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On Second Thought

Fitness? Sounds like fun

By Kevin Paul Dupont
January 17, 2010

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We’re fat, and the National Football League wants to fix us, slim us down, shape us up, make us a country that is ripped, ready, and able to fight the good fight against dense calories and expanding waistlines.

Now fold your copy of the sports section, tuck it next to those dozen Bavarian creams, and hit the floor and give me 50. Congratulations. Provided sweat isn’t pouring off your brow and clouding your vision, you can read it here first: You are officially on the road to recovery.

Warning: The Surgeon General suggests you do not celebrate your athletic renaissance with another Bavarian cream.

The NFL, through its “Play 60’’ initiative, specifically is out to battle childhood obesity. It wants all of us to partner in the war against girth. In one corner of the colorful, engaging “Play 60’’ webpage, it tells us that “the current generation is projected not to live longer than its parents.’’ All because our kids sit around, pound pastries, guzzle sugary drinks, update their Facebook page and IM their pals till their fingers hurt or their parents’ fuse boxes blow.

That note about life expectancy really is the show-stopper on the playbill. Having been fortunate enough to live through the polio epidemic of the 1950s, and having learned about life before penicillin, artificial hearts, and cancer cures, it is numbing to think that the combination of dreadful food choices and our children’s indifference to exercise now threatens to negate the impact of 20th century medical miracles.

We’ve been so busy being healed and handed longevity by astounding medical science, we’ve forgotten that all those great advances in our health came wrapped in a precious caveat: use it or lose it.

The “Play 60’’ initiative is very simple, which is part of its beauty and hopefully its effectiveness. The NFL’s aim is to get every kid engaged in physical activity for 60 minutes per day. That’s it. The NFL will help you find something to do and help you do it. Go play. We have one or two generations now that either forgot or never knew the joy and necessity of skipping rope, tossing a football through a tire suspended by rope from a tree limb, finding a pal to play tennis - three simple real-life alternatives to the addictive world of laptop do-nothing-ness.

Uh, kids, if you’re reading (I hope I don’t have to Twitter all of you), please be advised that you are: 1. encouraged to get out there without adult supervision and 2. about to enter a highly addictive practice that creates a high that doesn’t require drugs. Exercise enough, and endorphins will flow like thick chocolate syrup from your pituitary gland, easing your pain, decreasing your appetite, and triggering euphoria. Will that Halo gaming system do that for you?

If you don’t believe me, just Google “endorphins.’’ Better yet, grab a basketball, find an open court, and just keep running and shooting until that buzz makes you think Kobe’s got nothin’. Feel free to repeat.

Those of us of a certain age were told as preschoolers to go play. For many of us, our days from then on were framed by monkey bars, pickup baseball games, street hockey, and all manner of invented games tailored to accommodate the number of kids on hand, the time of day, the heat, the cold, the wind, what field was available, how much time we had before we absolutely had to be, had to be, had to be home for dinner (then add 30 minutes).

The US Department of the NFL - really, it is far too big to be considered anything but government - is onto something really good here, and we will see plenty of the “Play 60’’ TV spots over these weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. The league has engaged a number of players, including the Patriots’ Laurence Maroney, to help spread the word about exercise, diet, and fun.

Now, will Americans take heed? US health professionals last week were guardedly encouraged to learn of data that show that our collective bellywop has plateaued over the last 10 years. The numbers say our battle of the bulge did not worsen over the last decade, but it also did not improve. As of today, two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. One-third of our children share in the lethargy and affliction of avoirdupois.

For every three families (example: two parents, two kids) parked in front of a TV set watching the “Play 60’’ spots, on average four of the adults and two of the kids need to think twice about what and how much they’re going to eat and drink during the game, how they’re going to spend the rest of the day when their viewing ends. If the “Play 60’’ spots do the trick, the kids will turn an idle hour into a game of pitch and toss. If not, they’ll polish off the pile of cheese-covered nachos, resume their IMing, and surf the net, never considering the joy it might be to surf the ocean.

Yes, we are fat, something that Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy both attempted to get their arms around with government-funded athletic initiatives, Ike’s dating to 1956 with the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. Obviously, tragically, we did not listen to the Oval Office’s concerns about our rotund nation. Now the NFL, ironically a league with scores of linemen who could use considerable slimming, is inviting us to explore a joy that some of us never knew, some of us forgot.

“Play 60.’’ Long may it play.

Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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