Shaquille O'Neal's gesture deserved to be commended. What it didn't merit was national news coverage.
While watching the news this fall, O'Neal learned that a little girl had been brutally murdered and that the family's financial situation was such that they may not be able to afford a decent funeral.
O'Neal contacted his agent who contacted the family. He told them that the basketball superstar would cover the cost of the arrangements. O'Neal didn't want the public to know, but someone, from the funeral home it seems, told a reporter.
The story circulated quickly, and O'Neal received much praise.
Although I do not want to diminish the generosity of Shaq's action, I do want to put it in perspective. While the funeral home in question would not reveal the exact total of the bill, a representative did say that the typical children's funeral cost around $4,500.
Have you ever made a $12.50 donation to a charity? If so and your yearly salary is around $50,000, you donated about the same percentage of your yearly earnings as O'Neal did to finance the funeral.
So why didn't your donation at least make the local papers?
That question won't be answered in this column. The story that led to it, however, is a suitable introduction for what needs to be said about exercise.
The situations are often analogous.
Too often avid exercisers learn of the workouts that professional athletes do, try to imitate, and then become disillusioned when they don't measure up. Worse, people contemplating first-time exercise learn of the same, and the contemplation quickly ends.
But in the same way that you can't be expected to donate as much money as a basketball pro, you can't be expected to follow his or her workout. What you can be expected to do, however, is assess another's workout, put it in proper perspective and learn from it.
Whether that means you use part or some of the workout or alter it to suit your needs is based on what you learned. And whether you apply what you learned effectively gets back to the theme of the column.
At this point I need to digress and be clear in order to avoid catcalls of "Hypocrite, hypocrite" from attentive readers.
After all, I am the guy who recently devoted 800-plus words encouraging you to develop a "true passion" for some sort of exercise and the example of that was a group of runners in their 50s who had been running 50 miles every week since early adulthood. I am the guy who devoted an entire column this fall to Don Wildman, a 76-year-old who routinely does five-hour workouts and is actually as fast on his mountain bike now as he was back when he completed nine Ironman triathlons.
After all, I'm the guy who has used "More is good, but more intense is even better" as the theme for more than one exercise column.
So what's causing me to suddenly suggest a more moderate stance?
Because the first goal when you're losing a war is to regroup and strive to win a single battle.
If you think about it, the U.S. is losing the war on obesity. Not only has the rate of obese American adults more than doubled in the past 30 years to 33 percent, but also another 33 percent are considered overweight.
In other words, only one out of every three adult Americans is currently at a healthy weight.
But what's worse is that this pattern has been passed down to our children. Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years.
And according to 2008 statistics from the National Institutes of Health, the rate of overweight six to 11 year olds has almost tripled and the percentage of 12 to 19 year olds has more than tripled.
So what could possibly be our children's saving grace? Something I can proudly say I've never done: play an "active" sports-related video game.
Though it pains me to relay it, a recent study of some of the Nintendo Wii sports games has shown that you can get at least a moderate workout from the more taxing of these games. A MET is a standard method of measuring absolute aerobic intensity and energy expenditure, and the Wii tennis and basketball games, for example, rate 3.0 METs, the same as riding a stationary bike and consistently producing 50 watts of energy.
A more ambitious game, like boxing, rates 4.5 METs.
While the type of exercise that children or adults will get from playing active video games will do little to change a physique, it just might be enough of a change to keep serious health conditions, like diabetes and obesity, at bay.
And if former sedentary people children and adults alike use these games to establish a minimal base level of fitness, they might eventually try "real" exercise, like a jog around the neighborhood or a 30-minute weight lifting workout.