So… it’s a lovely, warm autumn afternoon, and I thought I’d go out for a little stroll, just to get some air. I’d seen workmen in my local park recently, and it looked like they were laying a path. ‘Yippee!’ I thought. They laid a path half way around the park a couple of years ago, which I’ve been enjoying several times a week. I have a nice circuit, half way round inside the park perimeter, and the other half out in the street. Now I’d be able to walk all the way around inside the park, and I wouldn’t need to go on the streets at all. Three or four circuits would make a great little walk, and so close to home.
So I set off, in a more cheerful mood than is apparent from this picture…
The path looked interesting… promising, wouldn’t you agree?
It wound steadily downwards, following the shrubbery at the edge of the park. Previously this area was boggy and sludgy – good for dog-walkers with wellies but not for me in my trendy, porous Skechers.
The path, I was already thinking, was an excellent addition to an already very pleasing local amenity.
Further along there are fifty yards of blackberry bushes. I wondered if there would be anything left on them, musing that I should have brought along a tub or a bowl. Foraged food…. nice.
This week’s guest blogger has a truly inspirational story – and I’m so glad he agreed to venture on to my blog to tell it. Davey has turned his life around with a quite phenomenal weight loss – and he’s still going. I stumbled across Davey’s blog by accident a couple of months ago. He’s been documenting his life-changing transformation (more than that, I’ll leave him to explain) and his incredible attitude to walking off his surplus pounds. I commend Davey’s blog to you – he writes with emotional intelligence, insight and honesty. He speaks right to the heart. Without further ado…
DAVEY – LEARNING TO LIVE LIFE
When Julie asked me if I’d like to write a guest post I was extremely flattered – but also suddenly a little overwhelmed. I looked at Geoff and Ritu’s excellent pieces – and realised that in order to be a passing contributor I’d have to explain who I am – which is something that sometimes I’m still honestly not sure about myself.
The reason for this is that I’m still very much in transition as far as weight loss goes – and I still have a long way to go. At my last reckoning I still have lose the weight of a fridge freezer.
However, let me wind the clock back to January 2016 where, in a period of personal crisis surrounding the death of my mother I had received a stark wake up call.
My mother was a committed smoker and a stubborn lady. She’d never even tried to stop – or for that matter wanted to as far as I can remember – and even when she knew it was killing her she carried on regardless. Over several months I sat and watched her tied to oxygen tubes and slowly drowning in her armchair – yet even this failed to dampen her resolve to have a cigarette.
I wasn’t angry with her though – and it was this realisation that proved to be my turning point.
I understood her.
As I sat and watched my mom trying to breathe I realised that I was doing the same to myself with alcohol and food. My drinking had always been generous. I’d over imbibed as long as I can remember – and by the time she passed I was (in part due to the increased stress surrounding this event) regularly consuming three bottles of wine in an evening.
I later worked out that my food and drink intake back then was around 8000 kcal a day.
I did no exercise, had a sedentary lifestyle, oedemas in my feet and lower legs, sleep apnea, continual bouts of cellulitis, high cholesterol, borderline high blood pressure, type two diabetes that was spiralling out of control and I was becoming practically immobile. I only moved between my living room and my office (with my car this was probably less than 100m a day) and everything else in my life required home delivery.
A number of things happened in those moments sitting at her side.
Firstly I decided to give up drinking. This was pretty much immediate. The last one passed my lips on the 26th January 2016.
Secondly I decided to give up my job – which oddly enough worked out quite well because I was unexpectedly made redundant.
Thirdly I needed to get fit and healthy – but this would be a long road. I’d tried exercise very early on after giving up alcohol but it was a massive struggle. I couldn’t walk to the end of my road (around 200m) and back without being in agonising pain. When I did so the first time I tore both calf muscles and ended up with long term plantar fasciitis.
By the time April rolled around I was still alcohol free and my clothes actually felt a little looser. I decided it was time to join some form of group and happened to notice that my old next door neighbour was running a Slimming World meeting nearby. I went along, and listened to the plan and the group talk. Then – when everyone had left the room – I stood on a pair of scales capable of weighing me for the first time in about 8 years.
The consultant quietly read out my weight.
I was 34st 8.5lbs (approx 220kg).
When I arrived at the meeting that day this is roughly how I looked and these were also the clothes that I was wearing. The waistline of my jeans was 66 inches and my shirt was an 8XL.
In order to reach my ‘healthy’ BMI (12st 7lbs) I would need to lose 22st.
I went home and cried. I honestly couldn’t believe how bad things had managed to get and how low I’d sunk.
Although I had a slow start with Slimming World I eventually got my head around the plan and started to embrace their approach to grouping foods as ‘speed’ ‘free’ and ‘syns’ (amongst others).
I – like many others had tried a lot of diets over the years – and in all cases had lost weight, but then almost immediately regained it and more. I’d been to Weight Watchers (twice), followed the Atkins plan (twice), did the Cambridge Diet (twice), the Harcombe diet, Juicing diets, NHS healthy eating plans, Slim-Fast (on this one I lost count of the number of times), and I’d even been to Slimming World before.
Any progress I made was destroyed when I stopped dieting.
Although I can’t claim to have arrived at my current approach immediately I began quite quickly to treat my new membership in a slightly different way to previous attempts. This couldn’t be a diet. It had to be a wholesale lifestyle change. I had to develop a new way of living.
I wanted ‘a new normal‘.
Slowly but surely I began to view all pre-prepared meals and the vast majority of processed food as the enemy. I have either completely stopped eating it or have it very occasionally. I don’t do ‘fakeaways’ (SW friendly versions of takeaways) which are a big thing in my group – because a fake kebab or a fake pizza just reminds me of all the bad things I used to like to eat and maintains my taste for the types of food that got me into trouble in the first place.
I don’t want to crave them in any form any more because if I at some point ‘fall off the wagon’ I want to have re-trained my palette so much that when I falter – I reach for cottage cheese and olives rather than calling for a Dominos Pizza delivery.
For this reason I also don’t do snack food like crisps or chocolate, and I usually (but not exclusively) use my syns within my cooking instead of on treats. If I feel like adding avocado to a salad or a drizzle of olive oil to a vinaigrette then thats where my points for the day normally get used.
As I started losing weight and began to feel more active I started trying to walk around my local park – which has lots of benches, a flat circuit and is exactly a mile long.
The first few times I did this resulted in way more time sitting than standing – and a lap took over an hour. I used to refer to my early attempts as ‘bench pressing’ – because sitting down to recover occupied the lion’s share of the time I spent there.
Gradually however things improved and bit by bit my recovery time (I was continually struggling with injury) got better and better. After a while I was able to walk seven miles in a week – but still couldn’t do a whole mile in one go without resting along the way.
As time went on and I lost more and more weight I found that I sat less, and my recovery time increased. I could do more things in a day and my sleep was improving. I felt better all the time. Before I knew it in the space of a few months I could walk seven miles in a week, then 14, then 30!
It was still hard going – but I had started to really enjoy walking.
Oh – and remember the fridge freezer? Due to all the activity I’d lost the seven stone that this item represented by October.
It wasn’t until I got out and about that I truly appreciated how small my world had become.
I can now walk over 70 miles in a week – and have been plotting my cumulative distance travelled on foot since last April. By the time December had rolled around I’d walked further than the distance from Land’s End to John o Groats (it’s 847 miles or thereabouts according to Wikipedia).
Now, nearing the end of March 2017 I’m probably about a month away from having walked back again and I can do a mile in around16.5 minutes.
As an added bonus while my exercise levels went up my blood sugar levels went down. Previously I had to take five tablets a day to control my levels, but gradually I’ve managed to bring my HbA1c readings under control. They’ve dropped from 94 mmol/mol (the stratospherically high level I had when I was first diagnosed) to 30 mmol/mol at my last test.
Currently I take no medication and can manage my condition by diet and exercise alone.
My blood pressure has also massively improved. Previously I was on the cusp of it being classified as high but now it’s now 124/70. This is less than the level of a man of a lower age group than me (the 25-34 bracket is expected to be 131/72 and I’m in my mid 40’s.)
I still have the clothes I was wearing in those earlier photos (in case you wondered) but they now look a little different on me. I currently weigh 22st 5lbs and I’ve lost over 12 stone. The waistline of the jeans I’m wearing as I type (which are also under my old clothes in this photo) are a 50 inch waist and are falling down. I’ve ordered some 48’s.
My shirt size is now 4XL and I’m able to get into some larger 3XL tops, depending on the shop.
It’s not been an easy road though, and while I can say that I am now both the fittest and healthiest I have ever been in my entire life there are other emotional and mental hurdles to overcome related to this massive change.
My journey has made me question everything about my life, and examine every decision that I make now and also made in the past.
I’ve made choices in my life for so long with weight and mobility as my primary motivator that I’ve not stopped to think before what I’d do if they were no longer a problem.
The worry that’s always with me though is will I manage to keep off all the weight I’ve lost?
I have to believe I will. I can do anything I want to do. All I have to do is want it enough.
Now I can sit in restaurant booths and normal cinema seats, I can wear a seatbelt in other people’s cars, I can sleep on my back, I can stand for hours rather than minutes, I can wear the upper end of clothing from high street shops, I can put my socks on while I’m standing up, I can get into my bath and have a soak, I can cross my legs while sitting in my armchair, I can use a laptop on my lap, I can walk further and for longer than a lot of my friends.
So what do I do with all of this? Who do I become? Who will I love, what will I do for a living and what will I learn about my new life?
I honestly don’t know – but I’m currently very much enjoying trying to find out. If you want to figure it out with me then pop over to my blog (link) and say hi!
I’m stuck. Again. I’ve been up and down the same three pounds for 10 weeks. I made it to 200 pounds, hit my 70-pound loss marker (a very big deal for me), squeezed out another pound, drifted back over 200 pounds, then back down, back up again, sticky for a week, then down again, dancing around and about the same three frustrating pounds. And it’s gone on for… weeks.
I decided I might try and go back to the way I was eating this time last year, when I was comfortably losing between one and two pounds a week. I hadn’t revisited my food diary for this far back before. So what did I expect to find?
To be frank, I thought I’d be reminded that I was eating a bit less back then than I am today; I thought I’d be forced to face an uncomfortable truth. I expected to be jogged into some kind of ‘fair enough, I get it’ response; I thought I’d be forced to admit that as time has gone on, I’d let things slide a bit.
But I hadn’t. Back then, so it seems, I was if anything eating more – and a little more indulgently – than I am today.
I was still making my breakfast Bircher muesli with sweetened yoghurt (horrors!). I had a couple of favourite pre-made salads and even one or two less processed ready-meals (I hadn’t yet got properly to grips with a change in my cooking habits). I was snacking on cashew nuts and rice crackers, toasting soy and linseed bread. I was tucking into mixed Chinese starters and crispy duck pancakes. I was treating myself to cheeses and pates on a regular basis. I was getting away with all of this, and still losing a comfy pound or more every single week.
So I already eat less. I eat better too; more ingredients, fewer processed items, almost no bread, rice, pasta or potato, no added sugar. But somewhere in there, if I’m to chip away at the remaining 30 pounds or so, adjustments must be made.
When you think about it, it makes sense. I’m hauling around the equivalent of two well-packed medium-sized holiday suitcases LESS than I was this time last year. Logically, it’s taking me less energy to simply… exist; and when it comes to any level of physical activity, I’m expending less energy there too.
When I think back to last year, a simple 40/50-minute stroll was quite an exertion, resulting in me returning home with rather more than a gentle glow about me. I would need to go out on any kind of walk in exercise clothes, and with time for a shower once I got home. My heart-rate from such a walk would be high, my sweat-glands over-active, my muscles twitching from the efforts. Today, a walk is… just a walk; executed in any old clothes, at any old time of the day, and without the need to carry a pocket full of kitchen towel for brow-mopping purposes. The first time I realised I needed to put a jacket ON to go on a walk (rather than strip down to a sleeveless vest, even on the chilliest day), was a joy.
So… two things:
I burn less energy simply existing, so I do need to consume a little less fuel
Without going all gym-bunny (never gonna happen) I need to up the ante a little in the exercise stakes. Walking still, but faster; maybe try that ‘Couch to 5k’ App I’ve been threatening to deploy.
Nothing stays the same. You have to adapt, modify, re-calibrate. Whilst, like last time, it’s been frustrating, getting plateaued, I’m also pleased, as it’s telling me positive things about the impact my lifestyle changes have had on my health and fitness over the last year and more – and that’s all good.
Last autumn I was just a couple of months into my new healthy lifestyle programme. I’d lost perhaps 20 pounds – not that much off what was, back then, a very ample frame. This autumn, with over 70 pounds having relinquished their fleshy grip, I’m feeling the cold more than I’ve done for almost two decades.
For the last several years, I’ve needed nothing more than a scarf about my neck on all but the very coldest days. For the last three years my favourite winter outerwear was in fact a sleeveless waistcoat (big buttons, asymmetrical – I love weird clothes). I never wore hats of any kind (in fact the only one I own is an aritsan bobble hat that I keep in the car in case I break down and have to sit out a frosty night at the wheel). My fingers hadn’t seen the inside of a pair of gloves since those ones you used to get sewn on to a string and threaded through your sleeves as a small child.
So it’s come as some surprise – in a good way – that this autumn on frosty mornings and blustery afternoons, I have been properly, seriously chilly, right into my bones. My built-in duvet – those flumpy folds of laid-down fat – has shrunk from a heady 13-tog to a lightweight 5 or 6. My internal central heating appears to have shifted to an economy setting. In short, I need winter layers like never before!
Yes, friends, that means… shopping (see – there’s an upside to everything). I reason that in the long drawn-out autumn/winter/spring chilliness that we get here in the UK, I’ll get probably 6 months wear out of my purchases, even if I am still on the way down the size ranges. So I’ve gone to town a bit. I’ve treated myself to a faux-fur jacket (sublime and tactile to the point of naughtiness), a leather jacket (my first in thirty years, buttery soft and the colour of a Werther’s Original – sorry!) and a slate grey padded high-neck wind and shower-proof zip-up thing (stylish enough for my vanity, but practical for windy walks). Add a snug pair of woollen gloves (which wouldn’t have squeezed over my chubby digits last winter) and I’m all set.
I have the scarves already, you see, a whole drawer full…
Oh, but there’s still the question of my ears; I seem to have what I can only describe as… delicate ears; they’re temperamental, capricious… unsupportive. As a child I remember being prone to ear infections. As a grown-up I’ve had occasional problems when I went swimming or took a long flight. That was all, until I started walking more regularly. Now I find that if the cold gets into my ears, they protest and deliver me days on end of painful gumminess; and when they’re really playing up, I get bouts of vertigo. In the summer, it’s sufficient to plug in my headphones and walk to music or an audiobook, but the colder weather demands a little extra protection. So I’ve invested in a pair of earmuffs.
Don’t laugh – they’re not the fluffy ‘Princess Leah’ kind, but far more workaday flat-to-the-head ones which hook around the back of my neck. They do the job, even if they do look a wee bit silly. My vanity can bear it if it means my fragile ears stay toasty (but before you ask, that same vanity won’t allow me to upload a photo of me actually wearing the darned things).
Anyway, with my new outerwear, my old scarves and the pragmatic application of silly earmuffs, I’m all set for the cold months ahead and I’m looking forward to my winter walks.
On Friday I awarded myself an unscheduled day off and joined a friend for a walk around Kew Gardens. The weather was not fine, as predicted by the morning forecasts (no surprise there, today’s high-tech meteorological meta-analyses are rarely more than in the general ball-park). Drizzly showers came and went, grim clouds loomed – but the sun broke through often enough to make it a very pleasant few hours.
My friend is a member at Kew and knows her way around, and we were aiming for a walk of up to 3 miles. We entered by Lion Gate and very effectively avoided the queues (useful tip, that). Within a few minutes we got our first view of the Pagoda. See the glowering clouds? The Pagoda was completed in 1762 and is undergoing a bit of restoration over the coming months, so it’s not open at present.
We wandered… Foliage… water… lovely.
No idea what this structure is going to be when it’s finished, but it looks interesting.
A nice view down towards the River Thames.
A very ancient oak tree – apparently a favourite for people who come to meditate beneath its boughs.
Another tree (you can tell I’m not an arboriculturist, can’t you?) Not so ancient, but well-dressed nonetheless.
After a break for coffee (and to dodge a rain shower) at The Orangery, we came upon one of Kew’s new features for this summer. The Great Broad Walk Borders is a truly stunning layout of garden flowers interspersed with seating areas. True, it would have benefitted from a blast of sunshine, but you can’t have everything.
Half way down The Great Broad Walk, we came across another of Kew’s newer installations – The Hive – an intriguing and enormous metal frame representation of a beehive, designed into a meadow environment and meant to teach us all about bees. We listened to a talk about how they communicate about where to find the best flowers, then took the meadow walkway up into the fascinating structure.
Children in particular were loving the chance to look down through the glass floor.
A final look at the borders from the meadow and our walk took us further on, past the Palm House with its precision planting…
And the Japanese Garden and Gateway…
Which afforded another nice glimpse of the Pagoda…
Before we found Lion Gate again and… home.
I just went to walk, but Kew Gardens is a lovely day out, with plenty for all the family from seriously horticultural stuff, to entertainments for children, treetop walkways, installations, sculptures and much more. They’re great at continually updating, finding different ways to engage. In early summer they do outdoor concerts, and I’ve also enjoyed their winter illuminated walk too. Worth a visit if you like your greenery!
Disturbed by the Referendum outcome unfolding overnight and now confirmed (that’s as political as I’m going to get, folks), I took myself out for a very early morning walk, to clear my head. I was out of the door at a few minutes past 6:00am. I thought I’d share my walk – sights, sounds and smells – in case anyone else needs a shot of perspective. It’s just an ordinary walk, a circuit of 2.4 miles (so my Fitbit tells me) around my local streets and park, but this morning, it was a particular tonic:
Out of the house and everything looks and smells fresh. Torrential rain yesterday evening has brought all the gummy grittiness out of the air and the sun is celebrating. Everywhere pavements and roadways bear evidence of mini-floods – rivulets of dirt, gravel and leaf mould have settled into crevices and gutters. I dance over puddles (new trainers, don’t want to spoil them) and walk down the road instead of the pavement in places to avoid splashback. It’s quiet at 6:00am down the back-streets.
This road feels as if it’s out in the country, perhaps because for a stretch, it lacks a pavement, bearing just a painted line to separate vehicle from human traffic. A tall hedge leans, loaded with leftover raindrops; an old wall exudes rich, mulchy odour. Climbing roses droop across the path and I have to duck to clear them.
A car whooshes by, and another. Whooshes is naughty, as this particular stretch of road has a 20mph limit.
A house ripe for renovation, and the garden is overgrown. I can’t help but admire the architectural beauty of a clump of thistles. Onwards, and I pass the school, where a food truck is waiting to be let through the barrier. The driver, a Sikh, smiles and waves. I’m getting more of that sort of thing these days and I can’t deny, I appreciate it. I smile back.
Down a smarter road now, bigger houses set back off the road. I pass a runner and a ‘serious’ cyclist (lycra, helmet, head down). The pavement is uneven, dipping and rising, and as the sun shines in my eyes, I have to watch my feet. I reach my decision corner – go left for a longer walk, right for shorter. I go left.
A house on the corner which has had the builders in for months – I watched them arrive every day in the dark, back in the winter months – is complete, with a new contemporary façade. It’s looking good.
The next road is busier – it’s a bus route and a cut-through. It too has been freshened by last night’s rain, which is a good thing. Yesterday was Bin Day and I had to walk past piles of refuse sacks which ponged mightily. Some always get ripped open by foxes and magpies, and it’s never pretty. Shielding my eyes against the sun, now directly in my face.
I’m by the shops now, an arcade of perhaps two hundred yards, running round a corner. The first of two cafes is just opening up. Already there are builders’ vans in the lay-by, workers waiting to begin their day with a fry-up. Round the corner, the baker is open already, more workers coming and going with sandwich bags. The open door oozes the sickly-sweet odour of iced buns and pastries – it never used to tempt me, and it certainly doesn’t now.
The second café is in full operation, the scent of breakfast fry-up just a little more tempting than sugar icing, but stale fat… no. A man stands outside smoking, fiddling with his phone. More white vans and their branded brothers come and go – this is quite the place for building and renovation trades to congregate.
The all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant, even closed, is cloaked in the stale, sticky odour of sweet-and-sour and stir-fry. Tatty paper notices advising prices and new opening hours cling to the insides of its windows. I hold my breath for a few moments.
Traffic queues beside me now, for the next few hundred yards. I pass my favourite honeysuckle bush, a heady counterpoint to the sweet-and-sour. Cut down a side street where the paving slabs are inexplicably… pink.
My ‘long’ route takes me through a corner of the park; the grass is in need of cutting and that’s unusual, as our local parks are impeccably maintained. The chicken-wire gate to the tennis courts hangs open. I pass through a dank tunnel of foliage and head towards the children’s play area, empty of course, at this hour. I’m even too early for the dog walkers.
As I emerge from the park, I almost bump into a man walking along the pavement. The last part of my walk is uphill, and it takes all my energy. I’ve been keeping up a pace with a fast playlist, and I’m struggling now, but just a few hundred yards to go. The pavement runs alongside the park, but it’s uneven, with big grass-filled cracks between the slabs, so once again, I have to watch my feet. I reach another favourite tree, which I’ve enjoyed watching flourish, from its barren winter state, through the first glimpse of leaves, then blossom, and now full summer greenery. Just a hundred yards to go. The fence beside me reeks of wet wood and creosote – I like it.
Back home, and the first thing I do is check how long my walk took. When I started this healthy lifestyle thing last September, this particular walk (which I took only rarely) would take me 60 minutes, and I’d arrive home with aching hips, pouring with sweat, good for nothing. Today it’s taken me 45 minutes. I’m glowing yes, but it’s a healthy, exercised glow, not a sickly, unfit one. I’m bursting with endorphins, and even the Referendum and its unsettling implications won’t shift my feel-good.
With the proliferation of boot camps, gyms and celebrity fitness DVDs, one might easily imagine that exercise is hard work. But I’m getting healthier and steadily losing weight, on a very moderate exercise regime. I would hardly even call it a regime.
Until the last decade or so, I’d been moderately but consistently active all my life. As a child, I swam (enthusiastically), played hockey (unenthusiastically), netball (defensively), tennis (ambidextrously) and rounders (exceedingly well, if I say so myself). I also walked everywhere, as young people used to do before parents became unpaid taxi services. In my twenties I bounced round a sports hall to the tune of ‘Cecilia’ (Simon & Garfunkel, great bouncy tune) in what used to be called Popmobility classes (that’s before aerobics was even heard of). Since then, over the years, I’ve been a member of no less than four gyms, including three stints with a personal trainer – and that’s not including the one I dated; I’ve cycled (including, just once, doing the London to Brighton Bike Ride), played squash on a weekly basis, gone swimming with the same frequency, walked a mile each way to and from the train station every day, and joined my neighbours for energetic Sunday morning walks.
My periods of supervision by gym-based personal trainers and the London to Brighton notwithstanding, my approach to exercise has been consistent; moderate in preference to extreme, and gently glowing, in preference to sweating-like-a-pig. But if I think back, I realise that over the years I’ve always done something, to aid my physical fitness and counterbalance my largely desk-based occupations.
Until, that is, it all stopped.
Grinding to a Halt
In 2001 I fell victim to a damaging personal relationship and in the middle of that chaos, I was made redundant; a double-whammy that spawned a crisis of confidence. Determined (that’s a bit of a theme in my life) not to let circumstances and my tattered self-esteem beat me, I joined Weightwatchers. Through 2002 I managed the biggest weight loss I had ever, to that point, achieved. But for reasons I don’t fully understand even now, I couldn’t sustain it and the weight piled back on with staggering rapidity. That was when I lost the impetus to take proper care of myself – I gave up. Then the menopause showed up, slamming into me around 2007 and putting paid to what was left of my energy, motivation and self-discipline – and all bets were off.
I spent much of the next eight years sitting for endless hours on my ever broadening bottom, at one desk or another, in one car or another, or in front of the TV. The fact is, when it comes to general fitness and wellbeing, the less you exercise, the less you want to exercise. And the more you sit, the more you need to sit.
Worth saying, the one thing I kept up, right through from 2007, was a weekly one-to-one Pilates training session, and the modest amount of Pilates I did at home, from week to week. Pilates, whilst rarely aerobic, continues to make a vital contribution to my physical wellbeing. I got into it because of chronic back pain (brought on by carrying too much weight – duh); I stayed because I loved it. But more about Pilates on another occasion.
Cranking up the Engine
When I began my new healthy lifestyle last September, I sought help from a number of different sources. One of these was a Great White Elephant which had, a few years previously, taken up residence in my spare bedroom.
I had, in a moment of madness several years earlier, purchased a full-size gym-grade treadmill. I had, with a burst of good intention, converted my spare bedroom into a mini exercise studio, with wooden floor, a TV mounted on the wall, and a fan for comfort. I installed a couple of pieces of Pilates equipment and a vibrating plate thing – and I bought the treadmill. My rationale was, the easier I made it for myself to exercise, the more likely I was to do it. And you can’t get much easier than stepping on to a treadmill in your own spare bedroom, can you?
As it turned out, even that wasn’t easy enough. But that was more about attitude of mind than anything else. And back then, I didn’t have the right one.
So last September, as I began to nourish my body with better food, I turned to my ignored and abandoned treadmill. I couldn’t quite face walking outdoors. I felt enormous and lumbering and it took only a few hundred yards before my face turned blotchy red and oozed with perspiration. On the treadmill, I could begin gradually, walking slowly for a few minutes – 5 at first, but I got to 15 without too much trouble, and kept going. I gradually increased the speed and length of time I used this instrument of torture, until I became thoroughly bored with staring at the TV and going nowhere.
I was deploying positive affirmations by then, which made me feel more engaged with the idea of getting out into the fresh air, and gradually I migrated my (nearly) daily walks from my spare bedroom to three or four circuits of my neighbourhood, varying distances depending on time and inclination, whether it was light enough to walk through the park, and whether I needed to pass by a shop. A few months in, and I added a longer walk into town, which, when combined with a bit of wandering around the shops, got me to 10,000 steps for the day.
I know that’s not a lot – but that’s my point. [Yes… I got to it at last…]. I’ve been losing weight and getting fitter on a modest 6,000 or so steps a day, with maybe one day a week on 10,000 steps. For a home-based worker, a 6,000 step day is a walk of somewhere between 2-2.5 miles or between 30-45 minutes, plus incidental wandering around at home. It’s really not a lot.
Once I got a taste for being outside (frosty, dark mornings in the winter, crisp springtime sunshine, now warmer lunchtime wanderings), I began to actually enjoy my daily walk. Now sometimes I stroll – stop and smell the roses – and other times I walk as fast as I can, using an App to check my pace. Sometimes I rock it with an exercise playlist, and other times I immerse in an audiobook. I go first thing in the morning, or at lunchtime, or when I’m fed up with staring at my PC. I’m trying not to slip into any kind of routine, because I know how all-or-nothing I can be, and I know that the moment I fail at my routine, it will knock me off course – and I don’t want that to happen. I’m just listening to my body, and making sure I enjoy what I’m doing, and never doing it under sufferance.
Now, with summer beginning to show up (odd days only, so far – this is the UK after all), I’m looking forward to getting the sun on my face and arms, to natural Vitamin D, to watching toddlers in the playground; to the scent of wisteria, honeysuckle and fresh mown grass; to the fact that I won’t be bringing in soggy leaves on my shoes, a curse to my cream carpets, for the next few months.
I have friends, slimmer and fitter than I, who regularly walk 5 or 10 miles a day – for fun. Imagine! I’m comfortably able to walk 3 or 4 miles with no undesirable outcomes, and I could certainly do quite a bit more now, though I haven’t yet had the occasion. Later in the year I’m going on a healthy retreat which will involve much longer walks. Meantime, I’m being urged to do the ‘Couch to 5K’ App, and learn to run.
Maybe I’ll get there, I don’t know at the moment if that’s something I’m prepared to put my 56-year-old body through. But in the meantime, I believe the most important thing is not running, nor jogging, nor even how far you walk, but that you walk – every day, or as near as possible. Because once you walk – once you enjoy the experience of putting one foot in front of the other outdoors, you can always walk more, or faster if you feel so moved, and then there’s no end to how far you can go.