Thursday, February 15, 2007

Fit to Lead

Check out the story in today's Tulsa World about state legislators' work outs at the OKC YMCA. Leading the pack in the effort to set the pace for fit lifestyles are two Tulsa Democrats Rep. Jabar Shumate and Rep. Lucky Lamons. Rush Springs native Democrat Rep. Joe Dorman is also featured in the story. Read it below.

'Fit to Lead': Legislators trim the fat
By ANGEL RIGGS World Capitol Bureau

Goal: Encourage others to shape up

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Hours before they're due at the state Capitol, about two dozen Oklahoma lawmakers spend their early mornings at the gym in an effort, they say, to lead by example.

The lawmakers' workout program officially began last year but was whipped into shape this session by Becky Switzer, the former University of Oklahoma women's gymnastics coach and the wife of football coaching legend Barry Switzer.

Oklahomans need to hear more about fit and active lifestyles, Becky Switzer said, "and we need to start at the very top."

The idea of the program, called "Fit to Lead," is to get the lawmakers moving, she said.

Between 20 and 25 lawmakers in the program meet each morning at a downtown Oklahoma City YMCA, where they work out for at least 45 minutes, five days a week. The YMCA offers the program at no cost to legislators during the session, Switzer said, but many lawmakers already have their own YMCA memberships.

The bipartisan program includes weekly meetings, where the lawmakers receive fitness tips and hear from speakers, said Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, who helped organize the effort.

In addition to better health, he said, the time at the gym helps with camaraderie among lawmakers.

Rep. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, lost 67 pounds in the last year and has seen better blood pressure numbers, he said.

"After 67 pounds, I feel like I've just added 10 years to my life," said the 31-year-old lawmaker, who combines 40 minutes of cardio workouts and 20 minutes of weightlifting every day.

He said he is motivated, in part, by the alarming health statistics for African Americans.

"We live shorter lives and we live that shorter life more uncomfortably," he said, referring to increased rates of hypertension, diabetes and cancer among blacks.

"It's important for me to set an example."

Shumate said that roughly 70 percent of people have no health insurance in his district, which includes portions of Tulsa and Osage counties.

People need healthier options from childhood through their adult years, he said, adding that more nutritious food in schools and allowing workers time for exercise would help.

"If we don't turn that tide, if we don't correct this, companies won't come here because they can't afford to insure their workers."

The state of Oklahoma ranks 45th in the nation for its citizens' overall health, according to the Oklahoma Fit Kids Coalition.

In fact, in Oklahoma, 1.5 million adults are overweight, and of those, 500,000 are obese, according to the coalition.

The Oklahoma Health Department reported that the cost of obesity-attributable medical expenses for Medicaid and Medicare is about $854 million per year. That figure doesn't include costs for private insurance and businesses.

Nationwide, obesity-related medical expenses costs taxpayers between $69 billion and $117 billion each year, according to the Health Department.

Rep. Lucky Lamons, D-Tulsa, works out at least an hour and a half each day, and has long been an exercise enthusiast.

However, in the mid-1980s, he said, he weighed 245 pounds and smoked two packs of cigarettes per day.

But, Lamons said, he gave up sodas, began jogging twice around the block, and learned to eat healthier.

"I now weigh 176 and don't smoke," he said. In fact, Lamons has become a veteran marathon and triathlon athlete.

"Obesity costs billions of dollars a year to our medical systems," he said. "And it's preventable."

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