July 23, 2008

Simmons Makes Move to Get Kids Active at School

By Nanci Hellmich

Fitness fireball Richard Simmons, 60, who has had people Sweatin' to the Oldies for years, will offer new ideas for pumping up physical education at a congressional hearing Thursday in Washington.

"Some schools have 15 minutes two days a week for PE classes, and a lot of schools don't have recess," Simmons says. "When you take the physical activity and the recess away, these kids are just sitting in the classroom all day."

He has talked to and surveyed parents, teachers, principals and superintendents and will offer the House Education and Labor Committee some ideas for "an economic way to get our kids moving every day."

He'll suggest that school systems "use the talent in their community" and have local certified fitness instructors teach classes in aerobics, yoga, Pilates, stretching and strength training during the school day.

These instructors would work under the direction of the school system's PE teachers. The classes could be set to popular pop tunes. Money for the instructors could be raised by the local PTAs or others, he says.

Being active helps children concentrate better, and it makes them feel better about themselves, Simmons says. Children who get a break to do some kind of physical activity come back to the classroom ready to work harder.

"A kid who moves is a kid who learns," he says.

Simmons, who has 50 fitness videos with titles that include Sweatin' to the Oldies, Dance Your Pants Off and Disco Sweat, says schools must offer more variety than just sports and games. "Everyone isn't made to play sports, but everyone wants to move."

He speaks from experience. As a heavy child growing up in New Orleans' French Quarter, he says, he often sat out during gym class because he wasn't picked for teams. "I'd sit down and open the other kids' lunchboxes and eat their lunches while they were playing."

His attitude as he visits the nation's capital will be a cross between "Norma Rae and Johnny Appleseed," he says. He'll be wearing a business suit for his presentation to the House committee but afterward will don his workout clothes and lead a "patriotic workout" for the public at the Cannon House Office Building terrace.

This is not all he's doing for the younger set. He says he is developing a reality TV show in which he'll help children and families lose weight. "It's going to show Americans that it's possible to realistically lose weight, be happy and go on to other goals," he says. "It won't be an angry show with screaming and yelling. Just teamwork. No competition. It's about saving lives."

He also works with senior citizens, helping retirement centers set up health programs and classes. "Now that I'm an AARP member, I do conventions for seniors," he says. Last week, he led a class that included a 93-year-old woman who wore a headband and had a tank top that matched his. "She was rocking and rolling," Simmons says.

"If you balance your meals and you move your buns, you will live longer. If you are kind to your body, your body is kind to you." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>