Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gam Zu L'Tova (This too is for the good) – 2

Seemingly overnight, we find ourselves in the throes of the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. AIG, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch – how have the mighty fallen? Foreclosures abound, as do bankruptcies. Gasoline prices through the roof – along with all commodities that depend on gasoline, or jet fuel, to get to us.

I am not directly affected by the price of gasoline since I never owned a car. When you can get to work by train in half an hour, who needs the hassles of a car? As a runner, I do a lot of my getting around on foot, and I see the streets the way automobile drivers do not. And what I see is many more bicycles on the street. A newly sympathetic city administration, goaded by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, is painting bicycle lanes on neighborhood streets, despite complaints from automobile drivers. Some of those lanes are even physically separated from automobile traffic. This is a welcome development that augurs well for the health of the city. Unless you live in a cave, you know that we have an "epidemic of obesity." Orthodox Jews seem to have more than their share, and the sight of pregnant men in shul is becoming more and more repulsive as time goes by. I put the phrase in quotes because it is not a true epidemic the way physicians and scientists usually define the word. You don't catch it like the common cold or cancer. Obesity and its dreadful sequelae, hypertension, diabetes and such, is almost always the results of a lifestyle choice. And its not so much that we eat too much, the weight loss industry notwithstanding. The problem is we move too little. Sorry folks, evolution occurred and our species is genetically programmed for a high caloric throughput – eat a lot and burn a lot. Enter all the modern conveniences that make housework easy (sorry ladies – your great-grandmothers had it much harder than you), the automobile, and computers and video games replacing outdoor play, continue to eat the way we're programmed to do, and the equation goes out of balance. Keep at it and you get fat. Stay fat and you get clogged arteries in your penis. Viva Viagra – until the arteries in your heart get clogged and you go on nitrates, or your heart simply can't supply enough oxygen for sex or anything else you enjoy. If you're lucky you can get Type 2 diabetes, go blind and have your legs amputated. And we are seeing Type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and hyperlipidemia (elevated cholesterol) in children as young as ten. A well-known pediatrician in the Orthodox neighborhood of Borough Park has been known to give patients prescriptions that read "play basketball." But too many yeshivot are indifferent or even hostile to physical activity. Their students are encouraged to sit at a desk all day and get fat - like their teachers. All of us need to move more, and parents should be urging their children to move more. If we really care about our children's health, we will do more than urge. We will refuse to drive our kids to school and let them walk a mile or so instead, or ride a bicycle.

Riding a bicycle to and from work or school goes a long way to restoring the balance. The energy for movement comes from food instead of fossil fuels. You're burning what you're eating, maybe a little more, and the fat comes off and stays off. The economic downturn is making us do what we all should be doing anyway – get around on our own steam. And we will all be happier and healthier for it.

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