BATH – For Derek Rivers, healthy eating is part of his job.

Rivers, a second-year defensive end for the New England Patriots, celebrated healthy eating and exercise with Bath Middle School students on Wednesday morning as part of the school’s recognition of All Children Exercise Simultaneously Day.

“Healthy eating and exercise is key to a successful life,” said Rivers, who made the drive up Interstate 95 with his wife. “To have a successful life, you’ve got to be in shape.”

For Rivers, who was born in Augusta but moved to North Carolina when he was five months old, eating right and staying in his shape has been a big part of his career, especially in the last year. Rivers was drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft and missed the entire season after tearing his ACL during training camp.

Students spent more than 90 minutes on the football field running and jumping, doing planks and squats and relay races as part of the Fuel Up to Play 60 event.

Fuel Up to Play 60 is a school-based nutrition and exercise program launched by the National Dairy Council and NFL in collaboration with the USDA to improve health and wellness for kids. The program is in its 9th year and each state has ambassadors that represent their students at the national level.

Boden Gould, a freshman at Morse, is Maine’s ambassador and was recently appointed to the organization’s national Youth Council. He’ll be attending a conference in July in Atlanta with others from around the country, and he said he thinks helping people eat healthier and stay healthy is important.

“I’ve been involved since 6thgrade and I really want to help my community be physically active and healthy,” Gould said.

Getting a middle schooler or high school student to choose fruits and vegetables instead of chips and soda isn’t the easiest, Gould said, but he hopes that continued exposure to healthy food choices starts shifting the mindsets of a lot of his classmates.

“This program has trained me to eat healthier because I can tell how it helps my body when I eat that way,” Gould said.

Gould said when he eats healthy breakfasts in the morning, he is more prepared for the school day and feels like he sleeps better at night. It’s a hard sell to get his friends and classmates on board, but he said he’s hopeful.

“They like the junk food idea, but we’ll do healthy events and I’ll do assemblies to get (the message) across,” he said.

While on the Morse High football field and middle school cafeteria, Rivers told students how important nutrition is as to being professional athlete and living a healthy life.

“The first thing they do is introduce us to our nutritionist,” Rivers said. “Our success on the field starts with healthy eating in the cafeteria.”

Catherine Hoffman, schools program manager for the Maine Dairy and Nutrition Council — which works with the Fuel Up program — said healthy eating is especially important for middle- and high school-aged students because it’s a time when they’re forming their habits for life.

“You really want to encourage them to make healthy food choices from all the food groups,” Hoffman said. “Once those bad habits are engrained, it’s hard to change.”

The goal of the Fuel Up program is to educate students and make them responsible for their own decisions about food, Hoffman said. The program is designed to let the students be in charge of the healthy eating and physical activity changes they want to see personally and at school.

One of the things Bath Middle has done to encourage healthy eating, school nurse Diana Hixon said, is to add a late-morning breakfast to the daily routine on campus.

For a multitude of reasons, many children aren’t eating a full breakfast before coming to school, Hixon said, so this program gives them a chance to be nourished without having to wait until lunch.

“Our primary focus is giving them this late-start breakfast, and I’d see them in the clinic because they haven’t eaten,” Hixon said. “We got a grant and now we offer a second-chance breakfast that starts around 9:30 a.m.”

Rivers ended his time outside with the students by giving each one a high-five or knuckles as they made their way back to the middle school campus.

“It’s a great event and a great day,” Hixon said.