Moving to Strengthen Ourselves, Our Country, and Our World:
Why It's Your Patriotic Duty to Take a Walk

by Carol Krucoff and Mitchell Krucoff, M.D.

We've opened our wallets and our veins, signed petitions and lighted candles, adorned our bodies, vehicles and homes in red, white and blue. Yet as we struggle to rise above terrorism's assault on our minds, bodies and spirits, we continue to search for ways to strengthen our country and ourselves.

To this end, we offer a modest suggestion: Get moving. At a time when medical costs and physical suffering related to our sedentary lifestyles have soared, our nation would gain a major social and economic boost if more Americans followed the U.S. Surgeon General's prescription to accumulate 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.

Granted, this will not eliminate terrorism. But getting Americans fit can play a vital role in our homeland defense because it can profoundly improve individual well-being, plus save our country billions of dollars in health care costs. While terrorists strive to immobilize us through fear, movement provides an effective, natural way to relieve stress, combat illness, strengthen immunity and enhance our ability to handle the complex physical and mental challenges of life.

Over the past decade, public health officials have increasingly warned that our lack of movement is killing us--physically and economically. In our push-button, drive through, remote control culture, only one in four Americans exercises regularly and chronic diseases linked to inactivity have skyrocketed. Obesity has doubled since 1980 with almost two thirds of Americans overweight or obese, Type 2 diabetes has increased nine-fold since 1958 and heart disease is still the number one cause of death.

This "epidemic of inactivity" kills an estimated 250,000 people per year, according to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. If the more than 88 million inactive Americans started moving regularly--by taking a daily walk, for example--health officials say we'd save more than $76 billion per year in medical costs.

The simple act of adding some movement to our days can help prevent or relieve a broad array of ailments including arthritis, depression, breast and colon cancer, hypertension, stroke, osteoporosis, asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome and diabetes. No need to join a gym, take huge chunks of time or even sweat to combat these disorders. Even small steps can yield dramatic benefit--raking leaves, climbing stairs, putting on some music and dancing.

Some say it's our patriotic duty to hit the malls and spend. We urge Americans to lace up their walking shoes and save. . . Not just their money, but their lives. Like the "victory gardens" our parents grew during World War II, daily "health walks" can enhance both personal and societal fitness.

The common excuse of "no time" needs rethinking after our communal wake-up call to what really matters in life. In a society where adults watch TV an average of four hours a day, do we really lack the time to go for a walk with a friend, relative or pet? Instead of always watching sports, can we get up and play them? Rather than sit on a bench watching our kids, why not swing and climb, too?

One of the many perspective shifts surrounding our collective near-death experience is a new focus on the quality of our days. In this light, it's clear that the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits gained from movement go much deeper than the self-absorbed pursuit of "washboard abs" and "thin thighs." Despite our cultural preoccupation with appearance, exercise is not just about looking good--it's about feeling good, oxygenating our brains and other vital tissues, uniting mind and body and lifting our spirits with the sheer joy of motion. Simply put, exercise is the best medicine money can't buy.

Unfortunately, most adults approach movement with the same aversion they express toward an awful-tasting medicine. Yet as children we didn't feel this way. Kids typically view physical activities as exhilarating play to be enjoyed. That's why we encourage people to approach exercise with the excitement and pleasure we knew in childhood, running outside on a beautiful day to play with friends. Instead of a dreaded "workout," exercise is then a joyous "play break" that nurtures body and soul and is a highlight of our day.

To make this happen, find a form of movement you enjoy. If exercise is fun, it will get done. Any sport or activity can become a powerful "moving meditation" capable of body and soul healing. Just let go of thinking how you're going to look from the exercise you're doing, and go outside--or inside--and play.

Consider this daily "recess" your patriotic duty, to improve your own health so that you use fewer medical resources and have the physical and emotional strength to help others sharing your journey on this planet. Because true fitness isn't measured by the ripple of your "abs" or the diameter of your thighs, but by the strength, flexibility and openness of that most important muscle--the heart.

© Carol Krucoff and Mitchell Krucoff, M.D.


Carol Krucoff is the founding editor of the Health Section of The Washington Post and is a yoga instructor, karate black belt and certified personal trainer. Mitchell Krucoff, M.D., is an associate professor of cardiology at Duke University Medical Center. They are authors of "Healing Moves: How to Cure, Relieve and Prevent Common Ailments with Exercise". This essay ran in The Washington Post on November 2, 2001, headlined 'Foot Soldiers for Health'. Visit the author's web site at http://www.healingmoves.com.



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