New exercise guidelines: Move more, sit less, start younger

CHICAGO — Move more, sit less and get kids active as young as age 3, say new federal guidelines that stress that any amount and any type of exercise helps health.

The advice is the first update since the government’s physical activity guidelines came out a decade ago. Since then, the list of benefits of exercise has grown, and there’s more evidence to back things that were of unknown value before, such as short, high-intense workouts and taking the stairs instead of an elevator.

“Doing something is better than doing nothing, and doing more is better than doing something,” said Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, a preventive medicine expert at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Only 20 percent of Americans get enough exercise now, and the childhood obesity problem has prompted the push to aim younger to prevent poor health later in life.

Highlights of the advice released Monday at an American Heart Association conference in Chicago and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

CHILDREN AND TEENS

The biggest change: Start young. Guidelines used to begin at age 6, but the new ones say preschoolers ages 3 through 5 should be encouraged to take part in active play throughout the day. They don’t call for a certain amount but say a reasonable target may be three hours of various intensities. That’s consistent with guidelines in many other countries and is the average amount of activity observed in kids this age.

From ages 6 through 17, at least an hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity throughout the day is recommended. Most of it should be aerobic, the kind that gets the heart rate up such as brisk walking, biking or running. At least three times a week, exercise should be vigorous and include muscle- and bone-strengthening activities like climbing on playground equipment or playing sports.

ADULTS

Duration stays the same — at least 2½ to 5 hours of moderate-intensity or 1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours of vigorous activity a week, plus at least two days that include muscle-strengthening exercise like pushups or lifting weights.

One key change: It used to be thought that aerobic activity had to be done for at least 10 minutes. Now even short times are known to help. Even a single episode of activity gives short-term benefits such as lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety and improving sleep.

Sitting a lot is especially harmful.

The advice is similar for older adults, but activities should include things that promote balance to help avoid falls.

BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE LETTER E

Targeting young children is the goal of a project that Dr. Valentin Fuster, a cardiologist at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, has worked on for years with the Heart Association and Sesame Workshop, producers of television’s “Sesame Street.”

At the heart conference, he gave results of an intensive four-month program to improve knowledge and attitudes about exercise and health among 562 kids ages 3 to 5 in Head Start preschools in Harlem.

“It was really successful,” Fuster said. “Once they understand how the body works, they begin to understand physical activity” and its importance.

When brains are young, “it’s the best opportunity” to set health habits that last, he said.

Wyandanch school district’s budget woes worsen, board tells residents

Budget woes in the Wyandanch school district are far more daunting than originally thought, with cash reserves down nearly $3.3 million from original levels, shocked residents were told at a board meeting Wednesday night.

The district’s external auditor, Marianne VanDuyne, told a capacity crowd that “rainy day” reserve funds upon which the system depends to meet emergencies had been exhausted during the 2017-18 school year. This, she said, could force Wyandanch to make deep cuts in personnel expenses in order to rebuild reserves.

“Now there are going to have to be tough decisions,” VanDuyne said.

Angry residents immediately launched a verbal barrage on school board trustees and administrators who mostly sat stoically silent. Several homeowners wondered aloud how high their taxes would rise.

“I want to know where my money is going,” said one audience member, Denise Edwards, who glared at board members as she explained that she had just bought a house locally in March. “If these people here can’t figure it out, then maybe we’ve got to bring in somebody else to figure it out.”

Wyandanch’s budget problems became widely recognized in January 2017, when the state comptroller’s office reported both the Hempstead and Wyandanch systems faced “significant stress” — the most serious level of financial trouble listed by the state. A more recent report issued by the agency last January raised Wyandanch’s financial status to “susceptible to fiscal stress,” while removing Hempstead from the statewide list altogether.

Immediately following release of the 2017 report, Wyandanch Superintendent Mary Jones said her district had been forced to go over budget to buy portable classrooms to help accommodate immigrants arriving from Central America. More recently, the district also rented a vacant school in Dix Hills to house an overflow of children enrolled in preschool programs and kindergarten.

According to the latest state records, Wyandanch enrolls about 2,500 students, 50 percent of whom are Hispanic or Latino and 48 percent black or African-American. Eighty-seven percent of the district’s students are categorized as economically disadvantaged, compared with an average of 40 percent for Suffolk County.

Center Moriches superintendent to retire at end of year

Russell Stewart, the outspoken superintendent of Center Moriches schools, has announced he will retire from his $258,634-a-year job at the end of June, completing nine years in the post.

Joshua Foster, the school board president, said late Friday that trustees have hired a firm to help them search for Stewart’s replacement.

Stewart’s announcement was emailed Friday to employees of the 1,500-student system following a discussion with board members Thursday night.

The schools chief, in a phone message to Newsday, gave no reason for his decision to step down, and he did not return calls on Friday. Stewart, 54, has been an educator in New York since 1987, according to state records.

In the message, he said he took particular pride in the fact that, during his administration, Center Moriches doubled the percentage of students graduating with advanced Regents diplomas.

Such credentials show that students have completed advanced courses, such as geometry, beyond the minimum required to graduate.

In 2017, the latest year on record, 53.2 percent of the district’s graduates earned advanced diplomas, up from 27 percent in 2010. The Long Island regional average in 2017 was 56.4 percent, up from 30.9 percent in 2010.

“Personally, as a resident and a board member, I think he’ll be missed, ” said Darrell Iehle, who serves on the district’s five-member school board.

Iehle acknowledged that Stewart’s administration has been controversial at times, adding, “It comes with the territory.”

The board’s vice president, Robyn Rayburn, declined to comment, as did another trustee, George Maxwell.

In February, after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Stewart was one of the first superintendents on the Island to publicly air the possibility of hiring armed guards for his district’s schools.

Stewart’s most controversial move came in 2013, when he appointed a former health and physical education teacher from the Commack district as principal of Center Moriches Middle School. The appointee, Melissa Bates, had just completed a year as Stewart’s confidential assistant.

Stewart, who taught in the Commack system and was high school principal there before getting the superintendent’s job in Center Moriches, said his appointee had completed a one-year administrative internship. But a group of Center Moriches parents contended publicly that Stewart’s choice for the middle school job was inexperienced and petitioned unsuccessfully for her removal.

One of those parents, Sandra Unger, who has since moved to North Carolina, responded to Stewart’s announced retirement on Friday, saying of her former school district, “Hopefully, they can move on and have a more pleasant educational experience like the one I’m having down here.”

Middle school principal Melissa Reggio, the former confidential assistant who now uses her married name, praised the superintendent on Friday, describing him as “a phenomenal, hands-on leader for our school district who cared deeply for our schools and the community at large.”