PORTLAND, Ore. – When Robert Sweetgall left his high-paying job as a chemical engineer almost 30 years ago, he knew he was staring death in the face. His father, aunt, and uncle, all died at an early age of heart disease.
And his greasy, high-cholesterol diet wasn't doing him any favors. So he did what any sane, single bachelor would do who questioned the meaning of life. He put a few things in a fanny pack, opened the front door, and started out on an 11,028-mile walking journey that would take him across the United States seven times.
Known as "The Real Forrest Gump," Robert Sweetgall shared his experience, walking tips, and health and wellness advice at Wellsource, Inc., on May 17, 2012. He is the founder of Creative Walking Inc., author of 17 books, and a longtime advocate for improving physical activity.
One Step at a Time
"I wasn't always the healthiest guy," Sweetgall said. "I was a junk-food fanatic when I was younger, and kids gave me the nickname 'Butterball.' If I had taken an HRA back then, I would have been pronounced dead upon completion. In school I liked sports, though I hated physical education. But when I saw a lot of my family members die from heart disease, I knew I had to do something different."
In the three decades since he walked off the job, Sweetgall has taught and inspired millions of people to be more physically active. He's appeared on the CBS Morning News and National Public Radio, and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, and others. At 65 years old, he's still trim and quick on his feet. And he continues to exercise regularly and share his message that he hopes will inspire others to get moving.
Wellness at Work
"There's a lot of talk about healthcare reform in this country," Sweetgall said. "But what we need most is lifestyle reform! Too many people would rather take medication than get off the couch. Improving our health is really about how we move, what we eat, and how we treat our bodies."
During Sweetgall's cross-country adventures on foot, he wore through scores of custom-made shoes. He developed his own treatment to care for his feet. And he meticulously tracked the food he ate as part of a study for the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. He lost 11 pounds of body fat during his first journey across the country on foot, burning an estimated 1.6 million calories by putting one foot in front of the other. Walking an average of 30 miles a day gave him a lot of time to think about the message he wanted to share with people.
"If you want to add years to your life, reduce stress, and double your productivity, take a five or 10-minute walk before work or school every day," Sweetgall said. "Park your car at the far end of the parking lot, and walk to the store instead of circling around in your car. Just do something to make physical activity a part of your life. Then take it one step at a time."