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Health and Fitness on the WWW

By Devin D. O'Leary

NOVEMBER 3, 1997:  OK, I admit, I'm not in the best of shape. Sure, I'm young, I don't smoke and I'm still at my college fighting weight; but all this time I sit staring at a computer screen hasn't exactly made me the model of fitness. I'm as lazy and out of shape as the next guy. So why not use this devil's tool known as the computer to help whip me into shape. Time to dive in to the world of online fitness.

Shape Up America (www2.shapeup.org/sua/)--From the title alone, this sounds like an inspirational site. According to the write-up, it "provides information about safe weight management and physical fitness by Dr. C. Everett Koop." Well, hell, who doesn't want to look like America's healthiest Quaker, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop! I start out at Koop's coop by calculating my BMI (that's "Body Mass Index" for you uninitiated out there). Apparently, your BMI is the key to everything healthy, because there are a couple dozen sites out there that will calculate it for you. Health and fitness seem to revolve less around diet and exercise and more around the amount of information you can spout off (from calorie counts to heart rates to body fat percentages). For the record, my BMI is 24. According to Dr. Koop that's pretty darn good. I'm at a "low" health risk and don't need to lose any weight. If I want to maintain my present svelte frame, though, Shape Up America has got several suggestions. The "Cyberkitchen" allows you to calculate your ideal daily caloric intake (mine's 2134) and create healthy meals based on that. The "Current Event in News and Media" page provides some handy updates on the latest medical advice and fitness crazes. The "Health and Fitness" section gives some basic advice on exercise (length and frequency) based on your level of expertise.

Ask the Personal Fitness Trainer Forum (lifematters.com/lm/fittrain.html)--So now that I've got all the basic info, how do I actually start exercising? Should I run? Should I do push ups? What's the deal? Maybe I need to ask an expert. This site is the domain of one Jack Dixon, author of The McDougall Program: 12 Days to Dynamic Health (why he didn't call it the Dixon Program, I have no clue). From his photo, Jack looks like the kind of guy who listens to John Tesh music, but apparently he's an expert in his field. There are two main pages here. The first, "Fitness Buddies," is an open forum allowing e-mail participants to bandy around an assortment of health and exercise related questions. Unfortunately, old Jack seems conspicuously absent from this forum. Poor "Sheena, "Karen" and "Jack" are left to ask each other's advice about liposuction, chest exercises and calorie counting. Most of their queries go unanswered. The second major section here is rather redundantly named "Ask a Personal Trainer Training Association." Here you can actually get personal advice from the professionals. Unfortunately, there's the little matter of the "special introductory rate of only $9.95 for 3 months." Yup, fork over your credit card number, and you can get some real advice. Tack on an extra $69, and you can get on Jack Dixon's special diet program. I guess if you want any advice out of Jack, you're gonna have to pay.

Worldguide: Health and Fitness (www.worldguide.com/Fitness/hf.html)--This site claims to be a "great" online magazine dedicated to, what else, health and fitness. There are sections on Anatomy, Strength Training, Cardiovascular Exercise, Eating Well and Sports Medicine. The "Anatomy" page consists of exactly one Gray's Anatomy-type drawing, a few arrows and a dozen or so muscle names. Perfect if you want to sound knowledgeable at the gym--"Yeah, just got done workin' those deltoids"--but otherwise pretty useless. The exercise pages are only marginally better. "Strength Training," for example, list a total of six exercises. The descriptions of each are fairly detailed, though, and I'm sure I could repeat them in the privacy of my own home if necessary. The "Eating Well" section has a picture of the food pyramid and some basic advice on carbohydrates, fats, protein and that sorta stuff. The info here is all a tad thin, but could be helpful if you're preparing a report for junior high school health class.

Cool Tools (www.e2consult.com/tools.htm)--Now here's the health and fitness site for me. Cool Tools allows you to calculate all kinds of useless info (like your BMI). Spend some time here, and you'll feel great about yourself without ever having to lift a finger. Click a couple buttons, and you can figure out your target heart rate, your energy expenditure, your percentage of body fat or your aerobic fitness level. Keep clicking, and you'll end up with reams of numbers and charts on yourself. The "RiskCalc," for example, will tell you your odds of contracting certain diseases or kicking off prematurely based on factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, nutrition. After 15 minutes or so of working up all this handy info on myself, I feel pretty damn winded. Time for a nap.


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