Columns » Max Brantley

Shape up

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My mother was a college- and hospital-trained dietitian. I learned the basic food groups as a first-grader. (Also charter membership in the Clean Plate Club.) In my day, an hour of PE was required of every student from third grade through high school. It was real PE. We did jumping jacks and squat thrusts and ran laps around the outdoor basketball court and the last one in had to run another lap. (God bless the late Jimmy Baucum, who I generally could outduel to avoid that hated "honor.") I loved sports and played on junior high and high school teams year-round. If I didn't walk to school, I rode a bike. It was a rare Saturday I wasn't on my bike to the YMCA first thing, for hours of basketball. Even in college, where my physical dissolution began, I didn't give up completely. I lettered in track at my Division III college (no, not as a pole vaulter.) I jogged for years. When my knees started aching, I turned to walking. I still walk three miles six mornings a week. I lift weights twice a week. At least once a week I throw the shotput and discus to train for "seniors" competition. For all this, I am terribly overweight. I blame no one but myself. When I put beer aside and eat reasonable portions of meals long on vegetables and fruits and short on fat, I lose weight quickly. The formula is that simple. Gov. Mike Huckabee knows it and is a splendid example. He's dropped more than 100 pounds. He and Dr. Fay Boozman, also newly slim, last week announced goals for a healthier Arkansas. One thing was missing from their grand announcement. They offered nothing more concrete to accomplish those goals than the jacking of their jawbones. Some quick ideas: Toss the soda and other vending machines out of schools and ban cigarettes in restaurants. The governor won't go for either, of course. The soft drink and tobacco lobbies are too powerful; the soda money too enticing to schools. But if you put unhealthy snacks out of reach at school, a few kids might eat green beans. If you make pariahs of smokers, some might quit (unpleasant stares at parties did it for me 27 years ago). Bring back mandatory PE. Yes, it would cost money. No, it shouldn't be boot camp; it should encourage lifelong activities. It is astonishing what walking 30 minutes a day can do for your cholesterol and blood pressure and peace of mind -- even if, like me, you lack the self-control for healthy eating habits. Even fat people live longer if they stay active. Comprehensive health coverage for all Americans, with an emphasis on prevention and early intervention, is another good idea. The politicians can't stomach it. They say it is too expensive. I think it is far more expensive not to have it.

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