The six-fingered man from “The Princess Bride” once said, “If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.” This principle still holds true today but has now been amended to: “If you have your health, great — you just might have to spend everything you have to get it.” Unlike illegal immigration or tax increases, health care costs can actually inflict severe damage on your economic viability, and that’s not including the added agony involved in dealing with the faceless tyranny of medical insurers.
Despite how aggravating it can be to be a customer of the health care industry, there are still a lot of people shuffling through the supermarket whose body dimensions don’t seem to reflect any concern about the potential hazards of a hospital visit. And while our nation’s citizens are waiting in line at the McDonald’s drive-through, our government is nobly footing their medical bills, siphoning funds away from schools, parks and police departments to do so.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about what can be done to get more people to live a lifestyle that doesn’t require a medley of medications to sustain it, but those discussions have yet to bring the United States out of its cardiovascular conundrum. It seems the time has come for a solution that is improbable, unprecedented and theoretically helpful. Hence, the Prefontaine plan.
If your high school physical education teacher had any historical acumen, you may have had the good fortune to watch a movie about Steve Prefontaine during class one day. Prefontaine ran track for the University of Oregon, and, through a unique combination of charisma and determination, became something of a cult hero both in the state and in the track and field community at large before his life was cut short by a car accident.
What the Prefontaine plan would do is provide motivation for the average cubicle worker to maintain some minimum level of physical fitness. What is that minimum level? It’s being able to run a mile in seven minutes or less. Make it around the track in that amount of time, and there’s going to be a $1,000 check waiting for you at the finish line, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Treasury. Because, what could be a more brilliant way to save our country from financial ruin than having the government give away more money. And under the Prefontaine plan, you earn $1,000 every year that you’re able to meet the seven-minute standard. And that’s that.
So how is the Prefontaine plan going to make society significantly healthier and thus reduce medical costs, allowing insurance rates to go down and the government to be financially solvent? Well, being able to run a mile in seven minutes or less means you have at least a moderate level of aerobic ability and willpower, even if you’re only capable of doing it once a year. Also, it involves running, which is one of the easier and more effective ways to stay healthy (and by healthy I mean lower blood pressure, lower pulse, lower risk of cancer, lower stress levels, lower decline in mental functioning, lower levels of insomnia, lower lifestyle gap between yourself and Daniel Day-Lewis’s character in “The Last of the Mohicans,” etc.).
I’m aware that most people perceive the action of running to be a dreary chore, and it absolutely can be if you do most of your running on treadmills or sidewalks, so don’t do that. If the town where you live doesn’t have a beach, a forest, a park, a hill or any other natural landforms, then I’d suggest you move or conduct your running during twilight hours.
Without the Prefontaine plan, there’s not much evidence to suggest that people are going to stop ignoring advice about diet and exercise. With it, that bus driver in South Dakota who just finished her shift suddenly has a pretty good reason to take an evening jog around the neighborhood instead of engulfing a carton of Cheez-Its and watching a “Friends” re-run. And so, hypothetically, a titanic wave of new running enthusiasts is unleashed, extinguishing the rising inferno of chronic illness in America, reducing demand for medical care, increasing the productivity and longevity of the workforce and diminishing the number of people who can’t afford private health insurance because of pre-existing conditions.
The people of America are in dire need of a collective goal to strive for, so why not try to become the fastest country in the world?
Connor Hastings is a master’s student in environmental studies & management.