This is the prepared text of a talk presented April 8, 2014, at the University of Arkansas Community College Batesville in its Lunch 'n' Learn series on Wellness.

Check out our archive for previous travels On the Road, and remember we invite you to share your own story, cause or advice with our members.

On the Road to Wellness

Hello. Let me introduce myself: Bruce Oakley, president of the White River Roadrunners and a co-director of the free Women Run Arkansas-Batesville clinic. I am a certified running coach through the Roadrunners Club of America, which means I have CPR training, running experience and passed an intensive two-day Continuing Ed coaching course.

I began running in 1972 as a freshman on the high school cross country team, though I have spent a few years recently couchbound with chronic illness. I have run for fun, run competitively, run to help others, run for health, run to the bathroom – well, you get the idea.

Today, I get to run my mouth to encourage you to RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.

I'm a writer by training, not a speaker, so let me start with a story and maybe that will help me not to bore you too much with bland delivery.

The story begins in Little Rock, the population center and capital of our fine state: You are standing on a corner waiting to cross the light to go to your favorite restaurant, talking to your best friend or maybe a family member or business associate. Time for lunch, dinner, coffee and doughnuts — you can choose some of the details of this story yourself. While you're waiting to cross, another acquaintance walks up and says hello. Everybody with me? Three of you talking. We've already come to the sad part of the story — odds are one of you is obese! A report revisited last week in USA Today ranked Little Rock as the fifth-worst metropolitan area in the U.S. with nearly 36% of its population considered dangerously overweight. This was not census or medical data, but a phone survey with sufficient sampling to be considered reliable.

In general, urban populations or anyplace with a significant concentration of poor people were under threat from this problem, so the situation may not be as bad in Batesville as it is in Little Rock, but it's not good anywhere in the nation.

Another report I read last week in womensrunning.competitor.com: "In a study conducted by the CDC, researchers found that less than 20 percent of Americans get the recommended levels of exercise, and more than a quarter of U.S. adults do not devote any time to physical activity."

So, back at our street corner in Little Rock, one of you likely does no exercise at all and even if there were five of you instead of three, still only one of you would even approach the recommended activity level.

Despite the problem of poverty, we have easy access to food, but we don't eat well and many, many of us simply don't move. Some of those same poor people have to work all of the time to make ends meet — but that's not exercise.

Running — which for our purposes includes walking for exercise — is a simple yet powerful solution. And it works for almost everyone at any stage of life or in any condition.

According to WebMD: "Sedentary women 65 years and older who began walking a mile a day cut their rates of death from all causes by 50%."

A mile a day — a brisk walk is 15 minutes a mile, so 15 minutes a day — can add years to your life.

A rule of thumb is that it takes only 25 minutes of heart-pumping exercise three times a week to maintain heart health. Less than an hour and a half a week. Now, that's 25 minutes at an elevated heart rate, so there's warm-up and cool-down time, then the 25 "hard" minutes, so it's a bit bigger investment, but still a couple of TV shows a week! But more than 25 minutes or more than three times a week is for something other than health — maybe you love it, maybe you're competing, but to be healthy it's just 25 by 3. I have seen recommendations for 30 minutes a day of exercise, which is good to keep in the habit, but if you can get out the door and get going, 25 by 3 will serve.

And just what will that 25 by 3 do for you? A report just last week indicates that running helps preserve brain function through middle age.

A question was raised after the talk on how to deal with shin splints. Here's one answer from womensrunning.competitor.com. Runner's World also has a helpful, readily searchable archive full of information on injury prevention and treatment, and WebMD is another good place for basic information. But always consult a medical professional rather than the Internet when the need arises.

Runner's World published an article in July 2013 on 9 benefits of running: Grows cartilage, aids hearing, saves skin, reduces migraines, regenerates muscle, eases anxiety, prevents GI/lung cancer, improves brain function, builds bones.

And running is simple to start: You need only get shoes, add clothes befitting your modesty (loose, comfortable; layers), then put one foot in front of the other. You also need a safe place or a safe group.

Running is easier than equivalent alternatives:

Matching exercise for a moderate 12:00 mile pace is live sparring for a martial artist, step aerobics, carrying 25-50 pounds up and down stairs, fast calisthenics, cycling 12-15 mph.

Running is easy to improve: It is a tremendous sport for the shy and insecure. I tell the high school beginners this: You are in control of how good you are. If you're the little kid, you have power and efficiency; if you're the lanky kid, you have length and ease; if you're overweight, you have power and will move faster and faster with the same effort as you sweat away pounds. If you think you don't have the best coordination, you will refine your movements with practice and you probably have an advantage of willpower. All it takes to run better is to repeat regularly; make simple, small movements; learn relaxation techniques. One more improvement aid that's not entirely in your control: Find friends!

Batesville is a good place for that. Here at UACCB, Tina Paul has the Wellness initiative that brought me here today. Chris Dickie is working on starting a formal running club on campus with ideas for workouts, races and neighborly challenge with Lyon College — and an association with the White River Roadrunners.

So finding yourself a posse should not be a problem.

Running has easy goals, if you will let yourself be patient as you aim for them. Some can aim for distance, some for time, some for weight. You determine who you should be, and you find someone who can help get you there.

Again, around here, that's pretty easy. The White River Roadrunners have three more certified coaches besides me, and we can develop programs for you or the UACCB club. Last year, we had 20 races in Batesville alone, one every 2 1/2 weeks and several more within 45 minutes drive.

We have 125 members in our club this year, but that's not everyone who's running. Our Challenge Series counted more than 370 men and women who ran a local race last year. Mac's Race Timing handled 11 races in town last year with 2,400 finishers. That included more than 1,000 in the big AfterGLO celebration with the White River Water Carnival.

The free Batesville clinic of the Women Run Arkansas program has more than 200 registrants this year. Last year, we had 130, with 65 running at least one of our three timed miles and 30 making it through the 10 weeks to the graduation 5K in Conway.

So there are plenty of folks out there who absolutely will partner with you or mentor you or support you. Runners are the kindliest competitors of any sport. They will happily leave you in the dust in a race, but they also will be glad when it's over to tell you how you can catch them, and they'll work with you all week to help you try again.

Runners help you. Running helps you.

You can connect with them at the White River Roadrunners Web page or the Women Run Arkansas-Batesville clinic Web page. Those pages have links to related Facebook pages and all sorts of information about running and running in the area. The Women's Clinic Web page has links to a collection of posts for beginners to help you select shoes and improve technique and attitude. The posts are written to take you from "what's running?" to "how do I win my age group at the 5K?"

Commit to yourself, Join this wonderful running community. Put one foot in front of the other. Repeat.

RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!