Making contact

Friday, October 1, 2010

A few months ago I read that the definition of a "couch potato" is someone who spends less than 30 minutes a day doing some sort of physical activity.

Sadly, I realized I fit that definition to a T.

Except for mowing the lawn -- and that hasn't been needed much during the just ended parched summer, I was spending far too much time using whatever muscles it takes to operate a remote control.

So I vowed to change my life.

I figured if I walked two miles every day, I would burn up at least 30 minutes. Yes, my two-mile walk is a slow walk. But guess what. Walking slowly uses more calories than walking fast.

I am not making this up.

The calorie experts say walking slowly burns more calories because it takes more muscle than a fast clip, which relies a great deal on momentum.

My walking route is carefully calculated. You don't realize how hilly Cape Girardeau is until you walk. My neighborhood is on the side of a hill. This means that, no matter which direction I walk, I have to walk up a hill at some point.

Someday I'll tackle more hills. But for now I have found a course for my walks that involves going up just one hill at the start and then finding a fairly level route through the Southeast Missouri State University campus.

I started walking early in the morning just as the sun rose, a time of day I find particularly exhilarating. But as the planet wobbled, the sun came up later and later until I was walking in the dark. I don't like walking in the dark. So I switched to afternoon walks just as summer's heat and humidity reached their peaks. Now that cooler weather has arrived I can walk in the daylight in relative comfort.

As I cross the campus I pass students going to and from classes. I have been somewhat puzzled by the fact that so few students exhibit any of the Midwestern friendliness I associate with Southeast Missouri. At first I wondered if these students were connected. Were they aware of their surroundings, of other people, of the classmates they study with?

I can report to you that they are connected -- to electronic devices. Students who don't have earplugs listening, I presume, to music are carrying on a one-sided conversation on cell phones.

Occasionally, maybe one out of every 25 students, makes eye contact, smiles and says hello. I thank their parents for raising such well-behaved young men and women.

As for the others, I'm sure if I had an opportunity to talk to them that I would discover they are, as my mother used to say, good people too.

But I worry about this generation of college students plugged in to battery-powered devices. When do they ever have time to reflect on their lives, think about problems, plan their futures?

I'll keep smiling at them. Someday they will surely learn that a smile back will do both of us some good.

Joe Sullivan is the former editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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