Do the polka and take a quick step toward fitness

Mike Royko zzB

January 15, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

Mike Royko is on vacation. During his absence, we are reprinting some of his favorite columns. This column first ran in 1981.

HARDLY A DAY PASSES without a new book being published on exercise and physical fitness. Authors of these books, male and female and debatable, turn up on the TV shows to flex themselves and demonstrate methods for staying young, fit, and boring.

But despite the national craze for daily strenuous exercise, many people still refuse to take part.

You mention jogging, the most popular form of exercise, and they say: "I hate running." Or: "It hurts my knees." Or: "I'm too old and I don't want to die of a heart attack alone and unloved on a jogging path."

If you suggest one of the court games, such as tennis, racquetball, or handball, they say: "It costs too much," or "I don't have time," or "I don't want to die of a heart attack alone and unloved in a strange shower."

You can propose one of the clubs that has all those muscle-building machines and they'll respond: "I don't want to get a hernia," or "It's boring," or "I don't want to die of a heart attack alone and unloved and with 200 pounds of iron on my chest."

They even reject brisk walking, which many fitness experts now say is just as good as jogging. "It takes too long." "It's dull." "I don't want to die alone and unloved after some mugger hits me with a brick."

Although it hasn't been written yet, the planned title is: "The Fitness Book for People Who Hate Running, Walking, Cycling and Hitting Balls But Have Got Good Rhythm."

I will be the co-author of this book, with Fats Grobnik, who is my friend Slats Grobnik's lesser-known brother.

The idea for the book was conceived this way:

While out strolling the other day, I saw in the distance a man who appeared to be dancing a polka as he moved along the sidewalk.

As I drew nearer, I could see that he had his arms extended as if he was dancing with a very fat lady, except that he was dancing alone.

He was doing the traditional brisk polka steps, frequently stomping his feet, bouncing, whirling in circles, but all the time moving steadily along.

As I passed him, he called my name and said hello.

"Do we know each other?" I asked.

"Don't you recognize me?" he said. "I'm Fats Grobnik, your friend Slats Grobnik's lesser-known brother."

"No!" I said. "But you are so lean and catlike. You look no more than 22, and I know you must be at least 45."

He flashed a Robert Redford grin and said: "I'm 47, actually."

"And you used to weigh 300 pounds and became exhausted just from riding an escalator."

"Actually, I weighed 330 and became winded just from the exertion of snoring. But that was the old me. Before I found my secret fitness plan."

"Running? Nautilus machines? Bike riding? What is it?"

He shook his head. "None of them. It's the polka."

"I can't believe it."

"It's true. I discovered it this way. As you know, I am the leader and accordionist in the Fats Grobnik Whoopee Polka Band, and for years I've been playing hundreds of Polish weddings and other society events."

"Yes, you've my favorite recording star."

"Thank you. Anyway, I noticed something. Over the years, I kept seeing the same people, decade after decade, doing the polka at these weddings. And as they got older, they got more spry and healthier and lived to incredible ages. Meanwhile, those who didn't polka, but instead drank shots and beers and danced an occasional tango, were dropping like flies.

"So I began doing scientific research, wiring the old polka dancers to record their pulse, repiration, and things like that. I discovered that dancing every polka at a wedding provided as much exercise and burned up as many calories as running in the Chicago Marathon or single-handedly moving all the furniture in a two-flat."


"And if you danced with a large enough woman, it would increase your biceps by two inches, your shoulder width by 10 percent, your neck size by three inches, assuming you tried to dance cheek to cheek."

"I can't believe it."

"It's true. So I decided to try it myself. Every day I danced. First for two minutes, then five, then 10, steadily increasing my stamina and strength."

"What happened?"

"I was evicted by my landlord downstairs. And that's when I started traveling this way."

"What way?"

"By doing the polka. I no longer walk anywhere. I polka where I'm going. Instead of walking to the corner bar, I polka there. When I go shopping, I polka to the store. When I go to the bus stop, I polka there while I'm waiting. And if the bus isn't crowded, I polka in the aisle. I never just walk anywhere. I polka there. Even when I go to the bathroom. And when I add it up, I'm polkaing about five to 10 miles a day."

"Incredible. You look like a new man."

"Ah, but there are other benefits. When you're walking or even jogging, a criminal can sneak up behind you, right? But not me. Because I'm constantly whirling as I polka along, so I see everything around me."

"So you lower the crime rate as well as stay fit?"

"Right. If everybody did this, we would have a much safer, happier and healthier city."

"Yes, I can see it -- millions of Chicagoans doing the polka everywhere they go. This city would be unique. Why, we should write a book about it."

"I'm all for it," Fats said as he whirled off down the street.

So those of you who want to get in shape in a new way, just watch for the book and for Fats flashing across your TV screen on all the talk shows.

I'll begin writing it just as soon as I can stop whirling.

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