Program offers fitness training to military families

An initiative to provide one million hours of fitness training to the families of military service members is under way.

Beginning Tuesday, family members of actively deployed military reservists and National Guard members could search for gyms or trainers in their area who are offering free fitness services.

There are not any in Champaign-Urbana or Danville.

The fitness training is a new component of Joining Forces, a national initiative to support military families that includes employment, education and wellness. The fitness program is a collaboration among Joining Forces, the American Council on Exercise, and Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign against childhood obesity.

University of Illinois Professor Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, head of the Department of Kinesiology & Community Health, is chairman of the board of directors for the American Council on Exercise. He said the organization has a similar program to provide fitness services at a discounted rate to senior citizens, through a partnership with the AARP. The Joining Forces fitness program is modeled after that program.

"This is intended for people who do not have easy access to (fitness clubs)," Chodzko-Zajko said, adding the services could be a six-month gym membership or an introductory session with a personal trainer.

"It's not just making a gym or trainer available," he continued. "It's working with people to identify meaningful goals ... and help initiate and sustain healthy lifestyles. It's hard to do in one hour. In fact, it's impossible to do in one hour. But initiating the conversation is a hugely important first step."

The American Council on Exercise is leading the fitness campaign by encouraging gyms and trainers to volunteer their services, and by coordinating a database of those services by geographic area. Military families can go to http://www.acefitness.org/joiningforces and enter their area code to search for participating gyms or trainers.

The program is also an example of how UI faculty members can lend their expertise to national initiatives that make a difference for people, Chodzko-Zajko said.

"First, it's the right thing to do. Second, it will increase the availability of opportunities (in the fitness industry) for our students," he said.

For those who are not part of military families, Chodzko-Zajko suggested they look at information on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website that provides guidelines for being physically active. It can be found at http://www.health.gov/paguidelines.

"We need to take advantage of opportunities to let people know they can be physically active and they don't have to be a jock," he said. "They don't even have to go to a gym."

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