For Americans who grew up in the 1980s, Jake Steinfeld is a fitness icon. His “Body by Jake” workouts and videos, personal exercise equipment and groundbreaking TV fitness breaks broadcast during the early days of CNN brought his “Don’t quit!” motto into homes, workout rooms and gyms across the country.
And now Steinfeld is working hard to take his fitness message to a new generation of Americans, with his Live Positively fitness centers for kids, created with funding from
“I’m a huge believer in moderation,” he says. “I’m not a psycho when it comes to fitness; I’m a psycho when it comes to nutrition. I love to eat. And that’s why I exercise, so I can eat."
It Started With a Phone Call
The Live Positively programs started about four years ago when Steinfeld, then chairman of the California Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, cold-called Coke’s global chief customer officer Sandy Douglas, who at the time was president of
“And it was amazing what happened,” he says. The schools with the new fitness centers saw their students’ test scores — and attendance — go up. “I’m a big believer in if you’re exercising you feel better about yourself. When you’re in your classroom you’re less fidgety. You’re less fidgety, you’re more focused. You’re more focused, you do better on your tests. You do better on your tests, your teachers are happier, your parents are happier, you’re happier. We’re not just talking about building bodies but building competence and self-esteem."
Kid-Sized Cardio Machines and "Dance Dance Revolution"
Now chairman of the National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils, Steinfeld has been able to take the success of the Live Positively fitness centers across the country. The program has expanded to Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and Massachusetts — with plans for new fitness centers at schools in New Jersey, Ohio, Georgia and Delaware in 2013. Steinfeld’s ultimate goal is to have a fitness center in every elementary and middle school across the country.
The centers are geared for children whose bodies are still in what Steinfeld calls “that Gumby-ish stage.” There’s an emphasis on keeping fitness fun, with kid-sized cardio machines and engaging technology like the interactive “Dance Dance Revolution” music video games. Some of the Live Positively fitness centers even have climbing walls.
And it’s at the elementary and middle school levels, Steinfeld says, where exercise can have the greatest positive impact. “When they do make a change, it stays with them,” he says. “We need to build not just bodies but confidence and self-esteem. The schools that we do put fitness centers in, not only are their test scores up, not only are they healthier, but in the middle-school ages they’re less likely to smoke cigarettes, take a drug, join a gang.”
Schools Are Competing for the Programs
According to Steinfeld, each state gets three or so of the Live Positively fitness centers — with about $100,000 worth of new equipment. And there’s a lot of competition within each state for the facilities, with hundreds of schools applying. The winning schools have to show innovation when it comes to their physical fitness and nutrition programs within their curriculum and within the normal school day routine.
“When you go to these schools, the ones that we put these Live Positively fitness centers in, they never get anything new,” he notes. “They never get anything, anyway. And the parents and the teachers and the kids are so happy and so thankful. Parents come up and they’re crying, thanking me for coming as far as we’ve come, to show support for their school.”
He believes having the proper exercise equipment and fitness programs in U.S. schools is as important as having computer access. “With this obesity epidemic, we’re killing off our most precious resource, and that will cripple this country. As I’ve always said, academics and fitness, going hand in hand. Quite frankly this is not a Democrat or Republican issue, it’s a kids' issue," says Steinfeld.
Keeping Fitness Fun and Not “Insane”
And Steinfeld commends
Children and adults should keep fitness fun, so it doesn't feel like a chore, says Steinfeld. “Don’t make fitness insane, like grown-ups have made it insane,” he says, laughing. “And you don’t want to make it insane for your kids, because then they won’t do it. It’s through education and knowledge that people will be able to and need to make their own choices."
And most important, Steinfeld advises parents to set an example by eating in moderation and staying active with their kids. “At the end of the day, no matter what your demographic is, no matter where you are in society, you can eat well,” he says. “It’s the choices that we make, and there are a lot of choices out there, and we should be able to enjoy our lives.”