President's Challenge


The President's Challenge is America's primary physical activity and fitness initiative and a cornerstone of the U.S. President's Council on Fitness, Sports, & Nutrition.


The purpose of the President's Challenge is to motivate all Americans to increase their physical activity, fitness, and health. Scientific evidence conclusively demonstrates that as little as 150 minutes of moderateintensity physical activity—such as brisk walking— every week has significant health benefits for adults. Children require a minimum of 60 minutes of daily physical activity. The President's Challenge is aimed at youth and adults of all ages. It can be utilized by individuals, groups of friends, schools, and organizations. The President's Challenge provides researchbased information, easy-to-use tools, fun motivators, and awards.

THOMAS K. CURETON JR. (1901–1992)

President'S Challenge

(The Denver Post/Getty Images)

Thomas K. Cureton was a pioneer researcher in the study of physical fitness. From 1941 to 1969, he taught at the University of Illinois and lectured at physical fitness institutes around the world.

Cureton was considered one of the leading experts on fitness in the U.S., serving on the President's Council on Physical Fitness under five Presidents. He also wrote or was the co–author of 50 books and many articles.

Cureton was also a champion swimmer, once holding 14 world records, and served as the research director of the national Aquatic Congress of the Y.M.C.A., for 25 years. In 1980, he was inducted into the International Swimmimg Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


On a national scale 38% of adult Americans are obese and many more are overweight. Only 35% of adults aged 18 and older engage in regular leisuretime physical activity and 33% engage in no leisuretime physical activity. Almost one-third of American children are overweight or obese, including almost 40% of black and Hispanic children. Only one-third of high-school students get the recommended amount of physical activity. The President's Challenge is aimed at Americans of all ages and abilities, including those with disabilities. It hopes to reach individuals, educators, schools, homeschoolers, workplaces, and community groups and organizations.


Participation in all President's Challenge programs is free. Its website provides program descriptions, entry forms, information about the benefits of fitness, and advice on setting activity and fitness goals. It also has suggestions for increasing and maintaining activity-specific levels, specific activities, and encouraging students and employees to become physically active. The website includes a body mass index (BMI) calculator.


The President's Challenge was founded in the early 1960s by President John F. Kennedy as a youth fitness test. It has promoted physical activity and exercise through its school-based youth fitness testing program for more than half a century. The President's Challenge is administered through a cosponsorship agreement between the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, & Nutrition and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Over the years it has expanded to include four separate challenges: the youth physical fitness test, the adult fitness test, the Presidential Activity Lifestyle Award (PALA), and the Presidential Champions Award.

Youth physical fitness test

The youth physical fitness test is designed to measure the physical fitness of children and teens and to be used as a tool by educators for improving fitness. It measures fitness levels on five activities:

There is no limit to the number of attempts a student can make at each activity. Awards are offered for all students who complete the activities, based on their fitness level scores. The Participant Physical Fitness Award is for students who participate in all five activities, but score below the 50th percentile on one or more. The National Physical Fitness Award is for students who score above the 50th percentile on all five activities. The Presidential Physical Fitness Award is for students who score at or above the 85th percentile on all activities.

After creating an online account, educators can use the free Fitness File software to enter student scores, track tests, compare their students' scores with national percentiles, and generate reports. It is recommended that students be tested twice a year, in the fall and spring, to measure their progress over the year. The percentile standards for each award are based on the 1985 National School Population Fitness Survey. The standards were validated in 1998 through comparison with a large 1994 nationwide sample.

Adult fitness test

The adult fitness test is for those aged 18 and older who are in good health. It estimates health-related fitness components that can lower the risk for medical complications such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or low back pain. The adult fitness test assesses:

After completing the activities, participants enter their results online and receive evaluations. Participants retake the test to measure their progress as they increase their physical activity. Eventually they may choose to enroll in the PALA or Presidential Champions challenges.


The PALA challenge is for everyone—from young children to seniors—who want to incorporate physical activity into their everyday lives. The PALA is also an important component of the Let's Move! initiative, a program developed by Former First Lady Michelle Obama to combat childhood obesity. Obama's goal was to double the number of youth earning the PALA by the end of the 2010–2011 school year. The President's Council on Fitness, Sports, & Nutrition expanded upon that goal with the Million PALA Challenge, a call for one million Americans to enroll in and earn the PALA by September 2011.

The PALA challenge is designed to jumpstart a regular fitness routine through a six-week commitment to daily physical activity. For children and teens between the ages of six and 17, the goal is to be active for 60 minutes daily, at least five days per week, for six out of eight weeks. Alternatively, daily activity steps can be counted with a pedometer, with a goal of 11,000 daily steps for girls and 13,000 steps for boys. The goal for adults aged 18 and older is to be active for 30 minutes daily, at least five days per week, for six out of eight weeks. Alternatively, daily activity steps can be counted using a pedometer, with a goal of 8,500 daily steps.

Body Mass Index (BMI)—
A measure of body fat; the ratio of weight in kilograms to the square of height in meters.
The three muscles at the back of the thigh.
Let's Move—
First Lady Michelle Obama's initiative for combating childhood obesity that incorporates aspects of the President's Challenge.
Excessive weight due to accumulation of fat, usually defined as a body mass index of 30 or above or body weight greater than 30% above normal on standard height-weight tables.
A body mass index between 25 and 30.
Step counter; a device that counts each step by detecting hip motion.
A rank in a population that has been divided into 100 equal groups; thus, test results in the 50th percentile indicate that half of those who took the test scored higher and half scored lower.
Presidential Activity Lifestyle Award (PALA)—
A component of the President's Challenge, the PALA is a six-week commitment to daily physical activity, designed for everyone from young children to seniors.
An exercise or test of upper-body strength in which the suspended body is pulled up by the arms.
Press-up; a test or exercise in which the body is lowered and pushed up with the arms.
A common test or exercise for strength and endurance of the abdominal muscles.
The extent to which a test measures the trait that it is designed to assess.

The PALA has been adopted by schools, workplaces, community groups, and teams of friends, as well as individuals and families. Schools have incorporated it into their existing fitness programs or implemented special six-week programs culminating in an awards celebration. The General Mills Foundation, a President's Challenge partner, sponsors PALA Family Fitness Nights through its Box Tops for Education (BTFE) program. Other President's Challenge partners promoting the PALA include the National Recreation and Park Association, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and the YMCA.

Presidential Champions

The Presidential Champions challenge is for physically active children and adults who have completed the PALA and want to increase the intensity and frequency of their activities. It is a point-based program available only online. Points, based on the amount of energy burned with each activity, are logged into the free online activity tracker. A bronze award requires 40,000 points, a silver 90,000 points, a gold 160,000 points, and a platinum award requires one million points. There is no time limit and there are a wide variety of activities to choose from—from running or playing golf to learning karate or walking the dog. Running five miles every day will earn a bronze award in about six weeks. Moderate exercise will take somewhat longer. As with the PALA, activities can be logged in increments as short as five minutes, although at least 10-minute increments are preferable. Pedometer steps or distances for activities such as biking can also be logged. The activity tracker notifies participants when they have reached their goals and can order awards.

The Presidential Champions challenge is open to individuals and groups. It encourages competitions between classrooms, co-workers, and friends, as well as yearly challenges.

School recognition programs

The President's Challenge selects elementary and secondary schools as Demonstration Centers for renewable three-year terms. To become a Demonstration Center, schools must:


Educational institutions, corporations, government agencies, and medical, scientific, and nonprofit organizations can partner with the President's Challenge as advocates. There are a wide range of advocate activities, including subsidizing youth awards, sponsoring employee health and wellness programs, and incorporating the President's Challenge into special promotions and initiatives. Advocates and other partners receive special access and recognition.


Before embarking on the President's Challenge, educators should review the medical status of each student to identify any medical, orthopedic, or other health issues. Students should be taught correct techniques for all activities, including running style and pacing.

Adults should complete the Preparticipation Screening Questionnaire, provided by the American Heart Association and American College of Sports Medicine, before performing the adult fitness test, to assess their risk for cardiovascular events. Some people may need to take additional steps prior to exercise testing. The one-mile walk of the adult aerobic fitness test should only be attempted by those who routinely walk for 15–20 minutes, or the equivalent, several times per week. The 1.5-mi (2.4 km) run should only be attempted by those who routinely run continuously for at least 20 minutes three or more times per week.

The Mayo Clinic has designed a simple four-step assessment, based on the President's Challenge, for embarking on a fitness program. It is available at . The assessment is repeated six weeks after beginning an exercise program and periodically thereafter, with goals adjusted as fitness improves. A physician or personal trainer can offer additional guidance based on the results of the assessment.


Although any physical activity carries a risk of injury, healthy adults are at low risk for cardiovascular events—dizziness, fainting, irregular heartbeat, or rarely, a heart attack—from exercise testing. However some risk factors or diseases can increase one's risk. Overall, there are about six abnormal cardiovascular events per 10,000 adults who undergo exercise testing.



More than 50 million children and teens have been recognized by the President's Challenge for their fitness achievements. More than one million Americans aged six and older have earned a PALA or Presidential Champions Award. In addition to awards at every level of the President's Challenge, T-shirts are available for the PALA and Presidential Champions challenges. Schools with excellent physical education programs are eligible for State Champions and Demonstration Center awards.



Bakewell, Lisa. Fitness Information for Teens, 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2012.


“The President's Challenge: Physical Activity & Fitness Awards Program.” Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators 24, no. 2 (November/December 2010): S19–22.


“How Fit Are You?: See How You Measure Up.” Mayo Clinic. February 27, 2014. (accessed September 19, 2017).

Let's Move! America's Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids. (accessed January 20, 2017).

“Physical Activity Guidelines.” Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (accessed January 20, 2017).

“President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.” (accessed January 20, 2017).


Amateur Athletic Union, PO Box 22409, Lake Buena Vista, FL, 32830, (407) 934-7200, (800) AAU-4USA, Fax: (407) 934-7242, .

American College of Sports Medicine, 401 W. Michigan St., Indianapolis, IN, 46202-3233, (317) 637-9200, Fax: (317) 634-7817, .

American Heart Association, 7272 Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX, 75231, (800) AHA-USA-1 (242-8721), .

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1101 Wootton Pkwy., Ste. LL100, Rockville, MD, 20852, Fax: (240) 453-8282,, .

President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, 1101 Wootton Pkwy., Ste. 560, Rockville, MD, 20852, (240) 276-9567, Fax: (240) 276-9860,, .

Margaret Alic, PhD

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.