Everyday Leaders Bring Health Reform to Life
While leaders in Washington navigate the political quagmire of how to pay for health-care reform, there are things everyday leaders across America can do to move health reform forward.
The fact is, part of our burgeoning health care costs are directly related to our burgeoning waist-lines. Sedentary lifestyles and poor eating choices lead to health problems, including the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Indeed, if the number of obese and overweight adults in the U.S. continues to grow as it has over the past three decades, nearly nine-out-of-10 adults will be considered overweight or obese by 2030.
Over the last 30 years we've engineered a culture of living in America that minimizes movement, and, unless we act now, our children will inherit this culture of obesity. Government has a role to play, but changing a culture involves everyone, not just lawmakers.
If the health-care reform effort going on in Washington today is to make any meaningful difference in improving America's health and controlling the cost of health care tomorrow, the leaders of America must create a national environment that supports wellness. Prevention, healthy lifestyle choices, and the promotion of exercise must be central to the effort.
Leaders must emerge from all industries, sectors, and corners of the country, while existing leaders must make the health of their followers, employees and students a priority. And while it's important that political leaders create supportive public policies and legislation to make exercise and health living affordable for all Americans, including economic incentives like appropriate tax incentives, it's equally important that everyday leaders figure out ways to affect healthier schools, workplaces, and local communities. For inspiration, see what some leaders are already doing.
A foreign-language teacher at Loudoun Country Day School in Leesburg, Virginia, for example, is showing her K-5 students how they can use movement to increase their concentration, channel their energy, and manage stress. Recognizing that movement stimulates cognitive function and helps keep young brains alert, Dorothea Ragsdale welcomes productive movement in her classroom. By teaching her students "the pretzel" -- a yoga-like pose -- to calm them at the beginning of each class, by having them practice their Spanish numbers while doing simple calisthenic exercises, and by allowing them to have small stress balls at their desks to squeeze, Ragsdale provides opportunity for non-disruptive classroom movement, keeping the minds of her young students in gear for learning.
Jacqueline McCann Cleland, a licensed clinical psychologist in the Washington, D.C. metro area, recognizes that talk therapy alone isn't always enough to address the interconnection of weight and body image issues, eating disorders, loneliness, and depression that are common among adolescents today. So Cleland teamed up with an American Council on Exercise (ACE)-certified personal trainer to offer "Heart & Mind Combined," an educational support group for adolescent girls struggling with negative body images, excess weight, and related emotional problems. Participants discover the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices through instruction in mindful eating practices and nutrition, resistance training and cardio fitness techniques, and understanding how our thoughts and feelings influence our behavior and choices.
After a diagnosis of diabetes and a chest-pain scare, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee decided to change the way he lived. He started exercising regularly and made other healthy lifestyle changes. Within a year, Huckabee lost about 100 pounds and has become a leader in the fight against obesity in his own state.
Imagine for a moment the influence everyday leaders across America could have if children saw their teachers embracing exercise and healthy lifestyles in an effort to stay well; if CEOs spread a culture of exercise and wellness among their employees; and if patients came back for their annual visit to a transformed doctor who had addressed his own weight issue with regular exercise--and then prescribed exercise to the patient as well.
Just as strong leadership is essential for effective health-care reform, strong leadership is critical for lasting health reform. Whether you're a CEO, politician, therapist, teacher, health-care provider, or parent, America's leaders must recognize that our country's current health crisis requires our personal attention. Each of us has got to assume the role of promoting exercise and healthy lifestyle choices within whatever realm of influence we have.
So while Congress is duking it out over line items in a health-care reform bill, leaders across America should be rallying on health reform. America needs our leadership now. Our nation's health is depending on it.
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