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Family Fun and Fitness

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In the context of the current health care debate, I note with pleasure that my friend Knute Keeling has written a splendid and timely book. It's called Family Fun and Fitness: Getting Healthy and Staying Healthy -- Together, and its sub-subtitle is Eat Your Best, Be Your Fittest: How to Hook Your Family on a Plan for Lifelong Good Health. Hmmm. I guess it doesn't sound like something you'd immediately grab for from the bookstore shelf, but believe me, what the title lacks in zappy shelf-appeal, it makes up for in honesty and clarity. This book is exactly what it says it is -- including the fun part.

Absent in good part from the health care debate (a notable exception is the comedian Bill Maher) has been any sustained talk about personal responsibility. The media have in recent months made a lot of the fact that we're a tubby and sedentary nation--well, more truthfully, obese--and that we have been getting tubbier and more sedentary by the decade. Even President Barack Obama, in what I thought was an otherwise brilliant speech to both houses of Congress on the urgent national issue of health care reform, did not take the opportunity to issue a rousing call to Americans to stop smoking, lose weight, eat better, and exercise more frequently. He and his wife, Michelle, have certainly made efforts to set the good example, particularly with their much-publicized White House organic vegetable garden and their public concern for the health and well-being of our nation's children. (I wish Obama were able to announce categorically that he has overcome his addiction to cigarettes, but all I've heard on that front is the cautious suggestion that he only sneaks one here and there ... ) We know that if we were all, as a nation, to take personal responsibility for getting and staying healthy, the costs of health care would soon cease to skyrocket as they have been doing, and the additional cost of covering our millions of uninsured would surely be covered by the savings.

Which brings me back to Knute's book. In the interests of full disclosure the author is--as I noted--a friend, and I have been among the many grateful clients of his training services at our local gym. As a former athlete and a trainer, he knows a lot about the human body and how to keep it fit. With Family Fun, he makes his expertise available to anyone who will listen--and I hope that many people will. His message is an important one: in an initial chapter on "Kids in Crisis", he offers a frightening and well-documented analysis of the state of our children's health, along with a persuasive argument that there are constructive, do-able ways in which this crisis can be addressed. (Take a look at that impossibly beautiful and healthy family on the cover. It's Knute's. The guy with the blond, Viking good looks -- that's the man himself. The fun those children are having as they romp with their parents on the beach is surely genuine.)

Okay, about the content. I was impressed with the breadth and depth of knowledge that the author shares with us. He is up-to-date with the relevant information and statistics in the fields of medicine and social sciences, and he draws on that knowledge to underscore the urgent need for families to change those ways that are proven to be destructive of not only health but happiness. Knute understands the psychological and emotional implications of good health -- and the lack of it -- and argues for a program that will benefit not just the body, but the body-mind. Can there be any doubt but that children who are healthy, secure in their homes, and loved by those around them will do better in school -- and later, in the course of their lives -- than those who lack these early benefits?

Knute starts at the beginning, writing about pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and the earliest days and weeks of life. With two little ones of his own to have observed, nurtured, and loved, he understands the needs of small children and how they are best addressed. Prime among his concerns, of course, are what goes into the body, how it gets processed into energy, and how that energy can be used for beneficial ends. He makes it all not only very practical but also very practicable. What he proposes can be done by any family with the commitment to a healthy life.

I'm no expert on exercise and nutrition, so I'm not going to attempt a synopsis of Knute's regimen. He takes a good look at the quality of food at the family table, with an emphasis on whole foods and offers some sound, sympathetic advice on how to approach the issue of junk foods with children who are exposed to the daily assault of advertisement and peer pressure. His chapters on exercise underscore the importance of flexibility as well as strength, providing easy-to-follow instructions for practices that can be followed without adding to the burdens of a busy, stress-filled day. The accompanying illustrations work nicely as visual aids to the text. I'll confess I have not tried any of the recipes included in the appendix as healthy and tasty alternatives to the fast food habits to which so many of us are addicted.

We are reminded forcefully by the current heated debate about health care that we are, as a nation, doing a generally pretty poor job of taking care of the bodies we have been given to inhabit for the course of our earthly lives. And we know, don't we, that it all boils down to a matter of choice. We can respect our bodies and live healthy lives, or abuse them, and succumb to the life-shortening ill-effects of overweight, lethargy, and disease. This book holds out the opportunity for the better choices, and makes the bad ones inexcusable for any truly loving family. One of its more delightful aspects is that, beyond being a simple how-to tome, the book is a lovely testament to the author's devotion to his own family. And while it is expressly written for those with young families, its content offers invaluable advice to people of all ages and conditions. I'm personally looking forward to the sequel ... for grandparents, like myself!

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