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Everyone has a story - share yours today! We want to know how the President's Challenge has made a difference in your life, community, or school.


Tell us about your personal fitness and nutrition journey. What have you accomplished? What obstacles did you encounter? How did you overcome them? How do you stay motivated? What's next?


Let us recognize you for your achievements and help inspire others!  


Send your story along with a headshot to our writer:


Brooke Watanabe,

 MARCH 2012

You have received the March 2012 issue of Fitness is Fun, the official e-mail distribution of the President's Challenge. These monthly e-mails will keep you updated on our programs, activities of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition (PCFSN) and other current information pertaining to physical activity, nutrition and fitness.

In this issue...

  • Get Informed: PALA+ youth step requirements to receive update in August
  • Get Informed: The First Lady's Let's Move! Campaign celebrates its 2nd anniversary 
  • SPECIALHow to STAY active and nutritious
  • Get Inspired: Guest columnist Marjie Gilliam shares tips on how to keep physical activity up even when temperatures go down 
  • And more!


President's Challenge News


Stepping into new requirements for PALA+

To earn the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+), participants must record their activity levels in either minutes or steps per day. While the minutes requirements will remain the same, 60 minutes a day for youth (ages 6 to 17) and 30 minutes a day for adults, updates for the youth step requirement will go into effect August 1, 2012.


At present, 60 minutes of physical activity is equated with 11,000 steps for girls and 13,000 steps for boys. Come August, the requirement will change to 12,000 steps for both genders. This shift is based on recommendations from the Canadian Health Measures Survey. The number of steps for adults (ages 18 and older) will remain the same (8,500 steps).  






President's Challenge   

Lunch Bag  

This eco-friendly lunch bag is a great way to pack a healthy lunch when you are on the go. It features a foam insulated compartment with a Velcro closure, a front pocket and an imprinted President's Challenge logo. It even folds down for easy storage.


PRICE: $3.95



For information on how to order the President's Challenge Lunch Bag  or any of our other merchandise, visit our online shopping center.



PCFSN and Other Government News


First Lady goes on tour to celebrate two years of Let's Move!

To celebrate the second "birthday" of her Let's Move! initiative to eliminate childhood obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama embarked on a tour. On February 9, a crowd of over 14,000 kids came together to sing "Happy Birthday" in Des Moines, Iowa. However, rather than singing to someone, the crowd was singing for something: Let's Move! PCFSN Executive Director Shellie Pfohl and Council members Carl Edwards and Michelle Kwan joined the First Lady in Des Moines to help celebrate this milestone.


After the kick-off in Iowa, where Governor Terry Branstad declared it Let's Move! Day (see video below), the First Lady traveled to three other states over the course of three days to recognize and promote other successful stories from across the nation.  

The First Day of The First Lady's Lets Move! Anniversary Tour
The First Day of The First Lady's Lets Move! Anniversary Tour

While in Little Rock, Arkansas, the First Lady announced the Department of Defense's (DOD) exciting new updates to their nutritional standards. This will be the first time the DOD has made improvements to their nutritional standards in 20 years. They committed to including more fresh fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products in each meal (read more).


Next, the First Lady set off to conclude her day in Fort Worth, Texas, where she brainstormed with local parents about how Let's Move! can continue to support families. Their discussion took place over dinner at Olive Garden. The restaurant's parent company, Darden Restaurants, has made an effort to reduce the sodium and calories in their foods and provide healthier options by offering a fruit or vegetable and low-fat milk with each meal.


Moving on to Dallas, Texas for the second day, the First Lady stepped into the kitchen with former Top Chef winners to make a healthy, kid-friendly lunch. Then, she headed to Miami, Florida to meet with WebMD and the YMCA for a Q&A session.


For the final day of the Let's Move! birthday tour, the First Lady went to Longwood, Florida to highlight faith and community leaders from 120 congregations and organizations for their efforts to reduce and prevent childhood obesity. PCFSN Council member Donna Richardson Joyner met the First Lady for this leg of the tour and led close to 3,000 faith community leaders and families in a workout and spoke about the Council's role in the fight against obesity. Afterward, the First Lady traveled to Orlando, Florida for the tour finale. There, a crowd of young students and Disney stars joined her as she led them in "The Platypus Walk," a dance inspired by a character from a popular Disney cartoon. The event took place at ESPN's Wide World of Sports. See video below.

First Lady Michelle Obama & The Platypus Walk
First Lady Michelle Obama & The Platypus Walk


National Girls and Women in Sports Day continues to support Title IX

To celebrate the 26th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD), organizations from across the nation came together to support increasing opportunities for women in sports. The theme for this year's NGWSD was "Title IX at 40: In It for the Long Run," in honor of the upcoming 40th anniversary of Title IX. This piece of legislation was instrumental in helping to close the gender gap in federally funded educational programs and activities.


Noted female athletes, including Donna de Varona, Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, Lillian Greene-Chamberlain, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Grete Eliassen and Sarah Hughes convened on Capitol Hill February 1 to highlight girls' and women's achievements and involvement in sports. They also aimed to bring attention to the deficits that still exist when it comes to female participation in athletics.


PCFSN Council member Cornell McClellan was present as a panelist at the event. He used his skills as personal trainer to the First Family to get the other panelists and crowd involved in a mid-day workout, before giving a speech advocating the importance of sports as a means of improving physical activity levels and confidence for girls and women.


Read the statement about NGWSD and Title IX written by PCFSN Executive Director Shellie Pfohl. You can also learn more from the Women's Sports Foundation press release and the National Women's Law Center's blog re-cap.


Does your school have an innovative program that gets students active? 

ChildObesity180 has launched the Active Schools Acceleration Project (ASAP) Innovation Competition. The competition is looking to identify and highlight the most  innovative and effective physical activity programs in elementary schools across the country. ASAP wants to learn about any approach that motivates quality physical activity at school and beyond. If you have a great physical activity program and want the opportunity to share your program's success, enter the competition for a chance to win up to $100,000. Top programs also will have an opportunity to develop  and expand their initiative to other schools. The deadline for entries is April 2, 2012. Go to to learn more and enter.



Upcoming Events and Deadlines


Active Living Research Annual Conference

March 12-14

San Diego, CA

Active Living Research (ALR) invites you to their ninth annual conference in sunny San Diego! The theme of the 2012 conference is "Disparities in Environments and Policies that Support Active Living." Learn more. 


AAHPERD National Convention & Exposition

March 13 - 17

Boston, MA

The theme for this year's American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) Convention and Exposition is "United We Move." Featured speakers include Ken Cooper, Founder of the Cooper Aerobics Center, Shellie Pfohl, Executive Director of the PCFSN, and Jared "The Subway Guy" Fogle. Learn more. 


ACSM's Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition

March 27-30

Las Vegas, NV

Hosted by the American College of Sports Medicine, this signature fitness conference, gives students, fitness enthusiasts, personal trainers, certified professionals, and others the full spectrum of programming from scientific to practical application. Learn more.  


National Afterschool Association Convention

April 2 - 4

Dallas, TX

The National Afterschool Association's 24th annual national convention will bring afterschool professionals together for 3 days of the most comprehensive professional development opportunities available for afterschool professionals anywhere in the United States. Learn more. 


2012 National Health Promotion Summit

April 10 - 11

Washington, DC

Attend this event to learn about what can be done to achieve Healthy People 2020 and other national initiatives. Learn more. 


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We all go into the New Year with the best intentions...   

But it is now March, and odds are your determination to keep your resolutions has started to wane.  Usually, Fitness is Fun includes the GET ACTIVE! and the GET NUTRITIOUS! sections. However, as New Year's resolutions often demonstrate, getting started on something is not always as difficult as staying with it.  


While some people may have the self-discipline to completely commit to their goals on the first try, many of us struggle.  The President's Challenge understands, and that is why we have created a special STAY ACTIVE AND NUTRITIOUS! section for this month.  


Use the following 12 Strategies for 2012 to not only get active and nutritious, but to stay that way!




Having your resolutions written down in a place where you will see them on a regular basis will serve as a reminder and reinforcer for you. However, sometimes we get so caught up in what we are doing that we forget why; so also make a list of what your motivations are so that when your list of resolutions is not enough, you will have another source of inspiration.  Tape  it  to  your  bathroom  mirror,  your  front  door, your refrigerator, or anywhere where you will see it on a regular basis.   




Break your resolutions down into specific, measurable mini-goals. These should be things you can accomplish within a day or week at most. If you want to cut back on foods high in sugar and fat, rather than say you will never eat a dessert again, maybe tell yourself you will go without it for the day. Mentally, you are more likely to commit to a goal if you know it will be over within 24 hours. Then, at the end of the day, you can decide if you want to set that goal again for tomorrow. Not only will your resolution seem more manageable,  but  you  will  feel  a  sense of accomplishment every time you meet your daily goals.    



While it is great to resolve to increase your physical activity or improve your nutrition to achieve long-term benefits such as weight loss or improved overall health, research indicates you are more likely to stay motivated to stick to those resolutions if you focus more on the present.


In a study based on 385 women, researchers from the University of Michigan found that those who focused on short-term benefits exercised more often than those who looked at long-term benefits. This was true even when the women indicated they valued the long- and short-term benefits equally.  So if you want to convince yourself to fit a  workout into your busy schedule, think about the  immediate   benefits of  exercising,  such  as  stress  reduction,  improved  mood, and increased energy to help give you the motivation  you need.


Executing a plan is easier if you lay the proper groundwork. Even little obstacles can derail your resolutions. Always lay out everything you will need for your workout the night before: clothing, shoes, water bottle, music players, etc. Make sure you purchase enough active-wear that you won't have to constantly do laundry to have an outfit for working out.  


If you made a goal to eat healthier, plan weekly menus so you can get all your grocery shopping done at once. Prepare as much as possible in advance - especially snacks. Fresh fruits  and  vegetables   make  great  snacks,   but  they  can require some prep time. Make it easier for yourself to choose these  healthy  options  by  washing  and bagging them at the beginning of the week, so each day you can just grab a snack bag and go.   





In her book, The Happiness Project, author Gretchen Rubin writes about how she discovered that it was usually easier to do something every day than it was to simply do it on some days. Although it may seem counter-intuitive that doing  something  more often would make it  less  difficult,   this technique can help  you keep the momentum you  need   to succeed.   




Although doing something every day can serve as motivation, lack of variation can destroy it. Prevent boredom in physical activity by trying new activities on a regular basis. To get some ideas, check out the President's Challenge Activities list!


When it comes to adding variety to your diet, is a great nutritional resource. Browse their Food Groups page to come up with new fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy products you can incorporate into your  snacks and meals.   



You've heard it before, but we'll tell you again: record your progress! When trying to change a behavior, finding a way to track your progress serves as a very effective tool for holding yourself accountable. Both PALA+ and the Presidential Champions program offer online tracking tools for recording your physical activity (and nutrition for PALA+).       




Give yourself some positive reinforcement! The famous psychologist B.F. Skinner asserted that, based on his experiments, rewards are more effective at changing behavior than punishment. While living up to your resolutions might be enough of a reward, planning other incentives will give you something tangible to work toward. Whether you take a mini-vacation, purchase some new workout music, or pick out something from the President's Challenge Shop, find a reward that works for you.



The human body is composed of up to 60 percent water ( It plays an essential role in the functioning of your cells, so maintaining hydration is very important. Additionally, in a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that even mild dehydration could negatively impact mood, cause headaches, and increase the perceived difficulty of tasks.   


Bear in mind that if you are increasing your engagement in physical activity, water loss through sweat can become a concern. However, over-hydrating can also negatively impact your body by causing an electrolyte imbalance. Check out the recommendations from the ACSM to learn about how to safely and effectively stay hydrated when exercising.




With the wide range of physical activities available, you should be able to find at least one that you enjoy. However, when looking to increase our daily activity levels, we usually turn to activities that don't require equipment, like walking or jogging, or those that you can participate in at a gym, such as stationary cycling or weight lifting. While convenient, these activities are not everyone's cup of tea; so introducing distractions you enjoy, like reading, watching your favorite show, or listening to music can help take the "work" out of your workout.


According to an article in the New York Times, listening to music while exercising has been shown to help reduce stress and depression by releasing endorphins. However, it is important you don't allow your distraction to negatively impact your posture or form.



Read the following two statements: 1) This soda contains 250 calories. 2) It takes 50 minutes of jogging to burn off this soda. Which one leaves a bigger impression?


Odds are the second statement meant more to you. In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found that signs stating physical activity equivalents caused sales of sugary beverages to drop by 50 percent.  


Although it is commonly understood that calories are energy equivalents, many of us do not know how to translate those energy values into activity equivalents. If we start to equate food with the amount of exercise required to burn it off, it might help us make more appropriate choices about how much to consume.




Ideally, we would all make our New Year's resolutions and then execute them perfectly. But in reality, this is rarely the case. Old habits die hard, and it takes time to adopt new behaviors. So if you fall off your resolution horse, dust yourself off and hop back on. Don't let minor slip-ups serve as an excuse to throw in the towel. Whether you use the President's Challenge or a different strategy of motivation, when it comes to your physical activity and nutrition goals, stick with it to get fit!



Physical Activity News and Research 


Find out where your state stands in the 2011 America's Health Rankings

Released in December, the 2011 America's Health Rankings report evaluated all 50 states based on a comprehensive set of health measures that included behaviors, policies, community and environmental conditions and clinical care data. For the fifth consecutive year, Vermont claimed the highest ranking. Mississippi, for the 10th year in a row, received the lowest ranking.


As a nation, we did make overall improvements in smoking cessation, preventable hospitalizations and cardiovascular deaths. However, these achievements were offset by increases in obesity, diabetes and child poverty. According to the report, America's health has declined by 69 percent over the last decade.


America's Health Rankings is a joint effort between the United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention. Learn more about the rankings and how you can take action.



More evidence indicates exercise improves academic performance among children

The link between exercise and academic achievement is currently a hot topic in research. A review recently published in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine included 14 different perspective studies that somehow measured physical activity against academic performance. Nine of the studies examined the effects of participation in gym classes or organized sports. While the results for these studies were inconclusive, three other studies that measured time spent in physical activity found it was positively associated with academic performance.


While researchers did not determine the exact cause of this connection, some hypothesize that, by increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, exercise promotes increased production of norepinephrine and endorphins, hormones that help reduce stress.   More research is also needed to determine exactly how much and what kind of exercise will elucidate improved academic performance. 



Nutrition News and Research 


CDC cites bread as the leading culprit in Americans' excess sodium consumption

Although the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day, the average American usually consumes about 3,300 milligrams each day, with 9 out of 10 people above the age of 2 ingesting too much salt on a daily basis.   This statistic, which was released in a new report from the CDC, is concerning given that excess sodium can cause high blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke.


Which foods are most to blame? The answer might surprise you: breads and rolls. Although a single serving of bread may seem harmless, when eaten several times over the course of the day, the sodium content can add up. According to the CDC, a single slice of white bread can contain a much as 230 milligrams of salt. This is why it is important to look at nutrition labels when purchasing food in order to find options with a good balance of calories, fat and sodium. According to the report, if we could lower our average salt intake by 400 milligrams per person, we could save up to 28,000 deaths and $7 billion in healthcare costs annually. Read more. 


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Guest Column 


Keep your motivation up as temperatures go down

Marjie Gilliam

During the colder months, many people 'settle in' for the winter and give up their regular exercise routines. Shorter days, less sunshine and uncomfortable temperatures can combine to make it more difficult to stay on track. If you find yourself losing motivation to exercise, here are some tips to consider:


Exercise is as critical to your emotional health as it is to your physical health. It can relax you when you are feeling anxious, and energize you when you need a boost. When demands placed on your time and energy leave you feeling out of sorts, know that stress, anxiety, sadness, anger and fatigue can all be relieved with exercise. Studies have shown that individuals who are physically active feel better about themselves, are more motivated and generally much happier than those who are inactive. This is because exercise is a powerful anti-depressant, helping to normalize brain chemistry, restore mental and emotional balance, improve sleep quality and calm nerves.


Regular exercise and a healthier diet often go hand in hand. Rather than going on a diet as a way to lose weight or improve health, try working out as your first step. Typically, people who exercise find that they naturally pay closer attention to what they eat and drink. Making the association between the amount of food eaten and the amount of effort necessary to burn off those calories makes it less likely that they will sabotage progress by over-indulging.


There is also a clear link between our emotions and diet. Some people overeat when they experience unpleasant emotions, while others lose their appetites. Working out can reduce food cravings in people prone to overeating, and improve the appetites of people who don't feel like eating. We also often eat out of boredom, or while sitting at the computer or watching television. Exercise keeps you occupied, filling time that might otherwise be spent on mindless eating. The combination of extra calories burned and fewer calories eaten adds up to major weight loss over time. The Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+) can help you add physical activity to your life and improve your eating habits. This challenge is for anyone, from students to seniors, but it's geared toward people who want to set themselves on the road to a healthier life through positive changes to physical activity and eating behaviors.


By some estimates, nearly one third of all Americans are sedentary during the winter months. To reduce the chances of this happening to you, seek out a fitness program that piques your curiosity and interests. You might decide to join a new gym, take up weight training for the first time or check out a Pilates or aerobics class in your area. If working out at home is your thing, there are hundreds of great instructional videos available to keep you active, from yoga to martial arts to salsa dancing to hula-hooping, whatever appeals to you. Recreational sports such as basketball, volleyball and racquetball are great ways to stay in shape when it is too cold to exercise outdoors, as is indoor swimming in a heated pool.


Adhering to a year-round plan of exercise, even if workouts are light in intensity, is significantly better for your health and well-being than starting and then stopping your normal routine. Staying with an established exercise program allows you to maintain your current level of fitness and continue enjoying the results that you've worked so hard for. This is a far better option than dropping out altogether and risking losing your desire to get fit.


Additionally, health professionals caution that heart problems, stress fractures and tendonitis are more common for those who try to pick up where they left off with their exercise routine after a winter of inactivity. Heart attacks are particularly common in sedentary men and women who engage in sudden activity such as shoveling snow. In the cold, arteries in the heart constrict and blood pressure rises, significantly increasing heart attack risk, especially in the elderly and those with cardiovascular disease. Reduced amounts of sunlight associated with winter can trigger depression in some people, which may also increase heart attack risk.


Be smart. When exercising in the cold, pace yourself, stay hydrated, and listen to your body. If you have pre-existing medical problems, ask your doctor for guidelines before beginning an exercise program. If you experience pain, excess sweating, shortness of breath, nausea and/or lightheadedness, stop immediately and seek medical attention.


An active lifestyle is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself. A few of the many rewards include: speedier metabolism, increased flexibility, reduced body fat, greater strength, a healthier heart, greater stamina and endurance, increased bone density, less risk of injury, better sleep quality, improved self-confidence and greater sense of well-being.


Marjie Gilliam is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist and freelance journalist, and has authored thousands of articles devoted to health and wellness. Each month we feature one of her articles.  




Advocate of the Month


Girls on the Run

is a developmentally focused youth sport program that uses running as a vehicle to influence positive social, cognitive, physical, emotional and psychological assets and development. The program is offered at over 3,200 sites across the United States. Their mission is to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living.

The 24-lesson curriculum (75 minute lessons, 2 days a week, for 12 weeks) incorporates training for a 5k with lessons that inspire third through eighth grade girls to develop essential life skills. Behavioral and educational objectives of the program that have been evaluated are improved self esteem, improved commitment to physical activity, increased positive attitude toward exercise, increased motivation to be physically active, awareness of the value of physical activity, satisfaction with body shape and increased days of physical activity per week.  General sports psychology research also validates the methodology behind the Girls on the Run curriculum. Learn more.  

Our Advocates help to increase participation in the President's Challenge and encourage people to lead active, healthy lives. Learn more. 

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We hope you enjoyed this month's issue of Fitness is Fun.

As we begin to create our next issue, we would like to hear from you!

We welcome questions or comments regarding current content and are open to suggestions for future topics we should address. Inspiring stories are also appreciated and could become features in upcoming issues. 

E-mail us at


The Fitness is Fun staff
The President's Challenge