- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

President Bush yesterday started a four-day federal focus on physical fitness, calling on Americans young and old to exercise, eat healthy and abstain from alcohol and tobacco.

"This is an important message that we're sending to America. When America and Americans are healthier, our whole society benefits," the president said at a South Lawn fitness expo. "If you're interested in improving America, you can do so by taking care of your own body."

The White House released a 16-page booklet outlining the "Healthier USA" initiative that calls for at least a half-hour of exercise every day for adults and more for children; eating smaller portions of more nutritious foods; regular preventive health screenings; and avoidance of any risky behaviors, especially involving alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

Mr. Bush urged Americans to take walks, play with their kids in their yards and engage in other forms of exercise. Cancer deaths could be cut by one-third if people changed their diets and exercised, he said.

"This year, heart disease will cost our country at least $183 billion. If just 10 percent of adults began walking regularly, we could save billions in dollars in costs related to heart disease. Research suggests that we can reduce cancer deaths in America by one-third simply by changing our diets and getting more exercise," he said.

The South Lawn was turned into a large outdoor gym and recreation area, where some 1,500 visitors White House staff and their families, senior citizens and children from schools, summer camps, clubs and Special Olympics organizations took advantage of batting cages, aerobics classes, and kickboxing and boot camp demonstrations by trainers from a nearby luxury health club.

The president said that a report released yesterday by the Department of Health and Human Services shows that everyone can benefit from exercise, "yet more than a third of our children, ninth through 12th grades, failed to exercise at least 20 minutes a day, three times a week."

Mr. Bush, who enjoys an occasional cigar, called on Americans to "cut out tobacco, drugs and excessive drinking."

"Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death and disease in America," he said. He was less stringent on alcohol use, calling on Americans to avoid "excessive alcohol."

Perhaps the most physically fit president ever, Mr. Bush, 55, gave up alcohol when he turned 40, and in 1988, quit smoking. He now runs three miles several times a week and lifts weights. The 6-foot president weighs about 190 pounds.

Like Teddy Roosevelt, Mr. Bush shares a passion for the rugged outdoor life, which includes clearing brush on his 1,600-acre Texas ranch.

Mr. Bush's call for clean living has inspired some in the West Wing to jump on the wagon at least when it comes to smoking.

"I quit smoking Saturday," said one West Winger, who planned to participate in a three-mile run tomorrow that will feature the president. "I have never worked in an office where more people work out on a regular basis than in the West Wing of the White House."

But some other federal employees who work farther away from the White House think the president should mind his own business.

"Why doesn't he just get his nose out of my business? If I want a drink, I'll have a drink. I really don't think the government should be telling us what we should and should not do," said a woman smoking outside the Justice Department who refused to give her name.

Mr. Bush today will travel to Orlando, Fla., to promote "age-appropriate" exercise, capped by a workout with willing participants from a local senior citizens center. Tomorrow, about 400 administration employees will join the president in the three-mile race at nearby Fort McNair.

On Sunday, the presidential focus on fitness will end with a T-ball game on the White House lawn.

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