By Coach Kathy Kemper
Published on 12/26/2005
At this point in his presidency, it’s fair to say that there’s little the American people agree on when it comes to George W. Bush. His policies on everything from Iraq to education, health care to taxes have stirred intense debate among strident supporters and vocal opponents.
Yet, as we approach another food-filled, holiday season, there is one Bush agenda that Americans from all ends of the political spectrum can get behind: Exercise.
Some may see presidential mountain -biking through Maryland as an easy target for jokes and cheap shots, but instead of mocking our impressively fit, 59-year-old commander in chief, for once we should follow his example and answer his call. After all, an overweight, out of shape America is no laughing matter.
Today more than 40 million Americans are classified as obese-over 3 million as morbidly so. Eight out of every 10 Americans over 25 are overweight and 8 out of 10 are failing to meet the most basic recommended activity levels.
The result of this couch potato culture isn’t just a sucking-in of our collective gut, it’s a health crisis that could bankrupt our medical system and shorten the lives of countless Americans. The vast majority of diabetes and heart diseases cases are directly related to obesity and the condition has also been linked to high blood pressure, asthma, breast cancer, colon cancer and gallbladder disorders. In 2003, The United States spent nearly $100 billion on obesity-related illnesses, a cost borne mainly by taxpayer-funded Medicare and Medicaid at a price tag that exceeds what we spend on disease related to alcoholism, aging and even smoking.
Americans always say that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to squeeze in a workout or pass up the fast food for a healthy, home-cooked meal.
Pardon the obvious pun, but this excuse doesn’t exactly carry much weight with me. If the leader of the free world can find the time for a regular bike ride-if some of the most accomplished and overworked leaders of our country can grab a racket and play a few sets here and there-then surely the rest of us can follow.
It doesn’t take much. Researchers in the Netherlands recently found that walking just 30 minutes a day for five days a week could increase your lifespan by more than a year. Those who exercise more frequently -running one-half hour five days a week-live almost four years longer than the average person.
Those workaholics who claim that even this small amount of time leaves them focused on their career should also know that just the opposite is true. Researchers at the National Academy of Sciences have found that aerobic exercise leads to improved decision-making ability, mental focus and overall brainpower. A University of California at San Francisco study also found that elderly women who walked regularly were much less likely to experience age-related memory loss and other declines in mental function. And Quebec researchers have linked increased physical exercise to declining rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia in elderly people who are more fit.
We need leaders who motivate us to motivate ourselves. One of these leaders is Mike Huckabee, the governor of Arkansas. A few years ago, he was so overweight that he could barely walk a city block without getting winded. But it was only when he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes that he realized being overweight wasn’t just setting a bad example for the state of Arkansas, bud jeopardizing the state of his life. He made a commitment to himself then that he would slowly start jogging off the weight and eating healthier. Now he’s 100 pounds lighter with the Little Rock marathon under his belt.
The president’s latest call for a more physically fit America is right. And no matter what out party or political preferences may be, it’s right for all of us to pursue the activist agenda of these and other leaders in the days and months to come. Our lives depend on it.
Coach Kathy Kemper is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Education.