AHA, Newton-Wellesley Hospital surprise students with athletic ball donation

WALTHAM – Michael Jaff and George Philippides stood at center court of the elementary school gymnasium, as fifteen wide-eyed children looked up at them from their seats on the hardwood court.

The two physicians were at the school to deliver an important message.

Regular physical activity, they told the students, will help you live a strong and healthy life. And, the more fun you have exercising, the more likely you are to continue doing it through your teenage years and into adulthood.

At that, Jaff and Philippides presented the children with several large, mesh bags filled with dozens of athletic balls. The kids sprung from the floor and reached into the bags, as the quiet gymnasium quickly filled with the echo of bouncing basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs and tennis balls.

The visit by Jaff, who is the president of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and Philippides, who is the hospital’s chief of cardiology, marked the kickoff of a joint effort between Newton-Wellesley Hospital and the American Heart Association to encourage Massachusetts children to get regular exercise.

The organizations collected hundreds of donated athletic balls that will be distributed to schools throughout the state over the next month. The visit to the Douglas MacArthur Elementary School in Waltham on Monday, April 30, marked the first delivery of the campaign.

Emily McCue, the school’s physical education teacher, said she hopes the donation will encourage her students to learn games and activities that will keep them active and healthy.

“Whatever exercise or skill we’re working on, I try to make it fun, and this will definitely help with that,” said McCue. “It’s important to expose them to a variety of activities and forms of exercise so they can find something they enjoy doing.”

Just like in adults, increased physical activity has been associated with an increased life expectancy and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease among children, said Jaff. The American Heart Association recommends that children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.

“You’ve got to start when you’re young,” said Jaff. “If you develop these good habits early in life, you’ll carry them through the rest of your life. Newton-Wellesley Hospital is part of this community, and we want these children to be healthy for their entire lives.”

Philippides said his hospital and the American Heart Association have a shared goal of creating a culture of health.

“It’s great to see young people who are enthusiastic about exercise and living healthy lives, and it gives me hope that these kids will be doing this when they’re adults, as well,” said Philippides. “They best kind of exercise is the one that you enjoy doing and you want to do every day.”

The MacArthur school is also a participant in the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope For Heart, a fundraising program that teaches elementary and middle school students jumping rope skills, while empowering them to improve their own health and help kids with heart-health issues.