At the Mission Peak summit

Picture the scenario: you’re pushing 50, you’re 40 pounds overweight and you’re an incorrigible couch potato. A day’s gonna come soon when somebody in position to get away with making unreasonable demands is going to lay it on the line: take up hiking or we yank your health coverage. Sounds extreme? I call it a logical extension of what we already know:

  • The U.S. has no political will to confront spiraling health costs.
  • Prevention is the only proven way to keep the doctor away.
  • Simply going on walks regularly can significantly improve physical health and reduce risk of developing expensive maladies like heart disease and diabetes.

But how does this equal hiking curing the health-cost crisis? I know from my own experience that hiking is a great way to lose weight and stay in shape. But when I hiked off my spare tire, I had hills and trails nearby. Most people live way too far from a trailhead to hike regularly for fitness.

But imagine if the boss orders you to take a hike: You drive an hour to the nearest state park and find out, heck, it ain’t so bad out there in nature with the scenic vistas and singing birds. Only one problem: those hills, roots and rocks are a lot of work. You’re gonna need to be in a lot better shape the next time out.

Enter the four-walks-a-week fitness regimen that your boss really wants to you to start, and stick with, because regular exercise is the surest way to stay healthy and out of a doctor’s care.

To date our natural reluctance to tell people what they can eat, what they can drink and how many hours a day they can kick back in the hammock have shielded us from shape-up-or-ship-out demands via the glass-office types, but I don’t see how that is sustainable when a huge section of our population is hitting the Golden Years (so named for its capacity to line the pockets of the medical-industrial complex) and our government faces gazillions in unfunded liabilities.

After 9/11 we abandoned all pretense of privacy at the airport — it was a crisis after all. And Americans can be reliably counted upon to pull together in a crisis, but only after, as the famous saying goes, all other options have been exhausted.

So, I’m thinking that the well-meaning wellness campaigns we’ve endured all these years are about to kick into high gear. Beer guts will be deemed unpatriotic and people will feel obliged swallow their objections to intrusive “do as we say or else” demands because we’re all in this together and all that.

Walking during the week and taking a hike on the weekends is a simple, economical way to make Americans healthier and ease the crushing cost of health care. The problem is probably too big to walk our way out of, but hiking seems like a good first step.