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Sun City Center volunteers teach healthy habits to Hillsborough County students

RUSKIN

Kids in the cafeteria bounded out of their seats after fidgeting for the first few minutes of the presentation, their feet swinging back and forth, barely scraping the floor.

Stephen Attles, 62, led them through a few simple, kid-friendly stretches. Then he called a little blond boy up to the front.

"If you were a gym teacher, what would you do to loosen up the class?" Attles asked him.

The boy thought about it for a minute. "Pushups?"

Attles and the seniors from Sun City Center laughed and clapped at the boy's enthusiasm. It wasn't quite the exercise they were expecting for a room of about 60 schoolchildren.

Attles suggested jumping jacks instead, asking how many they should do. A few students shouted "25!" and they got right to it, each trying to jump faster than their neighbor.

The seniors at Cypress Creek Elementary School Tuesday afternoon were volunteers with Fitness One America. Sol Fried, 92, started the group three years ago, inspired by first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, which aims to end childhood obesity.

Fried and the group have been to about 20 schools in Hillsborough County in the last three years to encourage kids to exercise and eat healthy foods.

"Dear young people," Fried began, speaking to the students and glancing down at his notes. "We use the word 'dear' in the full sense of the fact that you are very dear to your families, friends and to all the adults in the world. You will be the leaders and shapers of our world."

He explained to the students that it's important to put down the video games, turn off the television and get outside. He told them about how eating long meals with their families can help them eat better and slower. He encouraged them to take the stairs instead of elevators.

Fried wants kids to develop healthy habits when they're young, habits that will stick with them all their lives. And seniors are the perfect people to help, he said.

"They have the time and should want to give something back to the generations in back of us," Fried said.

The volunteers engage the kids with stories and songs. James Miller, 85, or "Dr. Jim" to the kids, tells them a tale of a web of jewels, all interconnected.

Miller weaved through the room as he told the story, ruffling kids' hair and looking them in the eye. They looked back with wide eyes, waiting for more of the story. When one jewel is dull, they're all dull, he said. When one shines, they all shine.

"If I make a bump on his head, everybody else has a bump," he said, playfully patting one boy's hair as the children giggled. "If I kiss her on the head, everybody else gets a kiss."

Take care of themselves, he was telling them, and take care of each other.

"If we love each other, if we're good to each other, the whole world is made right," he said.

Carolyn Hunter, 81, is a member of the Front Porch Pickers music group in Sun City Center. She wrote a song for Fitness One America and came out to Fried's presentation for the first time on Tuesday.

"It wasn't an epidemic when I taught school," Hunter said of childhood obesity. When she was a kid, they played outdoors and climbed trees. "It was a whole different world."

Attles taught for 22 years in New York City. The students always love it when someone new comes into the classroom, and it's encouraging to see children enjoying themselves and learning good habits, he said.

"Obesity is running rampant," he said. "We have to start somewhere."

Fried played sports all his life, but for a while had his own bad habit.

"I smoked four packs a day," until his daughter persuaded him to quit, Fried said. "She just kept nagging me until I stopped."

Now he uses the exercise machines in the gym and the stationary bike, and does pushups to stay fit.

"I'm hoping I can do it for another eight years, so I can reach 100," Fried said.

He plans to keep reaching out to children and hopes other seniors across the country follow his lead.

"You always have to keep going, keep moving," he said. "That's the word. Keep moving."

Keeley Sheehan can be reached at ksheehan@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2453.

. To learn more

Fitness One America

For more information or to get involved with Fitness One America, call Sol Fried at (813) 634-7692.

Sun City Center volunteers teach healthy habits to Hillsborough County students 10/23/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 5:28pm]

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