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HEART Insight:
doi: 10.1097/

Catch a Star, On and Off the Court

Fuerst, Mark

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Professional basketball player Tamika Catchings uses her fame to promote healthy living to kids

When basketball star Tamika “Catch” Catchings was named to her third U.S. Olympic team this spring, the two-time Gold Medalist wrote in her blog that “I'll be savoring every minute of my Olympic experience this time around.” But Catchings, 32, does more than just play for the Indiana Fever. She also plays a leadership role off the court.

Her nonprofit “Catch the Stars” Foundation, established in 2004, offers underprivileged boys and girls a variety of educational opportunities, including a scholar-athlete award program that has provided more than $35,000 in college scholarships to high school student athletes, in addition to hosting basketball camps and health and wellness clinics. Catchings is also a member of the NBA/WNBA FIT team, the league's comprehensive health and wellness program that encourages physical activity and healthy living for children and families through programs and events across the country.

“The goal of the NBA/WNBA FIT program is to encourage fans of all ages to live a healthy, active lifestyle,” says Todd Jacobson, NBA senior vice president of community relations. Some of the program's many activities include American Heart Association-sponsored ZUMBA® classes, fitness clinics, healthy cooking demonstrations and health screenings. The FIT network reaches more than 1,000 organizations and over 2 million people across the United States. Kids can find information about living a healthy lifestyle on the NBA FIT website at

Last year, the NBA, WNBA and NBA Development League (the NBA's official minor league) launched “Dribble to Stop Diabetes,” an educational campaign to raise awareness about diabetes that's run in collaboration with the American Diabetes Association. Fans can learn more about the program, take a test to find out their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and participate in an online conversation about living with diabetes at “Several of my family members have had diabetes,” says Catchings, who is a campaign ambassador. “At this year's NBA All-Star weekend Jam Session in February, we talked with 150 kids about diabetes and obesity to raise awareness.”

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As a member of the NBA/WNBA FIT team, Catching leads free fitness clinics, camps and meet-and-greets with boys and girls emphasizing the importance of regular physical activity and a nutritious diet. “It's exciting to see kids come out of their shells who aren't used to doing physical activity,” she says. “I tell them I work out every day either on the basketball court, in the weight room, doing the martial art Buda Khi or swimming.” And she tells them about her healthy diet: “I eat a lot of skinless chicken and salad. Strawberries are my favorite fruit. And I love broccoli.”

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Catchings acknowledges that kids look up to professional athletes as role models. “They want to know what we did when we were younger,” she says. “I was chubby, but the weight went away through sports.” But sports stars aren't the only role models that kids can look up to. Working with kids through NBA/WNBA FIT, Catchings notices the impact that parents have on a child's health. “Parents can act as role models by doing little things,” she says. For example, “When you take your kids to a sporting event, park away from the entrance and walk for some exercise.”

Catchings' motto is “to do good every day.” And when she does, Fever fans, FIT participants and her Olympic teammates know that Catchings will give her all, all the time.

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Tamika Catchings

Indiana Fever

* Reigning Most Valuable Player of the WNBA

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* Eleven seasons with the Indiana Fever

* Only player in WNBA history to rank among the career Top Ten in points, rebounds, assists and steals

* Four-time All-American at the University of Tennessee and one of the stars of the team's national championship in 1998

* Named Rookie of the Year in 2002

* Winner of Gold Medals with the U.S. Olympic team in 2004 and 2008

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Getting FIT

The annual NBA FIT Live Healthy Week tipped off in January 2012 to highlight the importance of healthy living, with participation by all 30 NBA teams and their players. For example, the Denver Nuggets head strength coach and NBA FIT team member Steve Hess and four Nuggets players–Rudy Fernandez, DeMarre Carroll, Arron Afflalo and Jordan Hamilton–put 45 students from Denver's Florida Pitt Waller K-8 school through a fitness challenge at various strength and conditioning stations. “We worked them hard,” says Hess. “We showed them that hard can be fun and gave them a sense of what they can achieve.” The tired but happy students took home autographs, posters, two complimentary tickets for a Nuggets home game and a sneaker autographed by a Nuggets player.

“The FIT program is training a new generation of kids to be conscious of their health and take pride in being physically fit,” says Jeffrey Sparrow, assistant principal/athletic director at Florida Pitt Waller K-8. “Meeting with the players, the kids experience what a highly trained professional athlete does. They think basketball players only work 60 minutes a night. It's so much more than that.”

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To learn more about how the program inspires kids and families to live active, healthy lives, be sure to read our online-only bonus article, Training a new generation about health and fitness, at

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Fit as a Pro

In notheast Ohio, 25 fourth graders from Center Elementary took part in a “Fit as a Pro” Clinic with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, guard/forward Alonzo Gee and assistant strength coach Derek Millender. The energetic youngsters hustled their way through endurance and performance drills, and then tested their strength on the Cavs' arsenal of exercise equipment. At the end, the players gave each student a Cavs fan pack, four tickets to an upcoming game and personal autographs. “It's really important for kids to stay fit as they grow up,” says Irving. “NBA Fit as a Pro is a great opportunity to give them a feel for what goes on in our daily lives.”

Some of the students also participated on their own by completing a Team Fit Fitness Log Challenge, where they record the servings of fruits, vegetables, high-fiber whole grains, meat/beans and glasses of low-fat and fat-free milk/water that they eat and drink each day. They also write down the type and amount of their daily physical activities. The students pledge, for example, to bring water bottles with them wherever they go, eat five fruits and vegetables every day or ask a friend or family member to join in a workout once a week.

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Making fitness fun for kids

To maintain a healthy lifestyle, kids need to get regular physical activity. Guidelines from the American Heart Association and other organizations suggest that kids should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Being physically active doesn't necessarily mean playing on a school team or working out at the gym. Kids can ride bikes, jump rope, play hopscotch and run around the park with their friends.

Any game where kids are up and moving is a great way to help them stay physically active and make their heart, bones and muscles stronger, too, says Denver Nuggets head strength coach Steve Hess. “The fun part of physical activity comes from kids working hard at something exciting that they like to do. If you make the activity about them, they will find out that hard work can be fun, too.”

Parents need to find out what stimulates their kids and put a plan into place for optimum buy in, says Hess. He and his sons Jordan, 13, and Korey, 10, will, on a snowy day, build 10 sledding ramps of different heights and then take turns zooming down them. If the weather is bad, he creates an obstacle course or treasure hunt inside the house. “Once they get into doing the activity, they lose track of time. They don't even know that they're working out and getting fit,” he says.

Here are some other tips on how to make physical activity more fun for kids:

* Find activities your kids will love. Some kids just don't like competing in sports. There are lots of other ways to be physically active, including swimming, horseback riding, dancing, cycling, skateboarding, yoga, hopscotch or brisk walking. Encourage your child to explore multiple activities to find one he or she really enjoys and one that is appropriate for his or her age.

* Get the whole family moving. Plan times for everyone to be physically active. Take walks, ride bikes, go swimming, garden or just play hide-and-seek outside. Everyone will benefit from the exercise and the time spent together.

* Participate in a local walkathon. Find a local fundraising walk or “fun run” and bring the whole family. If it's animal-friendly, bring your dog along, too.

* Make household chores into a dance party. Put on a favorite CD and allot a certain number of songs to complete a household chore. For example, allow two songs to vacuum the living room, three songs to wash the dishes and one song to pick up toys in the playroom. Your kids will be moving faster and working harder to beat the clock, causing their hearts to pump harder and get stronger.

* Don't make exercise a punishment. Forcing your child to go outside and play may increase resentment and resistance. Use physical activity to encourage your child to do something she wants to do. For instance, tell your child she can ride a bike for 30 minutes before starting homework after school. It's likely she'll beg for 20 more minutes outside just to put off the homework if she enjoys bike-riding.

* Mix it up to keep it interesting. Don't get stuck in a workout rut. Incorporate a new type of physical activity every few weeks to keep your child motivated. Varying activities also prevents your child's body from getting used to the same workout, helping improve your child's strength and fitness.

* Break it up. Kids don't have to have to get in 60 minutes of physical activity all at once. As long as daily physical activity adds up to at least 60 minutes of aerobic physical activity, your child meets the guidelines. That might mean 20 minutes of play during recess, 20 minutes of bike riding after school and 20 minutes of briskly walking the dog after dinner.

For the best effects, parents need to put their own energy and enthusiasm into an activity to set an example, says Hess. “Parents have to get up and going, too,” he says. “When I take my sons to the park, I'm not just sitting on a bench watching. I'll shoot hoops with Korey and ask Jordan to show me some moves on the skateboard ramps. I am truly excited about the things they are doing, and they can see that.”

© 2012 American Heart Association, Inc.