At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, the William Pearce Primary gym was packed with more than 100 eager fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders, completing reps of jumping jacks, lunges, and push-ups alongside Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

The 15-minute exercise routine at the Southside school was followed by a discussion with the mayor about the importance of exercise and good nutrition. The kids had plenty of questions.

For instance, are Big Red and barbacoa bad for you?

“As long as you are healthy, you can enjoy things like barbacoa and Big Red,” Nirenberg responded to the sixth-grade student who asked the question. “You shouldn’t be having it every day, but if you exercise and eat healthy, you can do that.”

Children applaud as Mayor Ron Nirenberg arrives with his arms up to the Pearce Primary gymnasium.
Children applaud as Mayor Ron Nirenberg enters the William Pearce Primary gymnasium. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The event was put on by Forward in Fitness, a nonprofit organization that works to make health and wellness more accessible throughout San Antonio and emphasizes healthy habits beginning in childhood.

Improving the health of children throughout San Antonio will take an inclusive, community effort, said Karina Villa, CEO of Forward in Fitness.

“We have to start at a young age to create good fitness patterns,” Villa said. “We aren’t saying, ‘You’re overweight.’ We are teaching them that we are all going to get healthy and that exercise is important for everyone.”

Nirenberg agreed, explaining that community health is extremely important in order to have a vibrant city. He told the Rivard Report that the most impactful way to instill healthy habits is to teach young people about those habits.

“We have to show them how easy it is and how fun it can be,” said Nirenberg, a former competitive body builder whose commitment to fitness landed him on the cover of a health magazine, MD Monthly. “Personally, [exercise] has been a central part of my life, fun for me, and critically important for my own wellness.”

When a student asked Nirenberg if he exercised every day, he said he didn’t. But he told the students that he made a point to exercise five days a week, fitting in activities that may include a walk with his 9-year-old son Jonah, lifting weights, or completing a 15-minute workout, much like the one he and the schoolchildren completed together.

Nirenberg told them that his family emphasizes a balanced diet. “I tell [Jonah] to make sure that he’s getting a serving of vegetables at every meal,” he said. “You don’t have to change the way you enjoy your birthday cake, you just have to make healthy choices.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg high-fives students after their workout.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg high-fives students after the workout. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Forward In Fitness will continue its outreach next month with a Dec, 13 visit to Dwight Middle School that will feature District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña, who will stress to a new group of kids the importance of developing a healthy lifestyle.

“We need to make sure we are getting all communities involved,” Nirenberg said. “We want to make sure that no matter where you are in San Antonio, you have” an opportunity to be healthy.


Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.