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The fat of the land

Paul Andersen

My wife, the psychotherapist, claims I am simplistic about health issues. When coping with mental stress, my prescription is for a good bicycle ride. I call it “cycletherapy,” and it works fine for me.I would peddle the same cure for the health crisis of obesity, but I know it’s more complex than a bike ride. Most Americans need to shed their excess flab in layers, and those layers don’t just peel off with a spin around the block.The biggest hurdle in the War of the Waist is the bad rap on exercise. Contrary to popular opinion, you can eat a Big Mac a day and stay trim, as long as you work it off. Most Americans, however, are convinced that physical exertion is base, that machines and imported laborers should do the physical stuff for them.Many think they can diet their way into slim, healthy bodies, shuck off pounds with a magic pill or get their stomachs stapled. They might as well duct tape their mouth shut. Meanwhile, the fat of the land keep getting fatter, until obesity is as American as apple pie … a la mode, of course.The Obesity Odyssey is a perilous journey from one fast-food chain to the next. Those chains have shackled the American public to a deadly gluttony that beckons like Homer’s lotus eaters. The fatty fodder of fast food is like Circe, turning men into pigs.Obese Odysseus is the overweight archetype trying to make it home from work with a gnawing appetite and a stomach full of coffee spiked with Sweet ‘n Low. Fast-food eateries sound the siren call, and he answers with the rapacious hunger of a Cyclops, gorging on a supersized gut bomb.Obese Odysseus is a product of the consumer culture, the willing victim of ad campaigns hyping terminal overconsumption. He is a symbol of prosperity gone mad, a national sacrifice to indulgence, indolence and ignorance. Obesity to Americans is what lead poisoning was to the Romans, a dire repudiation of the easy life.To combat obesity, we must shuck off ease and enliven the body, allowing it to perform basic physical functions without aid of labor-saving devices. We must debunk the myth that ease is good and work is bad. We must celebrate sweat.So, trade in your lawn tractor for a push mower and push that mower across your lawn. Feel the glow of your muscles and the sensation of sweat trickling down your back. Get over the stigma that menial labor is evil. Use the body nature gave you.Sell the snow blower, the leaf blower, the weed whacker. Shovel your driveway in the winter, sweep your walk in the fall, whack your weeds with a sickle. Feel your body moving, your bones limbering, your lungs filling, your heart pumping. Lift your body in the dance of life instead of draping it over the couch like an overstuffed quilt.Walk to the store, the post office, the park, the bus stop, and know you’re walking the path to health. Leave the car behind and try going one day a week without it. Your body is a vehicle, so learn to drive it. And try fueling up with unleaded for a change.Only in the past few hundred years have most human beings had the option of mechanized travel. Hundreds of thousands of years before that, we walked at 3 mph. We still have legs and they need to move, so walk, walk, walk, and honor your legacy.Life isn’t a spectator sport; it’s not virtual. Life is the real thing. Live it with the healthiest, most pleasurable body you can have. There is sensual pleasure in exploring physicality, just as there is in sex, so explore them both. Health is a choice, and we make it a thousand times a day. Exercise your choice … and your body.Paul Andersen typed every word of this by hand. His column appears on Mondays.


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