‘Real Forrest Gump’ walks across U.S.

2012-04-22T00:00:00Z ‘Real Forrest Gump’ walks across U.S.By Peggy O’Neill of Montana Lee Newspapers Montana Standard

HELENA — Walking is good for the body and the mind. Just ask Robert Sweetgall — he’s walked and run across the United States seven times, which has earned him the title “The Real Forrest Gump.”

Sweetgall, an author and speaker, will give a presentation in Helena April 24 at St. Peter’s Hospital. The presentation will be a two-part program aimed at getting people on their feet.

The first part of the presentation is “Nordic Walking 101 — Building Muscle, Burning Fat with the Ultimate Total-Body Walking Workout.”

Nordic walking is a bit like cross-country skiing without the skis. Walkers use special Nordic walking poles that they hold at an angle.

According to Sweetgall, the upper body movement involved in using the poles allows walkers to burn

40 percent more calories than traditional walking. While anyone can

benefit from Nordic

walking, Sweetgall said the activity is especially ideal for senior citizens with balance problems, women with bone density issues and folks who need an extra metabolic boost to shed 10 to 20 pounds.

The second part of Sweetgall’s presentation is “Motivation to Move — Five Great Activities for Reducing Weight, Stress Heart Disease and Diabetes and Your Rate of Aging.”

Sweetgall will talk about simple activities people

can engage in. “You can get fit in your living room; you can get fit on a sidewalk,” Sweetgall said.

Sweetgall uses evidence from two studies on

physical activity to encourage people to walk at least one mile a day. These

studies — the Harvard Alumni Study and the Dallas Aerobics Center Study — concluded that as a person’s physical activity increased his or her mortality rate from chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, decreased.

Sweetgall, who grew up in Brooklyn and who now lives in McCall, Idaho, said he started walking in kindergarten. “I would walk to school, walk home for lunch, walk back to school and walk home at the end of the day,” he said.

When he graduated from college, his poor diet of cheese and cake and cheesecakes had added up and he weighed 200 pounds. So, he decided to start jogging.

“I lost 35 pounds of body fat,” he said.

Then he started running marathons and ultra-marathons. He ended up quitting his job as a chemical engineer and starting a foundation to promote cardiovascular health. He would walk or run to the different places where he would give presentations on physical activity and heart health.

In 1983, Sweetgall went on a 10,608-mile run/walk around the country — talking to 100,000 school children and adults along the way. Helena was among his many stops. He did the same thing the next year — making sure to set foot in all 50 states (he flew to Alaska and Hawaii) — and covered 11,208 miles.

He stopped in Helena that year also and was accompanied up MacDonald Pass by students and teachers from Helena Middle School.

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