I never thought I would say the following … I enjoy going to the gym. I have been going for around a month now, pretty much everyday for at least half-an-hour. I have also often followed a gym session with a relaxed swim. My diet has also changed. I have had practically no really bad food since I started going to the gym. Weight has started to reduce, a few kilos already, and my body shape is changing.
These incredible changes have been brought about as a direct reaction on my part to my brother falling ill recently. He is seven years older than me, but not as overweight and has always been a lot more active than me. Whereas I have preferred to watch tv, read a book, play on my computers, he has mostly been out and about, often walking, working on restoring some historical/.mining related location, or clambering through pot-holes. We both have stressful jobs, although he generally has worked fewer hours and close to home, but he has recently faced stressful job security issues. A month or so ago, he essentially suffered a mild stroke. He has largely recovered and is reportedly very lucky to have done so. He continues to be at risk though and faces life style challenges himself. His experience has been something of a wake-up call to me though.
In my youth
There was a brief period many years ago when I was pretty fit. It was after school, when I was away in higher-education. Free from, by many standards, a very comfortable working-class home environment, but surprisingly inhibiting and stressful upbringing and a difficult school life where I was bullied regularly my lifestyle changed substantially: I exercised a lot more, ate very differently, and started to learn martial arts. I was a vegan vegetarian for a good while before discovering my body lacked certain dietary capabilities that meant I really did need to eat meat.
Whilst at secondary school, I suffered pretty badly with asthma, which was poorly medicated in those days. No doubt it was at least partly psychosomatic in relation to the bullying. That meant I did not take part in much physical education (another bullying victim opportunity). My parents had no particular interest in sports. I remember my brother being interested in football, but it did not appeal to me, and the seven year age gap meant playing any games against each other was not that practical. Before I reached secondary school, I had been a very active child, just not in sports. I had even won athletics badges!
Later, having lost interest in studying not least because I found I could write some software, make some money, then spend it all going crazy and travelling, I found myself in some difficult places in the world, but at least built on my initial martial arts training to a, er, higher level. Maybe I had bridged the troubles experienced during my secondary years, reconnecting with that active young boy.
Leaving higher-education without a degree (not that modular those days, but I passed with ease exams for both my subject and an alternative subject that happened to be of passing interest, and completely failed to get most course-work in because I was too disinterested), and returning home was my undoing. I slipped back into old lethargy and eating habits. My work was sedentary, my interests muted, and my physical activity much attenuated.
A year or so later, following closure of the place I was working in and a last minute reprieve that had me one of few transfered to another location (Ripley in Derbyshire) saw me buying my first home. A nice semi-detached 2 bedroom home.
I adapted to the local drinking and take-away culture with ease and a little too much commitment. Very rarely drunk though (I am a big guy) – losing control of my mind was always something that bothered me.
A few years later, amazingly I was happily married, moved to Cambridgeshire, and awaiting my first child. My wife was a lot fitter than me and had been at least active in a few sports. Unfortunately, my bad habits rubbed off on her somewhat. It didn’t help that I did most of the cooking in those days, and tended to cook too much very rich food.
The things that really did for me, was moving into consulting style work. This was at first in the engineering world, then in retail and ultimately as a management consultant. Each successive step saw me spending more and more time away from home, eating out a lot, and living in hotels. Over 10 years living in hotels four nights every week and selecting from hotel room service menus from memory was not going to help anyone’s health.
A lot of my colleagues were very dedicated at going running, playing team sports and spending time at the gym. Even thinking about it made me feel tired. I would much rather just fire up my laptop and get back to work or learning some other niche element of the IT world.
However, for the last year or so I have worked in one location for one client and rather than live in a hotel, I have been able to live in a flat rented for me. (Cheaper for all than a hotel.) Having fallen somewhat out of practise, I have had to cook for myself regularly. It began to make a small difference.
Eating a little better in your flat, does not really help that much again eating too much at lunch time and in the flat, snaking all the time, and taking no exercise.
I really was not keen on going to the gym. The one exercise I had done semi-regularly over the years was swimming. A key disadvantage of no longer staying in a hotel every week was the loss of free convenient access to a swimming pool.
Over the last few years, the family had been members of several health-clubs with swimming pools, and we went fairly regularly. These were expensive though, and the clubs we chose were, frankly, not that great. I had excluded the major fitness changes (Cannons, as was, for example) from our selection as my image of these was not positive (for all the wrong reasons – assumed full of fitness fanatics and would feel deeply out of place).
Following my brother’s health scare though, my wife persuaded me to look at local gain fitness centres. This was for the benefit of the other family members, with me expected to only use the swimming pool at weekends with some vague possibility of perhaps using the gyms in some distant future. We joined a DW Fitness club. My wife and older daughter with student membership (£30 a month, any time access, pause on application when away from home) and me with off-peak corporate membership (£20 a month).
My younger daughter (17) has suffered problems with her back for many years. There is no serious medical problem, but her back is weak from some injuries sustained some years ago. She really needs to use a gym and build up her strength. When she challenged me over dinner one evening to use the gym (expressing concern for my health) and responded that I would if she would (expecting her to say no). She said she would, much to her surprise. We signed her up to the student deal.
After a few visits, we both discovered that we liked the gym, and found it is making a difference
In parallel with this, I stopped eating bad food most of the time. No chocolate, no cakes, no sweets. I have fruit. A lot. I also choose what I eat more carefully. Avoiding chips and pastry.
I feel good, and I feel positive. Time will tell if I can keep it up.
A couple of colleagues, and a client have commented out of the blue that I am losing weight. One asked if I was going to buy some smaller, better fitting clothes [thank you – you know who you are]. Rarely for me, I was pretty much speechless as I had not realised there was a change in my appearance already until the first of these comments. That helps. Maybe there is hope for me after all.