Paul Andersen: Fair Game
July 6, 2009
On a recent trip to the Midwest I came away with a new meaning for “the fat of the land.” Obesity is a national pandemic in the nation’s breadbasket, where just inhaling summer humidity seems to put on the pounds.
The hot Midwestern climate is a big reason for corpulence, and it’s no wonder folks lay around on recliners next to the air conditioner. The flat geography is another deterrent to fitness in a place where stairways in skyscrapers offer the only potential for vertical gain.
By contrast, Colorado is one of the leanest states in the nation, and Aspen is among the leanest places in Colorado. Going from fit to fat by merely crossing state lines is a reminder that fitness in the U.S. is not at all democratic.
I recently read an article, “How to Work In That Workout?”, which concluded that a balance between work and fitness is a challenge many Americans find more difficult than balancing their budgets.
“At a time of steep job losses and heavy workloads, the pursuit of exercise has become a lost cause for some,” explained the article. “An active lifestyle isn’t just important to employee health. Employers benefit from lower health-care costs, increased productivity, and generally happier workers.”
The benefits of fitness and health to society are obvious. However, they are illusive for people whose lives are ruled by demands they think they can’t control – like hectic careers and lifestyles. For aging baby boomers, this becomes a life and death conundrum.
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Many companies actively encourage exercise regimens for their employees. “Exercise is one of the most effective cures for stress and laziness, two productivity killers,” states the article. Some companies also confront diet, all in the interest of a healthier work place.
The biggest problem, says the article, is the natural proclivity for lethargy. “The average American participated in sports, exercise, and recreation for only 19 minutes a day, according to a 2007 Bureau of Labor Statistics report. Yet nearly 80% of those surveyed watched television each day — men for an average of three-and-a-half hours and women for more than three hours.”
It is no secret that passive entertainment is bloating Americans who ease into sedentary life while snacking on fatty foods. The results are cumulative, discouraging and often irreversible because the culture offers little incentive to do otherwise.
Labor-saving tools and appliances, luxury vacations on eat-a-thon cruise ships, fast food come-ons, soft drink promotions, etc., bombard consumers with indolence and fat. Americans easily succumb, especially where demographics reveal poverty and a lack of education.
By contrast, Aspen is an easy place to stay fit because of climate, landscape and the privileges of wealth. Hiking, biking and skiing in the mountains bring a high quotient of pleasure through esthetic, sensory, and spiritual values, which together promote a habitually healthy population.
Health and fitness are where democracy fails, because not all Americans are entitled to healthy environments. One answer to the work and fitness balance is more and longer vacations. Europeans figured this out decades ago, knowing that healthy, happy, fulfilled citizens are better producers and thinkers; they also lower health care costs.
Most Americans will not voluntarily exercise unless a fitness campaign is launched on many fronts. Health insurance premiums and company perks should be adjusted to reward fitness, and education should establish healthy guidelines that target children at the earliest ages.
The material rewards of society are skewed when they lead to corpulence, ill health and soaring medical costs. The freedom of overindulgence is not freedom at all, but rather a life sentence of disease, decadence and debt.
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