Michelle Obama’s focus as first lady was combating childhood obesity. She aimed to end the trends of inactivity and poor food choices that are leading today’s children to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.
Her goal, not easily achieved, attempted to set a precedent for parents to understand healthy eating habits, for schools to provide healthier food choices and for exercise to become a regular part of every child’s routine. Time will tell if her efforts are successful.
Obama, however, was not the first person in the White House to focus on health. In the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy, himself the picture of youth and vitality, implemented a program of physical fitness that hit close to home. In what we old-timers call junior high school, grades seven and eight, we had to take President Kennedy’s Fitness Test, a test that included tasks I could not do.
Sit-ups. Nope. Could not do them. Chin-ups. Nope. Could not do those either. Run/walk a quarter of a mile. Watching my peers run the entire course, I panted, huffed and puffed while I tried to walk it. It was one test that brought fear and embarrassment. At the end of the test both years, I felt like a complete failure, especially as I compared myself to other, more athletic and agile students.
Let’s fast forward. For the past 45 years, regular exercise has been an essential part of my life, beginning with the daily walking I did at a small, liberal arts college. I followed up in the summers with swimming and spent winter breaks walking two miles a day with my mother and her group of friends.
This year, my health goal has been to work with a trainer to address issues of toning, strengthening and balance, issues that affect us more as we age. I began in January once a week but quickly moved to twice a week when I found that I actually enjoyed it. Results are already beginning to show, as I have lost 3.2 percent body fat.
This step, along with cardio workouts – swimming, walking, rowing and cycling – combine to help me not only be more healthy but also to combat the long-term effects of diabetes and heart disease, two conditions I manage by eating well, exercising and paying attention to my mental and emotional health.
It’s one thing to train the body, and millions of people do it. It’s quite another to train the heart, and that’s harder to do because we are stubborn and hard-headed as well as self-obsessed and sanctimonious. Need an example? I’ll confess. While changing the radio station in my car, my eyes left the road for a split second. During that second, the car in front of me decided to turn without a signal, causing me to slam on the brakes. Who did I blame? Your answer is probably correct.
The human heart is a master at blaming others for our own shortcomings and insufficiencies. It’s one thing to train the body, but we all need to focus on training our hearts as well. So where do we find a heart fitness program? I look no further than Colossians 3:12: “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
My physical training results are not instantaneous. Neither are heart-training results. I can tell you, though, that both are worth the effort.