Putting life at risk worth more points

Friday, June 3, 2005

Maybe you noticed, on Thursday's Health page, that Shape Up Cape has revved up for another summer of fitness fun. And maybe you noticed that one of the Southeast Missourian teams, Fit to Print, includes eight health-conscious members of the news staff. And maybe you noticed yours truly is among them.

Even if you haven't noticed any of those things, I'd like to call your attention to the value of a communitywide program aimed at getting more of us involved in healthy habits during a summer of friendly competition.

Look at all those teams. I'll bet most of those team members have the notion they will be sleek and fit when autumn rolls around. Sure enough, some of them will be. Matter of fact, some of them are already. Most of us, however, will be ... well, we'll be pretty much what we've always been and always will be: just a mite shy of Brad Pitt or Jennifer Lopez. (For my contemporaries, that would be Robert Redford on a good day and Candice Bergen anytime.)

I've got some whining to do about the way points are calculated under the Shape Up Cape rules. I've moaned about them to everyone here in the newsroom. No reason you should be spared.

There's a 15-point-per-day limit on the points any individual can accumulate, even if said individual works his butt off exercising like a maniac. This rule, no doubt, is an effort to level the playing field, knowing there are some fitness nuts for whom 30 points a day would be a breeze, and having them on anyone's team would be considered an unfair advantage.

This is dumbbell thinking in my book.

For most of us on Shape Up Cape teams, real exercise is a monumental undertaking. Our days of pulling the handle on a La-Z-Boy and reaching down to the bottom shelf of the refrigerator have conditioned us in ways that are not necessarily in sync with treadmills or any exercise equipment with the word "elliptical" in its name.

If we manage to do more than 15 points' worth of physical activity in any given day, then by golly we should get double points instead of being penalized.

No, make that triple points.

So far, my griping has been ignored, even by the personal trainer who oversees my workouts at one of the local fitness emporiums.

So as not to put him on the spot, let's call him Andy.

Andy is a friendly, knowledgeable, supportive taskmaster/demon who stays awake in the dark of night dreaming up ways to use expensive exercise equipment to inflict torture. One of his college courses, I'm pretty sure, involved the rack, which was quite a popular device at most gyms during the Inquisition.

Whenever I complain to Andy that I'm an old man who isn't likely to ever -- never in his wildest dreams -- be able to bend and lift like a 20-something, he gets this expression on his face that, in my estimation, is way too close to a smile.

My biggest nemesis at the fitness center is something called a step mill. It's a three-step escalator (going down) that you are expected to go up. Endlessly.

After I had spent several weeks at the fitness center, Andy decided I should endure 11 minutes -- this is two lifetimes and most of an eternity in fitness years -- on the step mill. I did it. And when it was over, I was closer to death than I have ever been. Even Andy's smile turned to a look of genuine concern.

Near-death experiences, by my reckoning, are worth a heck of a lot more 15 points. Any day of the week.

Don't you agree?

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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