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FitSchools_ActivitiesIn 2008 California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger a man who built his wealth, fame, and political fortune on his extreme (and questionably pumped-up) physical fitness, announced he was going to slice the state’s education budget. And when the long knives come out of the budget, phys ed teachers get nicked first.

“Children always understand. They have open minds. They have built-in-sh– detectors.” – Madonna

Public schools have been squeezed dry over the past decade, even while our biggest corporations and wealthiest citizens have been sponging up excess. And the economic downturn has limited tax revenues, causing states to start attacking their education budgets. In this climate, phys ed is considered a luxury: only 4 percent of elementary schools provide daily gym classes; only 8 percent of middle schools do.

“If it weren’t for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn’t get any exercise at all.” – Joey Adams

Is it any wonder, then, that nearly a third of American children are at risk for obesity? Does it make any sense to starve phys ed programs while overweight student bodies pack on pounds and health problems?

“Tell the children the truth.” – Bob Marley

Of course not. That’s why I give considerable credit to Men’s Health Magazine who has established the FitSchools Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming gym programs across America. Their mission: to give schools, teachers, and parents the tools they need to help kids fall in love with fitness.

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They started fall of 2007 with one school, Richard H. Gettys Middle School in Easley, South Carolina. The administrators told Mens Health the program worked, the teachers told them it worked, and most important, the kids told the magazine it worked; in the form of dozens of handwritten letters about the physical, emotional, and even academic benefits of the new program. So to expand the reach of FitSchools,  Men’s Health fitness guru, Adam Campbell, led an effort to extend the program to dozens of schools over the next year. What’s more, they teamed with the University of Florida to study the impact of FitSchools on an entire school district in Northbrook, Illinois.

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” – James Baldwin

But the benefits of FitSchools go far beyond our kids’ waistlines. Sheila Thomas, the principal of the newest FitSchool, Andrew H. Wilson Charter School in New Orleans, says, “As your physical education program goes, so goes your entire school.” Studies show that kids who are physically active score higher on academic tests than their sedentary peers do. Better bodies, better grades, better lives, that’s what FitSchools is all about.

To find out how you can help, to make a donation or volunteer your time, go to MensHealth.com/fitschools. If Arnold has abandoned the cause, they’ll need plenty of help to pump it back up, again.

For Specialized Fitness equipment designed especially for kids, take a look at, First Kids Fitness.