President Kennedy is remembered mostly for his foreign policy, but he had some important domestic achievements during his short presidency. As a runner who started from elementary-school age, one of my favorite of those achievements was his development of the President's Council on Physical Fitness. It was created by Eisenhower in the late 1950s, but expanded in the 1960s by Kennedy, who understood that improving the physical fitness of our citizenry would be essential in winning the race to the moon.
Many of us can remember taking the council's "Presidential Fitness Challenge" (or some iteration of it) as grade school children, and today this important entity still exists, now known as the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. Never a very athletic kid, I was always intimidated by these tests, and they certainly had their intended effect. I never had a problem with the mile run, but would have to "cram" in the weeks before I was going to be tested, so that I could at least make the minimum standards in the other categories: sit-ups, push-ups, and stretching on my bedroom floor at night, after my homework was finished. Mission accomplished, Mr. President.
As an adult, I now understand very clearly this connection between my physical activity and my ability to think creatively, and work productively. When planning out my week, I pay attention to the intersections of my training and work schedules, and make sure that the "big days" (those that will be long and intellectually or emotionally draining) always include a run, or some other type of a good sweat.
Every day, I think we're seeing the effects of a citizenry that, on the whole, does not adequately tend to its own physical well-being. People are tired, and they don't feel well. And it shows in how we're performing, producing, and governing ourselves. The personal is political, as they say. I appreciate First Lady Michelle Obama's focus on the physical health of our children, and believe it to be a critical investment in our future as a nation.
"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and to do these other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win." - John F. Kennedy