I'm one of about 6,000 people registered to run 26.2 miles in the Flying Pig Marathon on Sunday.
Flying Pig is a reference to the "Porkopolis" nickname for Cincinnati. Back in the 1800s, when the city was a commercial center for processing pork, farmers would herd pigs through the streets to slaughterhouses.
Today, largely because of unhealthy eating and a lack of exercise, many Americans are the ones who are a bit porky. Running through the streets ourselves is a good way to remedy that.
One of the biggest challenges facing our country is obesity, which can result in serious health issues.
More than one-third of American adults are obese, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some of the leading causes of death are linked to obesity, including heart disease, various types of cancer, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
As chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture, I deal with national issues related to how food can affect our health, our lifestyles, and the spending of our tax dollars.
Obesity related illnesses drive up the cost of health-care coverage, so we all have a stake in the well being of the general public.
Medical costs associated with obesity were estimated to be $147 billion in 2008, according to the CDC. Third-party payers had to cover $1,429 more in medical costs for obese people than those of normal weight.
It's a mistake to focus just on calories. There are four components to a healthy lifestyle: nutrition, physical activity, spirituality, and intellectual capacity.
With regard to nutrition, proper foods can not only fuel physical activity but also help balance emotions.
Physical activity speeds up your metabolism, but it also builds endorphins in the brain that allow you to feel better about yourself.
A person who embraces spirituality benefits from the realization that a greater power can help in good times and bad.
Lastly, it's important to keep your brain stimulated -- or you could end up being old before your time. If your line of work doesn't provide fodder for your brain, get involved in your community as a volunteer -- or read books regularly.
I urge everyone to look in the mirror and ask: How can I physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually improve myself?
I started running because I had gained weight after becoming a mother. I read a magazine article that suggested new moms could overcome postpartum blues by putting down the chocolate candy and lacing up their running shoes. Now, I run an average of six miles a day.
I've run in all 13 of the previous Flying Pigs, and Sunday's race will mark the 95th marathon that I've competed in since 1990. Running more than 26 miles in about four hours is not a cakewalk.
It took me more than five hours to complete this year's Boston Marathon because of the oppressive heat that April day. You have to build up your endurance before a marathon, and then adjust to the race-day weather and course conditions. About 13,000 people have registered to run a half-marathon in Sunday's Flying Pig, and about 4,000 more have signed up for a four-person relay marathon, I was told.
A great way to get started on the path to wellness is by entering a 5K. You don't have to be intimidated by the prospect of running that distance. You can walk it. These are social events, and you might end up making lasting friendships as you chat with other participants. About 10,000 people are registered to run or walk in 5K or 10K events Saturday as part of the Flying Pig.
On May 16, I'll captain a five-person running team in the Capital Challenge, a three-mile event in Washington, D.C. Like the Flying Pig (which reportedly raises about $1 million annually for charities), the Capital Challenge donates proceeds to a good cause (this year, the Wounded Warrior Project will benefit). It also focuses public attention on team work and wellness.
The event usually includes members of Congress, members of the president's cabinet, federal judges, high-ranking military officers, and journalists. If we can do it, anybody can.
I've got a good team this year, and everybody is putting in their mileage to train for the race. We're running for fun and for a charity, but we're also building good will and solidifying friendships.
And all of those things are part of a healthy lifestyle.