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Resolved: Use fitness ABCs

by Louise Parks


Maintaining good physical and mental health is crucial to anyone’s employment performance. For people who work with children, fitness is key to the stamina, good humor, and mental alertness that’s essential to effective—and pleasurable—work.

Use these ABCs as a personal checklist, or as a starting point for a program-wide fitness resolution for the new year. Even if you hate the idea of an exercise regime, consider the benefits of general fitness—flexibility, agility, mobility, strength, and stability—that you can achieve with mindful and careful movement throughout the day.

Be good to yourself, look for support from others—and from within.



A AEROBIC activities develop a healthy heart. Choose walking, hiking, jogging, bicycling, swimming, rowing, or dancing. Aerobic exercise doesn’t have to be sustained for extended periods. Instead, aim to be active for 10 minutes to start. Of course, stamina—and heart health—are maximized with increasing the frequency, intensity, and duration of your workout. If you’re just starting out, give yourself the gift of a daily 15-minute walk—even just a stroll. Try to increase either duration or speed over the course of a month. Contact your local YMCA or the American Heart Association for more information.


B BEND and stretch. Bend over slowly (thinking about moving one vertebra at a time) dropping your head so that your chin is on your chest and rolling forward so that your hands move toward the floor. Don’t bounce, don’t lock your knees, and don’t push yourself to touch your toes. Slowly roll back to vertical, straightening your back—again one vertebra at a time. Raise your hands over your head and stretch as though you are tickling the clouds. Lower your hands and roll your shoulders to the front and back. Use this as a transition activity for yourself—and maybe share it with the children in your group—to relieve stress.


C Give yourself CREDIT. Your days are long and demanding as you perform the duties of a scientist, artist, cook, doctor, engineer, storyteller, psychologist, woodworker, mathematician, magician, social worker, entertainer, and coach.


D Remember your DIET. Learn how to make food work for you to maintain good health and high energy. Read labels, watch portions, and moderate sugar, fat, and salt—all health drainers.


E EXERCISE for ENERGY. A short movement burst will reduce tension, diffuse anger, relieve depression, and help you sleep better. The bonus is more energy and a sunnier disposition.


F Use FANTASY as a quick pick-me-up. Take a two-minute imaginary vacation to a desert island, mountain top, or the moon. Plan the laws of your kingdom when you are ruler of the world. Or decide how you’ll spend the millions you’ll win in the next Power Ball lottery game.


G Give a GIFT to yourself every day. You deserve the luxury of a new paperback book, a bubble bath, a long phone chat, a half-hour to dig in your vegetable garden, or a new pen and notebook for class notes.


H HUMOR can lighten the darkest sky. Medical research points out the benefits of laughter. Teachers know that a giggle can change the mood of a whole group of tired, cranky children. Start a humor file and add jokes, cartoons, wry anecdotes copied from news feeds, funny things that children say, and other items that tickle your funny bone. When you’re having a hard day, pull out the file and refresh yourself with laughter.


I It is I who makes the difference in children’s lives. Repeat this affirmation morning, noon, and night


J Look for JOY and appreciate it wherever you find it—a budding flower, a child’s laugh, or a task well done.


K Take time for a KISS. Affection and intimacy shared with a family member or close friend can turn off the pressures of the world—even momentarily


L Roar like a LION. The Lion is a yoga facial exercise. Tighten your facial muscles, open your mouth, extend your tongue, and open your eyes wide—like a roaring lion. Hold for 10 seconds and then relax. Add vocalizations when it’s appropriate. This is a great way to open a staff meeting (see Humor above)


M Stay MINDFUL. Make sure that your perceived obligations are truly necessary to your well-being. Approach tasks attentively and efficiently. Focus on the present moment—not the past or future. Accept your thoughts and feelings so that you can act deliberately and meaningfully.


N NEGOTIATE chores. At a family meeting with your children, spouse, or other family members, make a list of routine chores—from putting out the garbage to cleaning the toilet. Take turns choosing specific chores for the week ahead and the consequences for leaving a job undone. Knowing what is expected helps you plan the timing of the task and reduces family conflict by alerting others to your schedule.


O Appreciate your ORIGINS. Consider the richness of your culture with its music, customs, beliefs, rituals, foods, and dress. Get in touch with the child inside and invite that child to come out to play. Nurture your spirit and soul by steeping yourself in the things that make you unique—and connected.


P Plan your PACE. Anticipate routine demands. Use a calendar to keep track of when bills are due, when you have to renew your CPR certification, when the car registration must be renewed, and other deadlines. Use a notebook or file folder to keep up with the notes that are necessary for the next round of family conferences. Make lists of things to do today and goals for the year. Assign priorities to items so that you address the most important first.


Q QUICKLY attend to boring tasks. Enlist the help of family members for teamwork in housecleaning, laundry, yard work, and meal prep. Then plan a fun family activity for the time you’ve saved.


R ROCK and ROLL. Use the techniques you share with children—in your own personal time. Practice deep breathing with spa music; boot scoot across the floor to Western swing; energize with 1940s dance tunes (or with Hip Hop); and sway, swoop, and kick with a ballet soundtrack. Dance to the Golden Oldies with the twist or sing along on your way to tension relief.


S SHOULDER rolls and shrugs help relieve tension. Raise your shoulders toward the ears, hold for five seconds, and then drop them quickly. Lengthen your neck while lifting your head and lowering the shoulders. Roll the shoulders forward (opening the center of the back) and back (opening the chest and heart). Loosen your shoulders frequently—in the middle of an art activity, while reading a book, or waiting for the traffic light to change.


T TELL it like it is. Let your family and your co-workers know when you need help, a break, or a hug. Sharing problems—and achievements—can turn you from a bundle of nerves into a bundle of energy.


U USE naptime. Plan a new activity or evaluate an old one. Remove the distracting (and maybe dangerous) clutter from the top of the blocks shelf. Practice deep-breathing, arrange greenery for the snack table, read an inspirational book, or knit a sweater. If you aren’t supervising sleeping children, use the time for a 10-minute walk or other tension-relieving, muscle-toning exercise.


V VENTURE forth. Do something new, take a chance. Read a travel book about a foreign country, plan a movement activity that you know will make you look and feel silly, or prepare a proposal for your first professional conference presentation. Take a risk and appreciate successes and learn from failures.


W Drink WATER. Medical experts recommend drinking at least a quart of water a day. If plain water isn’t appealing, add a squeeze of lemon or a drop of vanilla extract. Avoid sugared and caffeinated drinks that reduce the benefits of the water that quenches thirst, has no calories, and costs almost nothing.

X Learn to play the XYLOPHONE, autoharp, guitar, or kazoo—all useful in the classroom for music and movement activities and for building your own sense of perseverance and self-acceptance.


Y Wear YELLOW, green, red, or purple if you feel good in it. How you feel is often reflected in how you look. Trick yourself and the world by being especially careful with your appearance on days you feel pressured, stressed, or low.


Z Z-Z-Z-Z. For a good night’s sleep, try the following tips. Get enough physical exercise during the day so your feel tired at bedtime. Set a consistent bedtime and strive for at least 8 hours of sleep. Take a warm bath to help your body relax. Don’t take your day’s frustrations to bed with you; actively (yes, you’ll feel foolish) and deliberately say, “Trouble, you can’t come in here. I’ll see you in the morning.” Once in bed, relax with this exercise: Lie on your back and give your attention to your feet. Wiggle your toes and feel the muscles contract; then deliberately relax those muscles. Move up to your ankle, the calf, knees, and thighs, repeating the contract and relax sequence. Slowly work up through your whole body, feeling the tension and then relaxing the muscles. This exercise does double duty: It relaxes the body and shuts out extraneous thoughts that might interfere with sleep.