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PUBLISHED: 5:28 PM on Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Six weeks to better living
There are a lot of things we can't change.

We can't single-handedly build a gas pipeline. Or end a war. Or find a cure for a terrible disease. But there's one thing we absolutely can do. And that's to take better care of ourselves.

With the first longer days of spring upon us, and the celebration of Easter just past, it's easy to think about new beginnings, including getting more exercise and eating smarter.

You can even team up with the state's most famous jogger, Governor Sarah Palin, to get fit.

Last week the Governor challenged Alaskans to join the National President's Challenge, a six-week competition sponsored by the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. The Challenge runs through May 15.

"Participating in this challenge is free and easy," Gov. Palin said in a news release last week. "It's only 30 minutes of activity a day. You can walk, run, ski, or even bicycle your way to the goal. About 100 different activities count."

There's also recognition for the state with the highest percentage of participating residents.

As an old boss of mine was fond of saying, "What gets measured gets done." Hence keeping track of your activities-and keeping yourself on track with exercise.

The rules are simple:

• Sign up by April 3 at www.presidentschallenge.org.

• Adults must be active at least 30 minutes during five days of each of the six weeks, and report their activity on www.presidentschallenge.org.

• Children 6 through 17 need to complete 60 minutes of activity five days a week.

Signup is quick and easy-just a couple of minutes. There are a half dozen basic questions and a daily activity tracker that's easy to use.

Since it's always easier to stay focused with company, signing up with a group of friends or coworkers is even better. By the way, the list of activities for the challenge includes fishing, hunting, hiking, kayaking, skiing and a lot of the things you're probably already doing.

The point is not keeping score, but doing something each day to improve your health. It need not be hours in the gym or running to exhaustion. A great start is a brisk walk before breakfast or at the end of the day, maybe with your significant other or best buddy or even Rover.

A dear friend in Augusta got back to jogging when he inherited a stray dog. He dropped 50 pounds walking the dog and going on a low-carb diet. To this day he swears that dog saved his life.

This time last year, I made a personal commitment to get fit, dropped some bad habits and 20 pounds. The difference in how much better I feel-and enjoy both work and play-is incredible.

Alaska can be a tough place to live and work. And those long dark winters make all the bad habits really easy-eating too much, drinking too much, not getting any exercise. Not to mention the health risks of being overweight, or just out of shape, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

According to the Governor's office, "state surveys show that more than 60 percent of Alaska adults are overweight or obese. More than 27 percent of high school students in Alaska are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. Medical spending related to obesity cost Alaska about $195 million in 2003."

Just as important, being in better shape makes you feel better, about yourself and about life in general. Call it endorphins or better metabolism or just lugging less weight around.

With all the other challenges we have, we don't need more cranky Alaskans. And who knows-once we're all a little leaner and less meaner, we can work together on all those other challenges!

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and advertising director of the Juneau Empire. Email him at lee.leschper@morris.com.


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