Death marches: Warner leaves healthy legacy


My brother-in-law, Pete, thinks Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Jane Fonda were the worst products of the 1980s.

Because of them, Pete's taking walks everyday– walks he calls "death marches."

About 20 years ago, during the highlight of their acting careers– also called the "health decade"– the average American gained 4.4 pounds. Pete beat the average. So did my sister. Then came the '90s and another "damn scale" moment.

Or moments. Too many of them.

Today, in retirement, my sister has decided to challenge those moments. She wears a pedometer, forcing Pete to grumble along at her side.

Fonda sold America more than leg warmers, leotards, and workout tapes in the 1980s. She promoted the idea that if we didn't look like those drop-dead bodies in her exercise class, there was something wrong.

Even if we imagined looking like Jane's svelte students, time was a problem. As the Virginia Department of Health puts it, Americans subconsciously came to believe we had to "carve out" a hunk of time and "get physical" to driving music. Because most Americans couldn't spare the time or see themselves measuring up to Jane and Arnold, too many of us quit trying– if we ever even started.

A little guilt set in. Maybe a lot. But there was that image in the mirror to torment us– not to mention that we couldn't dance– to keep the leg warmers in the bottom drawer and us away from any physical activity.

The pedometer is America's belated realization that there's one thing nearly everyone can do about their health. Every day. Everywhere. With no skill, no training, no gym– no Jane Fonda.

All a pedometer does is count steps. It's that simple. The instructions are simple, too; put it on, and try to take an extra 2,000 steps every day. Voila. You're keeping pounds off.

At least that's the way Virginia "On the Move" counts it. It's walking to better health and it eliminates most "demotivators" (excuses). Folks can't claim they don't have the time, equipment, skill, or clothes to walk. Since it requires no gym, neither can they blame their weight on the fact that they don't look like Jamie Lee or Arnold in that huge mirrored wall at the gym.

We can walk alone. Or together, like my sister and Pete.

In my sister's case, it works perfectly. No longer does she search for the parking spot nearest Kroger. She and Pete "death march" across the great expanses of Wal-Mart's asphalts. No longer do she and Pete drive to the park to let their dog run. They "death march."

Outgoing Gov. Warner has been urging our state employees to try this simpleĀ­ and effective– way of battling the health crisis. About 20 percent of the state's workforce signed up, and as near as the researchers can tell from on-going Internet logs, most are trying to add to their step total.

There must be plenty of office workers eschewing lunch and strolling around the capital, using the stairs instead of the elevator, conducting meetings while hiking in the park.

We want them to– it'll keep taxes down. According to economic research from the 1990s, each fit employee saves employers $353 a year. Another way of looking at it, on average fit employees save almost three and a half times the cost of getting them fit.

I got one of the little $5 pedometers not too long ago, and it's addictive. You keep looking at it, wondering how many steps you do indeed take.

You're supposed to walk normally for several days to "baseline" your regular activity, but it's difficult not to push the tiny reward of more and more, higher and higher, numbers.

Which is, in the end, the point.

America On the Move's web page, where people document their daily steps, adds another little tease. It tells you where you'd be on the Appalachian Trail, what you would have seen that day, what the weather's like there, and most importantly, how many days at this pace until you look down the wonderful Amicalola Falls in Georgia and realize that you've done the 6 million footsteps of the world's most famous hiking trail.

You keep wanting the number of days to drop– which keeps the number of daily steps rising.

It's a win-win-win situation.

The Governator isn't, of course, worried that Pete will compete with him in body-building competitions. My sister, though, is hoping to give Jamie Lee a run for her money.

Sis saw the More magazine article a couple years ago when Curtis showed not her air-brushed, computer-enhanced, Hollywood-promoted body, but her true body. Nice, but not really what America had been led to believe.

Consequently, she death marches and makes Pete join her.

Randy Salzman is a mass communications professor at the Virginia Union University in Richmond.