he has a few ideas for how parents can copy WellKids strategies at home to encourage activity for life.

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