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Stamford: Benefit walk participants frequently overlook health aspect

I recently attended the Buddy Walk/Run event to benefit children with Down syndrome, a cause near and dear to my heart.

The runners took off first for a 5K (3.1-mile) jaunt, then the walkers got started. You could choose your walking distance, from a half-mile to 3.1 miles.

It was a scenic route along the river, and on the side of the walkway, parents had created mini-billboards with pictures and stories about their Down syndrome children. The weather was perfect, the turnout was great and the energy was uplifting – you could feel the love all around.

As I walked amid the huge crowd, I studied the variety of participants. There were plenty of baby strollers, kids with short legs trying to keep up, lots of young moms and dads, and a good number of graybeards like myself.

Most seemed not to be seasoned walkers, and the majority probably had not walked as much as a mile at one time in the past year. Even so, it was a marvelous event; everyone was smiling, and there were lively conversations going on all along the way. But most of all, we were moving and enjoying it.

Imagine that: a huge crowd of folks, walking and having a grand time. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if we did something like this on a regular basis, weekly perhaps? Family and friends gathering for a pleasant exercise walk, time for chitchat and catching up on the week’s activities. Good social interaction and health benefits, too.

I stood near the finish line and watched the walkers file past. My mind was humming, and I began formulating strategies for promoting the idea of regular group walks. I told myself that important seeds were being planted among the masses who participated that morning, as folks no doubt were struck by how good they were feeling at the moment, and how much it was benefiting their health.

All that was needed was a plan, a blueprint for coordinating such efforts into an ongoing phenomenon for the benefit of all.

Convinced that we all had taken an important step toward being 1 millimeter healthier because of our walk that morning, and that the adoption of new health habits for all was lurking right around the corner, I turned to walk to my car. As I did, I bumped into a volunteer who was handing out corn dogs.

Folks crowded around, grabbing these health-destroying treats, gobbling them down as if they had just been rescued from a desert island. Then it was on to the doughnuts you could hand-dip in chocolate.

I watched the nutritional carnage with a philosophical smile and had to admit to myself that, alas, the folks who had just finished their walk gave as much thought to the health benefits of their walk as they did to the health-destroying effects of the foods they were putting in their mouths. None, in other words.

They walked to support a great cause, and that’s the only reason. And they ate what was presented to them, because it tastes good. I let go of my idea and bid it farewell.

Then I thanked God that this event was a great success, and I thanked God for the free will that allows us to do whatever we choose, including eating corn dogs.

Later, as I was writing this column and reflecting on the Buddy Walk/Run, it occurred to me that even though we were outdoors, I couldn’t recall seeing one person smoking a cigarette. That’s pretty amazing, especially in a state that promotes smoking as much as we do. So maybe we are making strides, notwithstanding the corn dogs and doughnuts.

And maybe some of it is thanks to the continued good work of Dr. C. Everett Koop, former surgeon general of the United States, and his efforts to wipe out the habit of smoking. He’s 92 and still carrying the anti-smoking banner, still spouting statistics to all within hearing distance.

His latest mantra is that if things don’t change, more than 1 billion people in our world will die what he calls a “smoker’s death” in this century. He also is taking advantage of his advanced age and telling us that it’s never too late, and that the millions of American smokers 65 and older can still improve their health dramatically by quitting. Please pass the word.

Bryant Stamford is professor and chairman of the department of exercise science at Hanover (Ind.) College. Address questions or suggestions to “The Body Shop,” The Courier-Journal, P.O. Box 740031, Louisville, KY 40201-7431

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