On a recent Tuesday afternoon, a group of 25 excited second graders gathered at a community center outside Washington, D.C. for an after school program. They played games, had a snack, laughed and shared a wide range of activities more beneficial than sitting in front of a screen at the end of the school day.
Unlike other after school programs, this one benefits more people than the kids. Teams of volunteers age 50-plus actively participate right along with the youngsters. They run, skip, jump rope, twirl hula hoops and toss balls alongside their young charges. In the process, they discover that there is still a lot of vitality in life, whether you are 50, 60, 70, 80 or even 90.
Rocky Revisited: These kids and their coach are learning all the right moves to stay healthy at bit.ly/rocky1
Across the country, more than 23,500 children and 8,800 older adults in 21 cities and 17 states have participated in this, the Oasis CATCH Healthy Habits program. Launched in 2011 with financial support from the Anthem Foundation, CATCH Healthy Habits is demonstrating that anyone, at any age, can improve their health and reduce the risks associated with obesity through good nutrition, increased physical activity and wellness education.
Oasis CATCH Healthy Habits is the nation’s largest, evidence-based, intergenerational program that engages caring adult volunteers to inspire children to adopt healthy eating and physical activity habits for a lifetime. It aligns with the Let’s Move! campaign and meets National Health Education Standards. It helps address the challenge we face with one of every eight preschoolers and 72 million adults overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC further reports that,
“persons who are obese have medical costs that are $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.”
During weekly sessions, both generations play active games, learn about nutrition and prepare and eat healthy snacks. Volunteers share their own experiences as they teach the difference between WHOA foods and GO foods. Healthy snacks with names like Fruit Kabobs, Cereal of the Stars and Ants on a Stick, and fun exercises called Leapin’ Lizards, Can’t Touch This, and The Snail Trail appeal to both young and old and add a sense of adventure to the learning.
St. Louisan Dorothy Fisher is one of those volunteer leaders. Helping children learn good nutrition and get physically active is not the only reason she’s involved in CATCH Healthy Habits.
“It’s an opportunity for me to get exercise, and increase my understanding of young people,” she says. “It’s part of me and it keeps me going.”
May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, a perfect time to celebrate efforts to foster healthy lifestyles for every generation. As a geriatrician, I know that exercise is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy. It helps keeps your weight in check, your heart healthy and your memory sharp. And the opportunity to interact with young people is essentially a drug-free way to keep you feeling young.
The national results from CATCH Healthy Habits bear this out. Sixty-five percent of children and 81 percent of older adults in the program meet or exceed CDC physical activity recommendations. Both generations are eating more fruits and vegetables, watching less TV or playing video games, and sharing healthy eating and active living habits with friends and family members as a result of participating in the program.
Among the adult volunteers, close to three out of four (74%) reported that their health improved from fair or poor to good; three out of ten (30%) are engaging in activities that increased muscle strength; 14 percent reported improved flexibility; and one out of twenty had improved balance as a result of participating in the program.
Part-time actress and retired businesswoman Cynthia Singleton is a CATCH Healthy Habits volunteer in Los Angeles. Cynthia enjoys being part of team that benefits her own community, but recognizes the benefits she receives are equally important.
“It’s essential that we keep up our strength and work to maintain our health and flexibility. This program does so much for everyone involved. It’s the most fulfilling thing I have ever done,” she explained.
As a past president and long-time board member of the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), I fully support the AGS mission to improve the health, independence and quality of life of all older people. When I see the positive results that programs like CATCH Healthy Habits have on adult volunteers like Dorothy and Cynthia, I know that this is a way to age successfully. We can, and must, do everything we can to eat right and stay active. Programs like CATCH Healthy Habits are proof that we can.
Sharon A. Brangman, MD
Division Chief, Geriatric Medicine, SUNY Upstate Medical University
Immediate Past President, American Geriatrics Society