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04-08-03: 'Serious pedestrian' extolls the virtues of walking
The Daily Standard
    Calling himself a serious pedestrian, Robert Sweetgall spread his "eat less, move more" message to a group of senior citizens in St. Marys on Monday.
    Sweetgall, casually dressed in a gray sweatshirt and skin-tight black stretch pants, has walked across the United States seven times in the last 20 years and now gives speeches on fitness to all ages coast to coast.
    "My goal in the last few years has been to motivate Americans to get out and move," said 55-year-old Sweetgall of McCall, Idaho. "Walking is the simplest, easiest thing most people can do to keep healthy."
    A motivated speaker with a generous helping of humor, Sweetgall entertained more than 60 area seniors at the Council on Aging Center in St. Marys. The program was sponsored by the Heart Health Committee of Allen, Auglaize and Hardin counties and the Heart Center of West Central Ohio.
    Sweetgall told the crowd he chucked a $100,000-plus chemical engineering job, and in 1982 and 1983 he marched 11,208 miles across the United States to help raise health awareness in others.
    "I was a nerdy kid ... an overweight kid nicknamed Butterball," he said. "I'd eat anything in sight - cheesecake, candy, whatever I could get my hands on."
    He studied hard and was valedictorian of Brooklyn High School and went on to college with a full scholarship, he said. But after getting his degree and landing a top notch job, he began to take a good look at his family's heart history and he didn't like what he saw.
    "So I decided to walk the world and teach people how to balance their health in their everyday lives," he said. "Everyone thought I was crazy. My father said, 'Don't you have anything better to do?' "
    Sweetgall, who married for the first time a year ago, told the seniors to walk a pace that's right for them, and demonstrated his "round the world" pace at 3 1/2 mph.
    "I chose a speed that didn't kill me," he added with a grin.
    Most of us don't need to lose weight, he said, "We need to add muscle and burn fat."
    Sweetgall pranced across the floor to show how far 22 steps would take him - the approximate length of 10 yards on a football field.
    "You'd have to take two treks across the Buckeye's football field, the long way across, to burn up one peanut M&M," he said, as the crowd looked surprised. "Fifty-five times across the field for one Snickers bar ... 216 times for a 6-pack of beer.
    "And we wonder why we aren't losing weight walking," he said as the audience laughed. "Sugar, grease, oversized servings, these all our leading us to an obese nation full of people with Type 2 diabetes."
    You'd have to bicycle or swim three miles to get the same physical results as you get from walking one mile, he added.
    "Walking is the best exercise for your body because it's easy to do, it doesn't cause pain, and gives you social, spiritual, physical and emotional payback," Sweetgall said.
    He passionately spoke about the lack of physical exercise by children, who today have little or no physical activity and are "shoved in front of computers" daily, he said.
    "We drive them to school in our $30,000 yuppie mobiles and take away their recesses and phys. ed. Our kids are on Ritalin and the teachers are on Prozac, and we put a sign out front of school that says 'Drug-Free Zone.' What a joke," he said.
    Sweetgall, slim and trim, said he keeps a daily journal of his activities and encourages others to do so, also. Besides his foot journeys, he also cross-country skis, hikes, rows and uses a treadmill, he said.
    Sweetgall, often called the real Forrest Gump, said is the only person to walk all 50 states in 365 consecutive days. The only thing he carried with him was a four-pound fanny pack filled with supplies, he said.
    "All I packed was a toothbrush, dental floss and traveler's checks," he said as the audience shook their heads in disbelief. "What else would I need?"
    One woman yelled, "deodorant," as a loud chuckle erupted in the room.
    "No, I could get that at a hotel," he answered.
    Sweetgall said he didn't always stay in hotels. Sometimes he slept wherever he could while on his long journeys - jail cells, hospital beds, church pews and pizza parlor tables - anywhere he was welcome.
    He showed the crowd one of the holey pairs of shoes he saved from a recent trip. "I went through three of these," he said.
    Sweetgall explained that even senior citizens can make their bones and heart healthier, improve posture and elevate their mood by walking and minimal strength training.
    "Just remember, adding just an extra mile to your daily routine can make a significant change in the value of your life."


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