The Power of a Jump Rope: An Evidence-Based Movement
by Stephanie Yamkovenko
Photo at right: The Indy Air Bears perform for a crowd of physical educators at the launch of the Jump Kids Jump Movement®
Jumping rope provides a total-body workout suitable for children of all ages and athletic abilities. For centuries, children around the world have been jumping rope as an inexpensive and portable form of play. The profession of occupational therapy was one of the first to recognize the benefits of play as being essential to a healthy lifestyle (Parham & Fazio, 2008), identifying it as an essential occupation for children (AOTA, 2008).
One way to combine play with active exercise is to jump rope, which children can do anywhere—by themselves or with friends—while tracking their progress. Jumping rope is experiencing a surge in popularity—partially because of the 2007 Disney movie Jump In!—which contributes to children’s motivation to participate in this activity (Mooshil, 2007).
The Jump Kids Jump Movement® is an Indiana-based resource clearinghouse for jump rope activities—all available at www.jumpkidskump.org—aimed at helping school-based groups and community groups obtain the tools needed to get youth to be more active. The Movement’s goals include stimulating interest in jumping rope as well as other physical activities, challenging children to practice a variety of jump rope activities, and increasing awareness and practice of bone health and good nutrition.
“Unlike other sports that require teammates to play, you can jump rope by yourself,” says Laura McCammack, MS, CHES, program coordinator for Clarian Health Promotions & Community Relations. “To stay interested in an activity, most kids like to know they are getting better, and the Movement has a jump rope log to help kids measure their time spent jumping and to show improvements in the number of jumps they can do in a row.” McCammack coordinates the day-to-day operations of the Jump Kids Jump Movement.
Janet Stout Everly, EdD, OTR, recognizes the benefits of jumping rope as a fun and inexpensive modality to promote cardiovascular health and prevent childhood obesity. She has used jumping rope both in her private practice and in her occupational therapy courses at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “I saw the value of jumping rope as a therapeutic medium, an occupation-based activity suitable for all children,” says Everly. “The Jump Kids Jump Movement is also compatible with AOTA’s Centennial Vision because it is evidence based and helps us meet society’s occupational needs.”
One of these needs is to address the fact that more than 16% of youth ages 2 to 19 in the United States are considered obese, and many are at risk for accelerated heart disease (Aleccia, 2008). Occupational therapy offers structured intervention and support for the management of obesity with a holistic and unique focus on occupation and daily life activities (AOTA, 2006). Physical activity, such as jumping rope, contributes to a healthy lifestyle and reduces the risk of obesity-related diseases.
Karen Bruner Stroup, PhD, director of Riley Hospital Community Education and Child Advocacy in Indianapolis, invited Everly to represent occupational therapy in the development of the Jump Kids Jump Movement. Stroup and Everly had previously worked together on developing bike safety, child passenger safety, and other children’s wellness programs that serve children of all abilities.
Everly suggested searching for evidence related to the health benefits of jumping rope, and one of her then occupational therapy graduate students, Sarah L. Hall Raybourn, MS, OTR, completed a research paper on the topic. In the paper, Raybourn discussed the cardiac, cognitive, sensory, and orthopedic benefits of jumping rope, and showed that purposeful activity is more motivating to children than nonpurposeful activity (Kircher, 1984). “Because jumping rope is purposeful, children may persist with this fun exertion enough to raise their heart rate, to burn calories, and to alert their brain by feeding it needed nutrients and oxygen for mental focus,” says Everly.
Jumping as little as 15 minutes a day can also help develop bone mass in children in the hip and at the lumbar spine, which are two regions of the skeleton at higher risk for fracture with advancing age that are evaluated clinically for osteoporosis (Fuchs, Bauer, & Snow 2001).
As leader of the Jump Kids Jump Movement, Indianapolis-based Clarian Health has a commitment to education and outreach in its communities, including teaching the importance of regular physical activity. The Movement also continues to attract an expanding base of partners; including state and national organizations, community groups, and individuals. The Jump Kids Jump Movement has its origins as Jump Girl Jump, a recreation-based jump rope program that provided access to a grant-funded inventory of jump ropes with a primary goal of osteoporosis prevention. The curriculum for Jump Girl Jump was made possible by grants from the Indiana State Department of Heath’s Office of Women’s Health. In early 2007—a few years after the grant funds expired and the Jump Girl Jump program ended—Clarian Health, the Riley Hospital for Children, and the Indy Air Bears competitive jump rope team joined together to expand the original program to make it more inclusive for all youth in Indiana.
“The project was very important to all those involved to help youth get healthier,” says McCammack, “especially because the number of children engaging in healthy amounts of activity continues to be low, and the amount of time children spend in front of computer and TV screens continues to be high.”
The team decided that to reach more children, schools needed to be involved. They developed a school-based curriculum that aligns with Indiana education standards in physical education, health, math, and more. Four local schools served as pilot programs to test the lessons in physical education classes. The Jump Kids Jump Movement was officially launched in Indianapolis on May 2, 2008, with more than 100 elementary physical education teachers from around the state in attendance.
Along with integrating the curriculum into schools, the Jump Kids Jump Movement targets recreational program leaders, after-school groups, and parents to help reach kids at multiple times throughout the day. Parents, grandparents, and other family members can get involved by encouraging the children in their lives to be active every day and by jumping rope with them. Parents and youth group leaders can also download the recreation-based curriculum available for free on www.jumpkidsjump.org to give to church groups, after-school groups, or any other community youth organizations.
Although the Jump Kids Jump Movement is based in Indiana, all occupational therapy practitioners can access and use the resources available on the site. Occupational therapy practitioners may find the curriculum to be helpful for introducing jumping rope into their practice setting, whether it is in the school, in the home, or in a private practice. “In my private practice I often see children with sensory processing disorders,” says Everly. She has used jumping rope as an inexpensive example of how a family can offer a challenge that is filled with proprioceptive fun. “Sometimes siblings join in, allowing the family a normal ‘together-time’ activity, which could be a part of a sensory diet,” says Everly. “Jumping rope is a great therapy tool for helping to integrate the senses. Not only is jumping rope an example of play as an occupation for children, it is also an intervention that addresses other occupations, such as attending in school and cooperating with peers and family.”
Practitioners can also adapt games to make jumping rope suitable for children of all ages and abilities. Everly’s occupational therapy students used a service learning project to teach preschoolers at a Montessori school how to walk and balance on a straight or curved rope on the ground and how to jump over a stationary rope held a few inches off the ground. “Children in a long line happily took turns progressing from easy to more difficult tasks,” says Everly. The students’ goals for the children included improving upper extremity strength and coordination, turn taking, polite social interaction, sportsmanship conduct, and improved rhythm and timing, all of which are necessary skills to succeed as students.
“An ideal outcome would be that every child not only in Indiana but across the country would have and use a jump rope,” says McCammack. “We also hope every child around the world would have at least one adult in his or her life that encourages and models physical activity every day—if they used the Jump Kids Jump Movement curricula and resources, that would be the icing on the cake.”
One of the unique aspects of the Jump Kids Jump Movement is that although the goals and outcomes are aimed at improving children’s health and decreasing obesity, they also encourage participation in extracurricular activity and promote good behavior. One local Indiana public school piloted the curriculum in the fall of 2007 and saw improved behavior from some of the students with behavioral problems. “These students really loved jumping rope in their physical education class, so their classroom teachers would allow extra jump rope time if they behaved well in class,” says McCammack. “It worked! This shows great coordination between school staff, as well as the power of a jump rope.”
With an established body of evidence supporting the need for jump rope programs, occupational therapy practitioners can use the resources of the Jump Kids Jump Movement to provide a way to promote jump rope as a fun, inexpensive, beneficial, and year-round physical fitness activity for children.
“It is a powerful idea to use something that children value as a way to reduce obesity, improve cardiac health, promote socialization, reduce stress, promote bone density, and improve self-esteem,” says Everly. “OTs can share this information with teachers and after-school programs. Teaching children about back pack safety, bike safety, and jumping rope are just a few good examples of OTs becoming active participants in wellness initiatives throughout their community in a variety of settings.”
Stephanie Yamkovenko is AOTA’s staff writer
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