Stopping Bullying in the Special Needs Community

In honor of this week’s celebration of Anti-Bullying Week, let’s highlight bullying in the special needs community.  Whether face-to-face, nasty notes, harassing cell phone voicemails or cyber stalking, bullying has become an epidemic.

There are numerous statistics about childhood bullying and its growth in the computer age.  We know with certainty that bullying of children with disabilities is significant but, unfortunately, there has been very little research to document the harassment of this population segment.

Only 10 U.S. studies have been conducted on the connection between bullying and developmental disabilities, but all of these studies found that children with special needs were two to three times more likely to be bullied than their peers.  According to PACER’S National Bullying Prevention Center, one study has shown that 60 percent of students with disabilities report being bullied regularly compared with 25 percent of total students.

This should be disheartening to each of us and should act as a wake-up call to government legislators, educators and parents.

Because bullying involves an imbalance of physical or psychological power, students with special needs are especially vulnerable and frequently targeted.  For example, in the fall of 2009, responses to a Massachusetts Advocates for Children online survey asked about the extent of bullying against children on the autism spectrum.  Nearly 90 percent of parents responded that their children had been bullied. These findings are applicable to most students with disabilities.

All children deserve to feel safe in school.  The Federation for Children with Special Needs lists a few ways parents can support a child with special needs who is being bullied:

  • Tell your child that this is not his or her fault, and that your child did nothing wrong.
  • Gently emphasize that above all, your child should not retaliate or attempt to fight or hit the bully.
  • Role-play ignoring the bully or walking away.
  • With your child, make a list of adults in school he or she can go to for help, such as counselors or administrators.
  • Arrange for him or her to see friends on the weekends, and plan fun activities with the family.

Children and young adults with learning disabilities and special needs are undoubtedly at increased risk of being bullied.  And, unfortunately, a person’s disability can make it difficult to identify the type of bullying that is occurring. It is important for both teachers and parents to take the time to clearly define and describe bullying behaviors for children with special needs, so they can identify bullying and notify adults if they experience or witness bullying.

We, as a society, have somehow moved away from teaching our children about empathy and compassion. We, as parents and educators, have moved far away from teaching kids that, just because someone is different, it does not mean that they are a target to bully and tease.

As a person with A.D.D. and the founder of  Fitness for Health, a therapeutic, exercise facility for children and adults with special needs in the Washington, DC, Region , I believe that we need to relearn and re-emphasize respect and human decency for everyone. It is every parent and educator’s responsibility to speak to our kids about why some people are different and answer any questions that they have openly and honestly.  Only then, we may have the opportunity to create happier and healthier kids at school and less bullying.

Fitness for Health is proud to offer fitness programs created specifically for the special needs community that help improve self-esteem, weight management and kids’ health while helping children reach their full potential.

Areas of improvement may include:

  • Functional movement / play skills
  • Gross motor function and coordination
  • Crossing the midline
  • Mental processing
  • Motor planning and motor sequencing
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Locomotor skills
  • Visual motor/perceptual motor skills
  • Proprioception and balance
  • Age-appropriate social skills
  • And more

Are the Midterm Elections Stressing You Out? Exercise

Are the statewide and national elections stressing you out? Try exercising.

The endless hours of news coverage about the “fate of national politics” and potential xenophobia have taken a toll on the mental health of many Americans, causing stress levels to be exacerbated. The daily coverage that has been impossible not to watch is leaving many adults – especially senior citizens – feeling depressed and afraid for their personal state of affairs.

Therapists contend that the anxiety is real, especially given the other stresses of daily, normal life.

“There is an overall feeling of doom, dread and apprehension,” said Robin Morris, a therapist at Brook Lane of North Village in Hagerstown, Maryland, about previous elections. “I have many clients who say, ‘We are doomed.’ Their regular struggles have become magnified…”

Exercise may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress, according to research into the effect of exercise on neurochemicals involved in the body’s stress response.

Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.

In my experience as a Certified Athletic Trainer and the owner of Fitness for Health, a therapeutic, exercise facility working with children through senior citizens in the Washington, DC, area, I have seen firsthand how routine physical activity can help prevent and treat depression while stabilizing mood, which in turn contributes to the motivation needed to keep exercising.  It is scientifically proven that exercising can improve your mental and physical health alike.

Additionally, the meditation app, Headspace, started offering a new “Politics Pack” for free this week with meditations to help you cope through midterm elections stress.  None of the meditation exercises are expressly political, nor do they cater to a specific political position. Instead, they offer ways to cope with some of the feelings you might experience when reading political news.

So, what are you waiting for? Take a break from watching the election results tonight and invite your family to walk around the block with you, play on the neighborhood playground or do a few yoga stretches during a CNN commercial break. You need to take a few minutes to just breathe and remember that, no matter who wins the elections tonight, you are ultimately in control of your own destiny.

To learn how Fitness for Health can help you improve your mind-body connection utilizing state-of-the-art fitness technology, visit or call 301-231-7138.

Don’t Be Scared Of These Halloween Fitness Games

Witches and goblins and ghouls! Oh my!  Traditionally, Halloween isn’t known as a fitness holiday, to say the least.  But, with a little imagination, Halloween can be an exciting holiday – and a great day to add a little fun to your exercise routine – for the whole family.

As the founder of Fitness for Health, a therapeutic, fitness facility for children through senior citizens in the Washington, DC, area, Marc Sickel is happy to recommend a few tips to add some “character” to your family’s workout.

  • Have you ever played, “Plants vs. Zombies?” The goal is to place plants/obstacles in the way of zombies before they can enter your home.  Take a cue from this popular game and create your own backyard version.  Designate an area of the yard as the “house.”  It can even be your real house!  This will serve as the base.  Then, select one person to serve as the homeowner.  The rest of the family will be “zombies.”  The homeowner will create an obstacle course so the zombies have trouble invading the house.  If the zombies can maneuver the obstacle course and successfully reach the “home” before a set time, the zombies win.  Then, the homeowner becomes a zombie and a new homeowner is selected.
  • Play mummy! Use the obstacle course that you created for “Plants vs. Zombies.”  Split the family into two groups – “mummies” and “masters.”  Each mummy needs to be blindfolded so the master can verbally tell the mummy how to maneuver the course.  Each team takes a turn separately and, in between races, the family should rearrange the obstacle course so each team has a new course.  This prevents teams from hearing the directions and getting an upper hand as the games play on.  This fun game not only teaches teamwork but also relies on following verbal directions.
  • Do your kids like treasure hunts? Try a ghost hunt!  Create a list of Halloween-inspired objects to find within a 15 minute period.  The kids/”little ghosts” have to run as fast as they can to collect as many listed objects as possible and sprint back to the home base/”haunted house.”
  • Try broom racing! Leave sack racing to the annual family picnic.  Halloween is a great time to put a spooky spin on a family favorite.  Each racer should place a broom or stick between his/her legs and run or hop to a designated finish line.  What a great photo opportunity to remember your family holiday!
  • Survive the spider web maze. Is it too cold to play outdoors?  Create a lazer maze-like game in your hallway.  Create a maze out of cray paper that looks like a spider web.  Each family member has to weave his/her way through the spider maze without breaking the web.  Which family member is the fastest “fly” to climb over or under the web and survive?

Don’t forget that it takes imagination to create a Halloween costume – and a fun, inspired fitness program!  Happy Haunting!

The family that plays together; stays together!  To learn about fun, fitness programs designed specifically to improve kids’ health, increase adult bone and joint health for parents, and help kids reach their full athletic potential, join us on Sunday, November 4, from 5pm – 6pm for a free tour of Fitness for Health’s therapeutic and training facility during our Open House.

Exercise Helps Cognition

A new British Journal of Psychology study has looked at the details behind how cognitive performance may improve during aerobic exercise.

The investigators found that both aerobic exercise and upright posture improved visual working memory compared with passive and seated conditions. Their analyses also suggest where the neural origins of these observed effects take place.

“Our findings hold implications not only for the field of cognitive psychology, wherein our knowledge has been primarily derived from seated, resting participants, but also for our understanding of cognitive performance at large. Although modern society has evolved to become more and more sedentary, our brains may nevertheless perform best while our bodies are active,” said lead author Dr. Thomas Töllner, of Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich.

Whether you are young or young-at-heart, regular exercise is more important than ever to your body and mind.  And, fitness for seniors – and those of us who are baby boomers – can be fun!

Not only is exercise is good for your heart, it’s also good for your brain. Exercising when young and fitness for seniors benefits regular brain functions and can help keep the brain active, which can prevent memory loss, cognitive decline, and dementia. Any exercise that gets the heart pumping may reduce the risk of dementia and slow the condition’s progression once it starts, reports a Mayo Clinic study published in October 2011 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

So, I want to see you in the gym! Or, at least, walking a few quick laps around your office hallways.

About Fitness for Health:

Fitness for Health creates unique exercise programs based on a person’s individual fitness goals.  Do you want to lose weight, focus on weight management as an adult or combat childhood obesity?  Interested in toning your body?  Aspiring to improve your athletic edge?  No problem!  Whether you are a child or a senior citizen, Fitness for Health can you help you and your loved ones reach your full potential.

“Chemo Brain”

In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d like to highlight “Chemo Brain” today.

If you or a loved one has suffered through breast cancer, you may have heard of “Chemo Brain.”  This is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment.  After chemo, people commonly feel foggy and cognitive abilities can suffer.

A 2015 study suggests that aerobic exercise can fight the effects of “Chemo Brain.”  The study included 20 women who were on average 53 years old, had been treated for breast cancer within the past three years and had reported cognitive difficulties.  The researchers instructed half of the participants to exercise for six months, while the other half didn’t exercise and served as controls for the study.

“The results showed that compared to the control group, the women who exercised had improvements in several parts of the psychological tests, including verbal fluency, visual attention and switching between tasks. They also reported better quality of life and improvements in their thinking and memory,” according to the study that was presented at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology.

Additionally, aerobic exercise can combat fatigue in cancer patients and survivors while increasing quality of life.

The American Cancer Society explains how exercise can help during and after cancer treatment:

  • Keep or improve your physical abilities (how well you can use your body to do things)
  • Improve balance, lower risk of falls and broken bones
  • Keep muscles from wasting due to inactivity
  • Lower the risk of heart disease
  • Lessen the risk of osteoporosis (weak bones that are more likely to break)
  • Improve blood flow to your legs and lower the risk of blood clots
  • Make you less dependent on others for help with normal activities of daily living
  • Improve your self-esteem
  • Lower the risk of being anxious and depressed
  • Lessen nausea
  • Improve your ability to keep social contacts
  • Lessen symptoms of tiredness (fatigue)
  • Help you control your weight
  • Improve your quality of life

A growing number of studies have looked at the impact of physical activity on cancer recurrence and long-term survival. Exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, body composition, fatigue, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, happiness and several quality of life factors in cancer survivors.  According to the American Cancer Society’s website, “At least 20 studies of people with breast, colorectal, prostate and ovarian cancer have suggested that physically active cancer survivors have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and improved survival compared with those who are inactive.”

If you have been affected by cancer, it is critical that you maintain physical activity.  In the short-term, exercise may be the last thing on your mind and you may feel that you are too tired to begin a fitness program.  In the long-term, if you battle through the fatigue, you will gain energy, achieve better self-image and regain your cognitive abilities.

Do you need help taking the first step? Whether you are looking for a fitness for seniors program or to improve your bone and joint health, Fitness for Health’s one-on-one, exercise programs can help strengthen your body and your mind. Visit for more information.

Virtual Reality Increases Exercise Performance

Using Virtual Reality (VR) headsets while exercising can reduce pain and increase how long someone can sustain an activity, according to new research.

The research, led by PhD candidate Maria Matsangidou from EDA, set out to determine how using VR while exercising could affect performance by measuring a raft of criteria: heart rate, including pain intensity, perceived exhaustion, time to exhaustion and private body consciousness.

The results showed “a clear reduction in perception of pain” and effort when using VR technology. The data showed that after a minute the VR group had reported a pain intensity that was 10% lower than the non-VR group.

The improvements shown by the VR group suggest that it could be a “possible way to encourage less active people to exercise by reducing the perceived pain that exercise can cause and improving performance, regardless of private body consciousness.”

Lead researcher Maria Matsangidou said, “It is clear from the data gathered that the use of VR technology can improve performance during exercise on a number of criteria. This could have major implications for exercise regimes for everyone, from occasional gym users to professional athletes.”

As the founder of Fitness for Health, a therapeutic, exercise facility working with children through senior citizens in the Washington, DC, area, I have seen firsthand the power of exergaming (“exergaming” combines the fun of video games, cutting-edge, high-tech equipment and other creative tools with proven fitness tactics) and technology to improve hand-eye coordination and even weight management in all age groups – while having fun.

I’ve seen the positive effects firsthand for both kids and adults.  It’s that feeling that you’re playing a game – not working out – which is at the heart of exergaming’s popularity.

I look at exergaming as stealth exercise.  Whether a player uses a dance game, a geo-tracking app on their iPhone or pretends to be playing in the World Cup using Wii, he/she is getting exercise without realizing it and having fun.  And, shouldn’t working out be fun in order to capture a child’s ongoing attention and maintain our adult enthusiasm for athletic training?

Would you like to learn more about the benefits of exergaming?  Whether you are a person with special needs (occupational therapy, physical therapy, therapeutic exercise), a weekend warrior, someone that wants to get into better shape, in need of weight control, an athlete at any level seeking to improve their game  – – exergaming can help and in a big way!  Call us at 301-231-7138 to try exergaming firsthand.

HIIT Training Lowers Risk for Chronic Disease

A few minutes of high-intensity interval (HIIT) or sprinting exercise may be as effective as much longer exercise sessions in spurring beneficial improvements in mitochondrial function, according to new research. The small study is published ahead of print in the American Journal of Physiology — Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.

The report explains, “Mitochondria, the energy centers of the cells, are essential for good health. Previous research has found that exercise creates new mitochondria and improves the function of existing mitochondria. Altered mitochondrial function in response to a single session of exercise generates signals that may lead to beneficial changes in the cells, lowering the risk for chronic disease. High-intensity interval exercise consists of short bursts of high-intensity aerobic exercise — physical activity that raises the heart rate — alternating with brief recovery periods. Whether the intensity of a workout affects mitochondrial response is unclear.”

HIIT training is a great way to get your strength sessions and aerobic exercise at the same time. Super-efficient HIIT is the ideal workout for a busy schedule—whether you want to squeeze in a workout during your lunch break or to get in shape for a fast-approaching event. Research shows you can achieve more progress in a mere 15 minutes of interval training (done three times a week) than jogging on a treadmill for an hour. And according to a 2011 study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting, just 2 weeks of high-intensity intervals improves your aerobic capacity as much as 6 to 8 weeks of endurance training.

Are you ready to take your athletic training to the next level and train like a professional athlete? Call Fitness for Health at 301-231-7138 or visit to learn how we can help you become stronger, faster and more explosive using our EDGE Training Program.

Strength Training Fights Childhood Obesity

Encouraging young people to do strength-based exercises — such as squats, push-ups and lunges — could play a key role in tackling child obesity, research suggests.

Taking part in exercises that cause muscles to contract, and strengthen muscles and bones, was found to reduce children’s body fat percentage.  The findings also suggests an increase in muscle mass — gained from strength-based exercises — could help boost children’s metabolism and energy levels.

How can parents encourage their children to be physically from the time they’re born?  In my opinion, make physical activities and games FUN for the whole family!  The key to successful participation is creativity and positive reinforcement as well as scheduling a regular time during the week as “family playtime” so children will learn to emulate their parents.  Families need to work – and play – together to enhance physical fitness while building stronger relationships.  With an integrated approach, parents, grandparents and children can create fun, recreational games that also increase self-esteem – and help families bond – while increasing kids’ physical activity.

  • Celebrate the beginning of autumn and get moving! Schedule one afternoon a week for the family to do yard work together.  (Even if your toddler just plays in the dirt with sticks.)  Studies show that you can burn about 350 calories an hour mowing the lawn or 175 calories for 30 minutes of raking the last of the summer leaves.  Not only will you get a great workout, your yard will look great too.
  • Rest.  Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found a correlation between childhood obesity and the amount of sleep a child receives each night.  The fewer hours of nightly sleep, the higher the risk for becoming overweight or obese.
  • Focus on your child’s health, not his weight. Childhood and adolescence are difficult enough for most children and self-esteem can suffer – especially if the child is heavier.  Parents can help by making sure their kids are active and learn to make good food choices.
  • Help kids read between the lines. Toby Smithson, RDN, CDE, founder of com and coauthor of the new book, Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies, explains that it’s key to teach kids, even from a very young age, to be food media literate. “It’s important for parents and children to understand food advertising and to take a stand against it by not always giving in to it, Smithson says. Because children are exposed to thousands of hours of targeted advertising for fast food, snacks, and sugar-sweetened cereal, Smithson urges parents to help their kids read between the lines of food marketing strategies. (You can learn more about food marketing and children by checking out Food Marketing to Youth and other info from Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.)
  • Play actively. It’s critical to keep your kids moving throughout the day as much as possible (and to join in on the fun when you can). Physical activity naturally stimulates chemicals that help clear glucose out of the blood and helps to prevent diabetes.  For most kids, 60 minutes or more of physical activity is recommended daily. (For more ideas to help your kids – and entire family – stay fit, check out Tips for Getting Active by the National Heart Lung, & Blood Institute (NHLBI)).

Obesity among the young isn’t a problem that’s going to magically fix itself. Make a difference in your kids’ lives and get moving – as a family!

Is your family in need of fitness assistance?  Fitness for Health can help your family create a healthy, active lifestyle while having fun.  We offer customized exercise programs designed to fit your exact needs and help you reach your unique health goals. And, we offer family workouts so families can become active together.  Visit to learn about our programs or call us at 301-231-7138.

American Obesity is Rising in 7 States

Seven states in America had obesity rates among adults at or above 35 percent. This record number is an increase from five states in 2016.

In addition to the increase, no state had a significant improvement in its obesity rate over the past year, according to the annual State of Obesity 2018: Better Policies for a Healthier America report. The report, now in its 15th year, is published by the Trust for America’s Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report states, “Between 2016 and 2017, there were increases in obesity in six states. Currently, 48 states have adult obesity rates exceeding 25 percent. The report found that at least 20 percent of adults are obese in every state.”


I understand that maintaining weight management is difficult and not everyone is enthusiastic about athletic training. But, adult obesity is on the rise again – which means childhood obesity is quickly becoming the number one health problem for today’s youth.

What can be done?

As the founder of Fitness for Health, a therapeutic, exercise facility for children and adults in the Washington, DC, Region, and a certified athletic trainer for almost 30 years, in my opinion, make physical activities and games FUN for the whole family!  The key to successful participation is creativity and positive reinforcement as well as scheduling a regular time during the week as “family playtime” so kids will learn to emulate their parents and the whole family can enjoy maintaining weight management TOGETHER!

Families need to work – and play – together to enhance physical fitness while building stronger relationships.  With an integrated approach, parents, grandparents and children can create fun, recreational games that also increase self-esteem – and help families bond – while improving your bone and joint health, losing weight, getting older family members thinking about fitness for seniors and encouraging younger family members to participate in varied activities to improve kids’ health.

Looking for a fun activity for the whole family? Make fitness fun and schedule a Family Workout! Pretend you are on your own impossible mission and try to navigate our laser maze without breaking a laser beam! Chase lights and make them disappear on our Light Floor and Wall! Climb a rock wall or two…in our glow-in-the-dark room! Jump to your heart’s content on our 30′ long trampoline and so much more! Call us at 301-231-7138 to learn more.

Do you have a family member who has special needs? Does he or she like to dance? Join us on Friday nights (until 11/9) from 6pm – 7pm for ZamDance – a high impact dance fitness program for children and adults with developmental differences. Meet other families and make new friends while having fun dancing and burning calories in our glow-in-the-dark gym.  Register today at

What’s In Your Child’s Lunchbox?

Happy second week of school to students in Maryland and happy third week of school to most of the families in the D.C. area!

Back-to-school time is the perfect opportunity to speak to your children about healthy food choices and kids’ health.

Buying lunch at school may be the first time that kids get to call the shots on which foods they’ll eat. Luckily, there’s been a nationwide effort to improve the taste and nutrition levels in school lunches.  But, some food options served at school are still exceeding recommendations for fat and leading to the childhood obesity epidemic. In the typical school cafeteria, kids can still choose an unhealthy mix of foods, especially the less nutritious fare often available a la carte or in the vending machine.

If your child will choose an item from the lunch line, encourage him or her to make good choices by incorporating fruits and veggies and trying a variety of foods.  (Chicken nuggets may be tasty, but eating them each day won’t give your child an opportunity to try new foods that he/she may love.)

If your child will brown bag it, enlist your child’s help to make lunch!  Treat this bonding moment as a chance to instill healthy food choices in your child while having fun making creative fare.  Does your child love “Toy Story”?  Make cucumber slices that look like aliens.  Does your daughter like flowers?  Make a PB & J sandwich on wheat bread that is shaped like a daisy. Is your son excited by military planes? Create a plane-shaped sandwich using a cookie cutter and add organic raspberries and blueberries to a handful of marshmallows to make a patriotic red, white and blue lunch!

Your imaginations your only limits! Begin the school year by reminding children that food can be fun while being nutritious and can stave off childhood obesity. And, the best part? You’re creating lifelong memories and laying the foundation of your child’s future, healthy, active lifestyle.

Are you looking for your child and/or teen to get off the couch and prepare for the new school year?  No matter what your child’s level—beginner to varsity athlete—Fitness for Health will create a custom children’s fitness program just for him or her. Our gym is a safe yet super-fun environment where kids are inspired and motivated to push themselves harder.  Learn more about our programs and services at our next open house on Sunday, October 7, at 5pm.

Have a happy and safe new school year!