Image: Bush Kicked Off Fitness Campaign
Former Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann, chairman of President Bush's newly established Council on Physical Fitness and Sports visited the MSNBC.com Chat Room Friday.
By Producer
msnbc.com
CHAT TRANSCRIPT

Our guest today is football great and Chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Lynn Swann , here to talk about fitness in America and President Bush’s new national agenda for fitness. Chat producer Will Femia moderates.

MSNBC-Will Femia: Welcome Mr. Swann and congratulations. Are you at the White House right now?

Lynn Swann: Thank you very much. I’m at the White House, on the South Lawn.

MSNBC-Will Femia: What exactly does the chair of the fitness council do?

Lynn Swann: As the chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, I am charged with carrying forth the message that that president gave this morning in terms of his goals for American physical fitness. He wants a healthier us, a healthier U.S.

The goals for fitness are fourfold :

He wants to encourage everyone, children, adults, and senior citizens, to do some form of exercise. Something to get physically fit every day. It doesn’t have to be something extreme. We’re talking about 30 minutes, maybe and hour at the most, it could be ten minutes in the morning, ten minutes in the afternoon, ten minutes in the evening, but every day get some kind of exercise in because the benefits are so important.

A balanced diet. To eat better so that you give your body what it needs to function and give it a chance to get stronger.

Screening and testing. There are a lot of test that you can take like getting your blood pressure checked, stress test, things like that, to see where you stand so that you know what you need to do to make sure that you are healthy. And then go from there with a program. And if you’re a senior citizen or have some kind of medical problem, you check with your doctor to determine what you should do.

Make healthy choices. There are things that we can do or decisions that we can make that will give us the opportunity to be healthier and stronger. There are decisions that we can make that would cause us not to be healthy and stronger. We want to not abuse alcohol, to avoid cigarette smoking, and we want to make those decisions that allow us to stay healthy. Small things too, which are important, like always make sure you wear a helmet when you ride your bicycle.

Question from Barbara Carlson: I noticed promotion of bicycle safety on the press release that came out this morning. Does that mean more bicycle lanes to ride in? in my town you take your life in your hands if you want to ride your bike anywhere other

Lynn Swann: I think many of the cities around the nation have created safe bicycle lanes or there are programs called “rails to trails” where they’ve taken old railroad lines and turned them into trails. Many of our national parks, our community parks, our city parks have biking trails. I think there are opportunities to ride at some of our schools, to be able to get out on their tracks and to ride there.

You can get out and get that kind of exercise. There are lots of good places to ride. You just need to be safe and make that smart decision about wearing a helmet and protective gear so that when you get out there you’re safer. If there’s a accident then the only accidental injury is a scratch or a scrape instead of a head injury. So we advise people to wear helmets, wear safety gear and ride responsibly.

MSNBC-Will Femia: Do you already have a list of ideas in your head that you want to pass on to the president?

Lynn Swann: There are a number of ideas and initiatives that we could take, but I think what my plan is is to take the president’s charge of making a healtheir “us” and try to communicate that message first to the nation on an ongoing basis. I think before people start working out, they need to know what to. And we need to charge them and motivate them to go out and work out and let them know what the benefits are, keeping our society away from this trend towards obesity and heart disease and diabetes and strokes and increased cancer issues as it relates to obesity. We need to stop those things.

So I’m trying to get that message out for the President and then we’ll start looking at various programs that we can initiate or that we can just replicate around the country that already work. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of people out there who are doing good things right now. We want to take those programs and transport those ideas around the country to various places so more people can get physcially fit.

Question from JunkfoodJunkie: Does this mean no more pizza in school lunches?

Lynn Swann: LOL! I believe when we talk about looking at the nutritional aspect of things, that we want a balanced meal which means more fruits and more vegetables. And all things should be in moderation. You can’t expect to lose weight if you don’t exercise and you’re constantly eating. You can’t expect to lose weight if you do a little bit of exercise but everything you eat is not healthy and nutritious and doesn’t support the goals you have in mind.

I think we just have to make sure we do things in moderation. You’re not going to stop people from eating snack foods and eating foods that are as healthy as raw vegetables and fruits and that kind of thing, but you want to do it in moderation. Even the healthy foods you want to eat in moderation, you just don’t want to overeat.

Question from Smokey: What do you think of California’s tax on junk food? Do you think that good health can be encouraged with economics or can it not happen unless people have the willpower to stick to a program?

Lynn Swann: I think it’s important that people develop their own lifestyle and their own habits. This has to be a personal choice. This is not something that can be legislated. We’re trying to encourage people to lead a healthier and physically active lifestyle. We’re not trying to mandate it. Certainly people have different schedules and there are certain things they can and cannot do. We encourage them to do what they can do, but we’re certainly not in a position to try and dictate, mandate, or tax them on their eating habits.

MSNBC-Will Femia: Speaking of economic incentives, what do you think of that story yesterday of the airlines charging extra for people who are too big to fit in one seat?

Lynn Swann: I think those are issues around the airlines in terms of their revenue and capacity for airplanes and not the same as we’re dealing with here. Certainly we would like to encourage more people to be fit. But being fit does not necessarily mean that you’re going to be pencil-thin. There are just some people who are bigger in the world, and other health issues as to why some people have additional weight.

What we just want people to do is just to be more physically active so that they derive the benefits from physical activity and are healthier. Over 270 billion dollars are spent a year on preventable diseases and health related issues $117 billion this year related to diabetes and obesity for to children. These are things that can be prevented. If you attack it from that standpoint, there will be positive benefits in a variety of areas.

Question from Sheila Watson: I am completely upset at the high rates of childhood obesity in this country. How can people just sit and watch their kids get fat and unhealthy?

Question from Rubytuesday: Should parents force kids to play youth sports, to let them see if they have an interset in them?

Lynn Swann: The parents have to be involved in the early decisions about what their children do on all levels. Certainly we hope parents get involved personally with their children in some physical activity whether it’s the family walking together, hiking together, jogging together, playing basketball together, biking together, all of those things I think become very important.

I don’t think you should force your children to do things that they’re not going to want to do because the children sometimes will rebel. But I certainly think it’s important to involve them in activities and let them have the experience and then they can see what that experience is like and hopefully they’ll find a sport or several sports that they enjoy and take up and they’ll do for the long haul

We want to focus on all of America, senior citizens and adults, but the reason we focus on children a lot is that if we get the children to understand the value of a healthy us, and working out and being physically fit, it becomes a priority in their life for the rest of their life.

So the chances are that they’re going to be healthier throughout their entire life as opposed to overeating, not exercising, gaining additional weight, developing other problems as a result of not being able to handle the stress of their lives.

Question from Jack: Don’t you think it’s kind of ironic that we’re all sitting here at our computers turning into fat lumps “talking” about fitness? Maybe Bush should just outlaw computers and video games, then watch how much exercise everyone gets. TV too.

Lynn Swann: The computer is a wonderful tool, but it should not be a way of life for everybody where you sit in front of the computer and you do nothing else. Even if it’s your job for eight hours to be in front of the computer and work on computers, in your own time we need to find ways to increase our physical activity so that you have the endurance and stamina when you’re sitting there to concentrate in front of that computer.

Certainliy you can’t walk around a track with a lap top, it’s kind of uncomfortable to do that and work out at the same time. But some people, like kids who play their hand held computer games could do that while they’re walking around a track or do that while they’re hiking, they’re battery operated.

So there are a lot of things that they can do together. There are people who have an awful lot of reading and work to do on a daily basis, but they could probably sit on a stationary bike and ride and read a lot of information.

I do that for football games. I get on the stationary bike, I put tapes in of football teams I have to cover, and I watch those teams and make notes while I ride the bicycle.

MSNBC-Will Femia: A couple weeks ago we chatted with a fitness expert who talked about how important it is just to move around, even if you don’t formally keep track of heart rate and things like that. Do you think people are turned off by the technicalities of exercise and end up not doing anything?

Lynn Swann: I think sometimes there’s so much information that people feel like they have to have it and the information can turn them off. But I believe that if you just go out an exercise and enjoy what you’re doing and participate, then you’ll derive the benefits.

Those people who want to go to the next level who need that statistical information, who need to know what their heart rate is and how many minutes and all those things, they’ll seek it out and they’ll find it. It’s important to them and they’ll use it.

For many of us it’s not that important. The important issue is just to get out and be active and get that physical exercise.

Question from Donald Rogers: Everywhere I look I see people drinking bottled water. Isn’t this a good sign that Americans are being healthier and not drinking so much soda?

Lynn Swann: People drinking bottled water is a good sign they’re hydrated, but doesn’t mean they’re healthier. If you look at the numbers and statistics, obesity is an increasing problem in our nation. There are over 300,000 children who have been diagnosed as obese. There are more adults who are becoming obese. From 1990 to 2000 it has risen, the percentages are on the rise. There importance is to stop it now and turn those numbers around and start lowering those numbers.

It doesn’t take a gargantuan effort, it just takes modest, consistent exercise. Watching your diet, making healthy choices, staying away from the excesses in life. There are people who are going to have a drink, but don’t abuse alcohol. There are people who are going to overeat at times, but don’t overeat three times a day, seven days a week. You may have your favorite meal and it might have a big desert at the end of it and you enjoy that, but if that’s every day and you don’t exercise, then you’re going to gain weight.

So it has to be a balance. It has to be your mind, body, and spirit. And you’ve got to make the decision to exercise and that has to be a priority in your life.

The President of the United states has a very stressful and high pressure job. He has to deal with the tragedies of terrorism, 9/11, trying to be a peacemaker in the Middle East, domestic policies and issues, but he has a priority in his life to work out, to be in shape, and that priority has put him in a wonderful position in terms of being able to deal with all of these stressful circumstances when they occurred so that he could still be a clear thinker. He could be cognizant of all the issues going on. That he does not suffer from fatigue in the midst of his job. He does that because physical fitness has always been a priority in his life.

Question from Rubytuesday: I went to a school field day and was shocked at the number of overweight children who couldn’t compete. Should schools get back to more legitimate PE programs?

Lynn Swann: I think for those schools who have programs, that ‘s wonderful, but this has to be a personal choice. There are a lot of programs and things kids do when they’re in school but once they’re out of school they just forget about them. They don’t want to be involved in them anymore for a variety of reasons.

What we want to do is have people understand that physical fitness has to be a personal choice. They have to find a way every day in their life to get some kind of activity in, whether it’s walking to school, riding your bike to school, forming a health club at school to look at the issues of physical fitness and eating more nutritionally and so that they carry this with them for the rest of their lives.

Question from Pricilla: We hear more and more about all of the health risks associated with obesity and how obesity related diseases are on the rise in the US because obesity is on the rise in the US. What can the government do to head off the huge health costs of obesity? Lawsuits? Legislation?

Lynn Swann: I don’t know if there’s any one way to do it, but certainly to head off obesity and the related ills caused by obesity is to not get there. To watch your weight, to exercise, to be consistent about it, and to make the right healthy choices. All the things we’re talking about today will help would help to lower the number of people who are obese in this country. If people continue on this program of physical fitness and nutrition and healthy choices and the preventative program, then those numbers are going to go down drastically and they’re not going to continue to grow. So we need to pursue this, we need to push this, and we need to make it happen.

Question from DaveP: What type of exercise routine do you recommend?

Lynn Swann: My recommendation is for everyone to do an exercise program that they will continue to do on a consistent basis. You can’t do what I do unless you’re willing to do it all the time. So it doesn’t make sense for me to recommend to anyone to do the same program that I do because a lot of people don’t have the time or it’s too much. So you need to find something that’s good for you, something that you enjoy.

If you enjoy riding a bike, make that your way of consistently getting your exercise. If you enjoy playing basketball, make that your way of getting your exercise. Even if you’re a golfer, instead of taking the golf cart, walk 9 holes or walk 18 holes, it’s a good form of exercise. Walking your dog is a good form of exercise. You should do anything that will help you to increase your physical fitness levels that will be consistent in your life.

And if there are health issues, you certainly want to check with your doctors first before you start anything.

MSNBC-Will Femia: Thank you very much for joining us today Mr. Swann. Can you give us some closing comments before we have to let you go?

Lynn Swann: We are a nation that depends on its citizens to keep us strong and to make us stronger.

In the aftermath of 9/11, when we think of the firemen and policemen who charged into a dangerous situation running upstairs to save lives and lost their lives, when we think about the people on the airline who stopped one of the planes from crashing into a building and it crashed into a who crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, we don’t know when, we don’t know where an individual will be called upon to act to do something that will save lives.

We need a healthier, stronger nation of individuals to be a healthier, stronger nation. So we’re encouraging everyone to be more physically fit, to be more aware of what it means to be physically fit. To create balance in your life in terms of your nutrition, in terms of your healthy choices and decisions and the ways to prevent bad health and to give yourself a chance to be the very best you can be.

A healthier nation is going to be a more confident nation and we need in our nation today for everyone to take steps to be stronger, to be more confident, and to be there to help each other in their time of need.

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