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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Get out! (Outside, that is)

People who are close to me know that I’ve had a “time to take better care of myself” awakening since my friend Phil -- who, like me, is 44 years old -- had a fairly serious heart attack in January. Too much junk food, too little exercise. Phil will be the first one to tell you he brought this on himself.

I don't want to be next, so I'm making changes. I have a bad left knee, so running is out of the question, but I’ve taken up a walking regimen. And I’ve made a commitment to eating better. (No fast food, sensible meals, healthy snacks, and so on.)

I bring this up because something I saw at Dietz Stadium in Kingston this afternoon, while walking laps of the track as part of my new routine, absolutely warmed my heart: four boys, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, throwing a football around on the field.

It was a cold and drizzly afternoon, and these kids certainly could have blown off the outdoor activity in the name of staying warm and dry. Or, like so many of their peers, they could have opted to skip the healthy exercise and played video games while munching on cookies and potato chips and guzzling sugary sodas. But there they were – running up and down the field, diving to make catches, sometimes falling down, laughing, smiling and truly enjoying themselves.

When I was growing up in the 1970s in a suburb of Rochester, N.Y., playing with friends outdoors was a given. There were about a dozen kids in my age group living within a 10-house span on my street, and we’d be outside together almost every evening after dinner in the spring, summer and fall. We’d play running-around games like tag, freeze tag, “Red Light/Green Light” and “Home Free For All”; sometimes we’d throw a football around, hit baseballs or play catch; other times we’d just ride our bikes up and down the street. But whatever the activity, the point is we were active.

And you know what? Not one kid in the group had a weight problem. Oh, sure, some of the kids were chunkier than others – most likely because of genetics – but there was no one in the group who I’d describe as fat. Look around a group of any dozen kids today, and there’s a good chance half of them have weight problems. I guess that’s what we get in an era when dinner at McDonald’s is considered an acceptable meal, friends in the neighborhood are contacted by IMs or text messages rather than by walking to their houses, and playing Wii games passes as exercise.

If you stepped outside any evening during my childhood years, you heard the unmistakable sound of children playing. Step outside any evening in this day and age, and you probably will hear nothing of the kind -- unless you live near those four kids who were playing football this afternoon at Dietz Stadium.

Here’s hoping they keep up those good habits. It’ll pay off later in life.

Just ask my friend Phil.



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