Kids Join The Gym

by Louise Nakanishi-Lind

We often hear about diminishing health standards and increased incidences of diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. These were once considered adult problems but more often they are occurring in childhood. Children are more overweight now than thirty years ago and most authorities put it down to an increasingly sedentary life style, pointing the finger at television, video games and computers. According to Australia’s Physical Activity Recommendations for Children and Young People, “Children should be active for at least one hour every day and spend no more than two hours in front of electronic screens for recreation.” (The number of Australian houses with VCR’s and computers in 1970 was almost zero but by 2001 it had risen to around 80 percent.)

Worries over children’s health issues have risen over the same period. In Japan, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) reports a 7.5% increase in obese 12 year-old boys from 1970 to 2000 and a general increase in childhood obesity. The United States Department of Health and Human Services points out, “Overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.”

Luckily for children living in Tokyo there is a new gym in town—and this one is just for kids. My Gym started in 1983 in California as a way to help children lose weight, get fit, learn to socialize with their peers and build selfesteem. It now boasts establishments in 23 countries and the Tokyo branch opened recently in March 2008.

My Gym’s Chief Operating Officer, Takahiro Suzuki (Taka), thinks Tokyo needs this kind of facility as there “are not so many parks” and open spaces for children to play. Taka notes that these days parents also worry a lot about their children’s safety. They want a secure environment that is also fun for the children. My Gym’s philosophy of constant change, new layout plans and programs are sent from America on a weekly basis, and their unique equipment serves to keep children stimulated, says Taka before adding, “They never have the same class, and this keeps them interested”. Parents are encouraged to participate closely with the smallest children, and to remain in visual contact with kids over four, witnessing and applauding their children’s milestones.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services notes, “The most immediate consequence of overweight…children…is poor self-esteem and depression.” Nurturing the mind as well as the body by aiming for and accomplishing goals, helps children develop a good self-image. At My Gym the ‘Players’ (instructors) use positive reinforcement to motivate the children, encouraging and cheering them on as they progress.

All classes are given in English, which is, as Taka puts it, a bonus, and many parents, both Japanese and expatriate, will find that attractive. Children are divided into groups according to their age and corresponding to their level of development. The six-weeks to six-months (Little Bundles) also incorporates a parents discussion group for the exchange of ideas and information. As the children graduate through the different levels and become more physically and mentally able, they grow more independent and are encouraged to take on various challenges commensurate with their age.

Every group has three My Gym Players who operate as a team, each with their own role, and a maximum of 15 children. This ensures a safe environment with close attention being given to all students. Taka emphasizes that safety is the “most important”  consideration. The classes go up to age six but, says Taka, they occasionally have special classes for children between 6 and 8 years old mainly for the expatriate community.

Tokyo is not the only My Gym in Asia—there are branches up and running in Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and new ones on the way for China and India. Parents concerned about their children’s health find all  big cities have the same problems—no space to exercise, less interaction between neighbours, more fear and thus a propensity to stay indoors. Mothers of children under school age say they are keen for their children to let off steam as well as start to learn socialization skills such as turn-taking and sharing in preparation for school. All of this is available under one roof plus, once a member there is the added advantage of being able to use any of the other locations around the world.

Encouraging an active lifestyle and healthy eating habits early in life appears to be the best way to guard against disease and depression linked to self-image. The British Minister of State in 2004 said of obesity, “In the long term, prevention is the best…  approach, particularly in childhood.”

My Gym is based at Futakotamagawa. For more information call 03-3700-7500 or see