The quartet appears to make up the most workout-obsessed Republican and Democratic tickets in U.S. history. So to put it bluntly -- sorry, America -- this year's physically fit presidential and vice-presidential candidates look absolutely nothing like America. (To wit: A new Gallup poll released Thursday revealed that -- in all 50 states -- the majority of adults are overweight or obese).
Romney, 65, was asked about how he stays in shape by CBS's Gayle King earlier this week on "This Morning."
"I notice you didn't mention that P90X workout," said King, referring to the DVD set of intense 60-minute workouts led by fitness guru Tony Horton that were popularized by infomercials and sell users on dramatic physical improvements in 90 days. "So, is that something that's on your game plan, too? What are you doing to stay in shape?"
"You know, I have never tried that," said Romney. "I might have [Ryan] show me how to do it someday. You know, I get on the elliptical or the treadmill or stationary bike about 40 minutes and that's about it for me. But that workout of his -- he's in pretty darn good shape."
Candidates bantering about their fitness levels? We've come a long, long way since the Johnson/Humphrey ticket in 1964.
"I hate to put it this way, but sex sells and people want to look at good-looking things and good-looking people," said personal trainer Jake Westhoff.
In a curious juxtaposition, while America's waistline expands the candidates gunning for the White House have never looked better. Although we've seen trim, athletically minded tickets before (most recently, John Kerry and John Edwards), few have exhibited such a commitment to physical fitness as this year's crop.
In short, it's flat stomachs, across the board.
"You look at Paul Ryan and he's a fitness fanatic," said Margo Carper, a personal trainer based in Washington whose clients have included Madeleine Albright and Ben Bradlee. "There's absolutely no belly there. Mitt Romney is about as trim and in shape as a 65-year-old gets. Obama is running up and down the court with the likes of LeBron and Kobe. And have you seen Biden chase around kids on the White House lawn with a water gun? When's the last time you saw a guy almost 70 with that much spring in his step?"
But in a world where image is everything, ego often plays a role as well in motivating guys and gals to hit the gym.
"They know the health benefits, the strength benefit, but, honestly, there's a vanity part of it as well," said Richard Salke, a trainer whose resume includes stints as a physiology instructor at the University of Maryland and developer of training regimens for the Secret Service."With politicians, I think the mentality is, you're projecting an image of looking good, that you are good, that you are strong, that you have what it takes to be a leader. I think that's part of it."
Salke added, "I think we're done seeing a sloppy guy with his belly spilling over his pants. I don't think we're ever going to see that again ...There aren't any Ted Kennedy-types who really let themselves get out of shape in the latter part of their careers. Image is important, how they project, how they look to their constituents, how they're viewed by the public in a particular forum."
Obama, 51, has made it a regular habit to hit the gym -- even when on vacation -- and gets in some exhaustive basketball games as often as he can. How tiring are they? POTUS will actually get mad at you if you go easy on him. And, when photos appeared of Obama shirtless in 2008, the reaction was universal: America wasn't used to a president who looked this good in a swimsuit.
Biden's fitness regimen is admittedly a lot less strenuous and showy than the those of other three, but it works, nonetheless. He's committed to running, biking and strengthening his core.
There are the standard benefits of staying in shape -- a reduced chance of heart disease and high blood pressure, promotion of good lipoproteins and reduction of triglycerides, among them -- and then there are the benefits to campaign life: Increased energy, improved mood, better sleep, that winning look.
And, of course, weight loss. Although New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's name was frequently bandied about as a potential vice-presidential pick by Romney, the focus of alltoomuchpunditry centered around one particular question: Was he too fat to handle the campaign trail?
But the personality traits that define such committed fitness buffs are as revealing -- and often overlooked -- as most any other part of their personal biographies.
John Raglin, who teaches sports psychology at Indiana University, says intense fitness regimens are attractive to "high achievers."
"There's good evidence that people who are intrinsically motivated and interested in achievement often are successful exercisers and have good exercise habits," Raglin told POLITICO. "There's evidence that higher levels of education and knowledge also translate into better exercise habits."
Carper adds, "The more extreme workouts are geared towards the Type A personalities which politics is full of."
The 42-year-old Ryan does more than simply P90X: He monitors his heart rate, knows his body fat (6 percent to 8 percent, the envy of any 40-something male) and has even taken an aggressive approach to mountain climbing, having scaled 40 of Colorado's 54 peaks 14,000 feet or higher.
Laurent Amzallag, a trainer who's worked with the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, said that people who are attracted to demanding exercise programs "are the kind of people who want to be the best at everything."
"If they have a job, they want to be on top of their game," Amzallag said. "If they want to do a workout, give me the hardest workout you can find. Paul Ryan is a politician, so it's going to be the kind of person who wants the top positions, he wants everything in his life to be tough."
Raglin says, "I think that candidates are very aware of the way they look and that their personal habits -- rightly or wrongly -- reflect their inner motivation and discipline and drive. They're very cognizant of the possibility that their appearance will be interpreted by others."
That has its own political advantages.
"If a person takes care of himself, he's going to be a hard worker," said Amzallag. "It goes into their job, especially with their jobs, which are extremely stressful. If you don't work out, you're screwed."
"Everybody who's fat and unhealthy wants that drive and motivation that Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney have," Westhoff said. "That's what people are starting to aspire to be."
Romney may not partake in the aggressive infomercial workouts that his running mate does, but his commitment is no less intense: To get those three miles in each day, he'll use a gym treadmill or, worst-case scenario, even run around whatever hotel he's staying in. And Romney family vacations aren't simply lounge-by-the-poolside affairs: They host their own "Romney Olympics," in which family members compete in such activities as a triathlon and a football throwing contest.
Then, there's the downside: The challenge for what may be a future of GQ-esque politicians is the risk that they could come off as almost too impressive. Some experts say many voters prefer the average-guy candidate who's "just like us" or who they'd like to have a beer with. Americans warmed to the weight struggles of Bill Clinton and related to his guilty trips to McDonald's.
Raglin, for example, tells many of the personal trainers he works with that their own retelling of their fitness levels is not exactly inspiring to clients.
"You're doing so much more than the average person, that they can't identify with you," he tells them.
"Some of these programs -- and I can't speak to Ryan personally, although he's been involved in a lot of intense programs -- they say, 'Oh, I'm doing P90X or Insanity' or whatever and it's almost like a proclamation. Are you really doing it? Or is it more like bragging rights or that sort of thing?" asked Raglin. "When you find out what people's body fats are like, I kind of just groan. It's just like, 'Oh boy, oh it's 6 percent.' It's like with Hollywood stars and they go on these programs where they gain 30 percent of lean body mass and it's just like, yeah right. It's the issue of publicity after a while."
"I think it can be a liability," said Carper. "People could look at that stuff and say, 'That's not me.' So you have to find a way to showcase what you're doing so that people can relate to what you're doing."
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