Shattuck: Live healthier, live longer

By By Ryan Shattuck and By Ryan Shattuck

By Ryan Shattuck

I’ve accepted the fact that April 19 will probably be the day I die.

“Why is Ryan dying at such a young age?” a few readers might ask. “Will it be a slow and painful death as he deserves?” most readers will hope. I believe I will soon die, for April 19 is the day of the Salt Lake City Half Marathon.

For some reason, I’ve deluded myself into thinking that running a half marathon is something within my realm of possibility. Unaware of my physical limitations, I apparently have never actually met Ryan Shattuck. He does not run half marathons, he does not have the capability of running a half marathon and he certainly does not refer to himself in the third person when writing about running a half marathon. Regardless of this obvious and painful fact, I obviously must have had a shot or two of something intoxicating (“Hey bartender, forget the Jack Daniels — I’ll just have barbiturates on the rocks.”) the day I registered to run the half marathon.

I don’t know why I think I’ll last 13 miles when most days I try not to exert more physical energy than is needed to breathe. Rather, I subscribe to the Phyllis Diller philosophy of exercise: “My idea of exercise is a good, brisk sit.”

I find solace in knowing that my aversion to exercise is not uncommon. About 6 percent of Americans exercise 30 minutes a day while 22 percent of Americans exercise three to four times a week. Some people do eat correctly and exercise regularly, but unfortunately these people generally find themselves in the minority. Many of us desire to stay in shape, but many of us — including myself — also lack the time, energy and motivation that is required. In fact, it’s been statistically proven (i.e., I’m making this up) that if the same percentage of people exercised as watched American Idol, then Coke would begin product placements in gyms. Just make sure the Coke cups always face the camera.

Struggling to stay physically fit has long plagued modern society. We buy ab machines, go on fad diets, attend wellness seminars, buy health books, take nutritional supplements, go to yoga classes and count food points. Some even go as far as to buy workout videos with titles that include “Richard Simmons” and “Sweating To.” There’s no question that we desire to be in better shape — health and fitness is a $14.1 billion industry while nutrition and weight loss are a $44 billion industry. We certainly have the best intentions when we buy these billions of dollars worth of abercisers, Atkins diet books and “Dancing With the Stars” cardio dance videos, which I promise I’ve probably never used. Despite such financial investments in the exercise industry, is something being lost in translation along the way? If so much money is spent, why do so many of us continue to be overweight and out of shape?

In other words, I may have an expensive treadmill, but that pile of laundry has spent more time on the treadmill than have my feet.

According to last year’s fourth annual report from the Trust for America’s Health, two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. The report also points out that Mississippi ranked the highest with percentages of physical inactivity and adult hypertension. It goes on to say that physical activity reduces the chances one has of dying prematurely. From this report one can ascertain that physical fitness is not as much a good idea as it’s something on which our longevity depends.

Fortunately, there’s hope — or at least, there is here in Utah. We can be proud of the fact that, according to the United Health Foundation, of the 50 states in the U.S., Utah ranked sixth for the healthiest state in 2006. Our state might have our beehive’s share of problems, but no one can accuse us of not being happy and healthy. Despite this achievement, we should be wary of resting on our statistical laurels. Like a broken elliptical machine, our ranking can go up or down without any warning at all.

As residents of one of the healthiest states in the nation, perhaps we can resolve to raise our ranking to fifth place. We can exercise more, we can find time to workout and we can eat healthier. We can be encouraged by the fact that we can change our habits at any point in our life. We can continue to strive to be physically fit well into our older years, as is demonstrated by 70-year-old Nobel Prize winner Mario Capecchi, who lapped me more than once on the track at the Field House a few weeks ago. We can make positive changes today that will not only leave us feeling better about ourselves tomorrow but will also lengthen our lives.

Which reminds me, I need to start planning for my funeral. April 19 is right around the corner.

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