‘Move your body as if you’re not depressed anymore:’ Local fitness classes pull kids out of pandemic mindset

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — The pandemic left us all feeling a bit sluggish. We were getting less exercise, not working our brains as much either. 

It’s an especially big concern for children, as they’re learning and growing. They spent months on lockdown at home and hours in front of the computer everyday.

Depression and anxiety rates among children more than doubled.

They needed motivation, both physically and mentally, and some parents found that in Jacqui Lingler Middleton, a certified CrossFit and Yoga instructor whose passion is teaching children to get fit.

“I create a space for kids to have fun where fitness kind of like sneaks in. And they work hard!”

The classes she offers at GrooveRyde in Woodmere are small, no more than ten kids, 45 minutes at a time, once a week.

The kids leave sweaty and spent, but happy and feeling good about themselves.

Ten-year-old Lucy isn’t interested in organized sports but this class is just right for her. 

“I think it’s really fun. This is my second time doing it,” Lucy said. 

As Jacqui puts it, “You don’t have to be a star baseball player. Most people are not going to be first string on any sport but we want to be able to move functionally and move well and these kids get the opportunity to do that, outside of a team sport.”

These Kids’ Fitness classes started during the pandemic, with Jacqui hosting from her home.

“I put a whistle on and I put zoom on and I bounded around my house for half an hour twice a week and got kids moving and their parents moving.”

Lucy’s mother, Jennifer Speed, says she’s seen a big change in her daughter.

“Confidence, confidence in moving her body, confidence in trying something new. And she’s sleeping so much better. She’s getting that energy out and then she has a restful night’s sleep.”

The benefits of exercise have long been touted by mental health professionals.

Dr. Nora McNamara is a child psychiatrist at University Hospitals. She has prescribed this class in the past for some of her young patients.

Dr. McNamara explains, “It’s part of behavioral cognitive therapy, to move your body as if you aren’t depressed anymore, as if you’re not paralyzed with anxiety. … Mostly what they report to me is that their mood is better, that they’re less anxious.”

Jacqui’s goal with these Kids’ Fitness classes is simple, “You’re fitnessing but you’re having fun first. And I think kids really appreciate that.”

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