Children’s Health and Exercise: 5 Weeks of Yoga/Boot Camp

by Healthy Latina in the City
Let's move!

Photo courtesy of

This month we will take a detour from talking about healthy eating and talk about children’s health and exercise.

For the past 5 weeks I have been working at a comprehensive academic enrichment program for motivated middle school students who are: first-generation college-bound, low-income and traditionally underrepresented at college preparatory high schools.  This program provides a challenging and supportive environment to teach students skills they will need to succeed in a college preparatory high school and to inspire them to prepare for high school and beyond.

In this program students participate in four academic classes each day and two days a week in a sport and an elective course. Students must commit to the same sport and elective for five weeks. I had originally agreed to participate in this program to teach video production, an elective course. However, they asked me if I would be interested in teaching some type of sports class as well two days a week for two hours. I was a little hesitant because I am not a stellar athlete by any means. I played organized competitive sports from elementary school through high school, but it has been a few years since I graduated high school, so I was a little concerned. I told the director I did not feel comfortable teaching a sport but I would be happy to do a yoga or boot camp class with another teacher. They liked the idea and I was soon teaching Yoga/Boot camp two days a week for 5 weeks to a group of 10 girls (7th-9th graders). We had yoga on Tuesdays and boot camp on Thursdays.

Teaching this exercise course was such an eye opening experience for me. It made me realize a few things:

  1. Much of our youth are out of shape and do not participate in regular exercise (including organized sports)
  2. Groups of young girls doing tough things (like exercise) together is very important and empowering, with confidence and motivation women and girls build their self esteem.
  3. We need to find a way to motivate our youth to move, especially young girls.

During the first week of class I could not believe how out of shape these students were. During our first class they complained and could not do a pushup, sit up and even one girl did not know how to jump rope. This made me sad (and concerned) because I remember at this age being so physically active in swimming, soccer, dance, basketball, softball, riding my bike, playing in my backyard with jump ropes and balls.

“Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in Americahave tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in Americaare overweight or obese. The numbers are even higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40% of the children are overweight or obese. If we don’t solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma.”

I do understand that due to many state budget cuts to education that physical education and physical activity in schools has been greatly affected. But it is really now up to parents and communities to instill physical fitness and fitness education for our youth. I also realize that that we need to be able to provide safe, effective and accessible physical activity programs to help get kids moving.

By the end of the 5 weeks I saw these girls transform. They were stronger and more flexible. They were asking for harder workouts because they wanted to feel sore!! They were doing difficult yoga poses and they wanted to take turns leading different yoga positions. This was also just a great opportunity for girls to spend girl time together to meditate, talk and exercise. We had great moments of silent meditation, conversations about body image, eating, things that make up happy and frustrated.

“Participating in sports is one way that girls can develop physical competence. Girls learn to appreciate their bodies for what they can do, instead of the perceived appearance by oneself or by others.” –

“Involvement in athletics provides lessons in teamwork and leadership, the development of citizenship, and community involvement.” –

I found this experience to be fun, rewarding, eye opening and a valuable way to empower young girls. As a strong advocate for healthy living I want us to help youth and families be healthy, but yet at the same time I understand the difficulties in this as well. It is not an overnight fix but a journey for us all.

For ideas and tips on how to get children to move more check out the First Lady, Michelle Obama’s  Let’s Move Campaign.

Healthy Latina in the City is a contributing writer with a personal passion for nutrition and healthy living. While she is not a nutritionist, doctor, or personal trainer she wants to take you on her journey to live a healthy lifestyle and share tips that have worked for her to incorporate good health and nutrition into your life.