Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tim Johnson, the Walking Congressman

“It was the middle of the afternoon, during the start of the workweek, and the representative from Illinois’ 15th congressional district, Tim Johnson, was walking in circles. Yes, there he was, going round and round and round and round. Had it been someone else, this behavior might have been cause for alarm. But for those who work in or around the Longworth House Office Building, seeing Johnson in perpetual, circuitous motion is a familiar sight. ‘You can sit in your office with your feet up like a big shot, or you can get fit,’ says the 62-year-old congressman. ‘And I think all of our brains operate better; really, I think human beings work better [with exercise].’ Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), the founder of the Congressional Fitness Caucus, says that even the least exercise-inclined member would be hard-pressed to finish his day without extensive exercise, what with all the walking to and from hearings and meetings and floor debates. Some time ago, a health care company handed out pedometers to lawmakers, Wamp says, finding that the average member took about 11,000 steps a day. (Medical experts have usually put 10,000 steps as the daily benchmark for active adults.) But nobody — nobody! — on the Hill has shown the same Forest Gump-like, single-minded commitment to perambulation as Johnson.Between chatting about legislation with his staff and chatting with the folks back home, it’s not unusual for the work walking (or working walk) to go on for several hours each day, which keeps Johnson from being one of the more social members of the caucus. Wamp, whose office is on that floor, regularly sees Johnson rounding the corners. He compliments his Republican colleague on being ‘very efficient’ in using ‘all of his free time to move.’ ‘The most effective antidepressant in the history of the world is sweat,’ says Wamp. ‘We all need to sweat more, and Tim Johnson is a great example of how you can integrate physical activity into your work.’ Johnson estimates he spends two to three hours a day reading, and every week, his staff stuffs his House gym locker with a voluminous stack of materials to prepare for floor activity. He wakes each morning at 6 o’clock and walks around the park while reading the newspapers his staff delivers to his apartment the night before. The expressions ‘exercise junkie’ and ‘health nut’ seem to fail to capture the man from Urbana, who has two treadmills, two bikes, multiple gym memberships and an indoor swimming pool.”

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