Everyday activities or exercise?

I'm convinced that the U.S. is the world's only nation whose food pyramid has an elevator instead of stairs.

I'm also convinced that the majority of Americans honestly believe that the Declaration of Independence reads, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of fatness."

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Both are hunches spawned by the sobering fact that according to the Centers for Disease Control, 65 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese and that kid and teenage obesity has tripled over the last decade. Yet despite such ouch-statistics, 70 percent of Americans are satisfied with their physical health.

When I read this I was shocked over the lack of shock. Instead of concern, there's ambivalence supported by a weird undercurrent of national pride to be leading the world in XXL-shirt sales.

Blurring of everyday activities and exercise

Blame for this national wince ostensibly falls on the usual suspects: fast-food restaurants and passive lifestyles induced by television, computers and video games. All are easy targets that warrant accusation, but not to the exclusive extent where other causes are ignored. For there are scads of unaccountable health hoodlums running loose. And chief among them is the blurring of daily life activities with physical activities.

Running, biking and swimming used to be the primary means of defying weight gain. But now, in America's desperate search for an easy obesity-fix, everything from changing bed linens to wrapping Christmas gifts is categorized as a calorie-burning activity. Consequently, the nation is being duped into a false sense of physical accomplishment. Evidence of this can be found at www.caloriesperhour.com.

The site conveniently calculates how many calories one burns for a wealth of categories. Some are obvious, but most are obscure. Harvesting wild rice, for example, burns 120 calories over 30 minutes. Ironically I think I burned more calories yelling "Oh come on!" in reaction to first reading this. And even though the site thoughtlessly left out "imagining" as an activity, I'm certain I consumed at least another 95 calories envisioning walking into a health club and asking for a personal wild rice harvester.

Hugging (not mugging as I first read it to be) consumes a whopping 36 calories per 30 minutes. And typing devours 54. I must admit I never considered the forming of sentences as exercise but after becoming aware of this I immediately felt a burn in my deltoids while typing this piece. Fearing I'd pull a muscle by typing too fast, I eased into a series of typing fartleks, alternating between long and short sentences.

But to fully grasp how low we have stooped in physical apathy, Google-search "cold water burns calories" and count how many articles appear. I stopped after eight pages, which, I'm guessing, ate at least 12 calories. The benefits are microscopically minimal, yet it warrants hundreds of articles.

According to this "diet-breakthrough," the body must exert energy to heat cold fluids. Thus, drinking two liters of cold water a day will evaporate 60 calories. Over a course of one year that equates to a weight loss of just six pounds. What's significant about this is not what it's saying but what it's not saying: We're lazy.

I have cousins who consider RV-ing a physical activity. One has even gone so far as to tell me that RV-ing is not much different than backpacking. That's like saying Wham is the musical equivalent of the Rolling Stones. When my cousin said this I replied, "If that's the case how come I've never heard of a backpacker needing a coat hanger to open a locked tent flap?" He offered no response.

From Jack LaLanne to the pyramid

As a country we've devolved from Jack LaLanne as the nation's unofficial health spokesman to Jared Fogle of Subway sandwich fame. LaLanne was a charismatic zip-volt of energy (although I suspect much of his boundless vigor was intended to distract focus from his blue jumpsuits) who promoted health through physical activity. Jared on the other hand, harbors all of the on-air magnetism of a dry-heave and promotes fitness not through exercise but by consuming cold cut sandwiches.

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Just as confusing is the message that the Surgeon General, the country's alleged dean of fitness and health, conveys by dressing as a Carnival Cruise gift shop concessionaire. There's no authority in this. Consequently, every time I see this guy speak I keep expecting him to conclude by saying "I'm not a doctor but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night."

This government befuddlement even spills into its revised food pyramid which can be found at www.mypyramid.gov. How this aids the nation's dietary ills escapes me.

First, the new pyramid looks like it was stolen from the cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. And second it actually offers a tip on how to eat more fruits by saying: "Top off a bowl of cereal with some berries. Or, make a smiley face with sliced bananas for eyes, raisins for a nose, and an orange slice for a mouth."

I eagerly tried this but instead of experiencing culinary whimsy I felt discomfort, like I was being stared at by a disjointed face from Picasso's Guernica.

Despite this disappointment thanks to www.caloriesperhour.com I did learn that under the "Food Preparing at Home" category I burned approximately 30 calories. Whoosh. No need for a run today.


Jeff Wozer (www.jeffwozer.com) works as a nationally touring stand-up comedian.

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