11 Dec 2013
When shock provides just the kick up the backside we need
It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s just that I never really got the whole keeping fit thing. I share an office with people whose idea of a good time is running across Dartmoor at night with a head torch on, hours in the gym or cycling across mountain ranges in the snow. Never quite got the appeal myself. But what might it take to get this slightly overweight 40-something up and out and exercising? Reading about the risks of not? No. The enthusiasms of exercise-hardened colleagues? No. The near-fatal heart attack of a very dear friend? … Where do I sign up?
I cycle to work and back, a journey that involves a pretty impressive hill, but that’s about it. Most of my days are spent behind a desk, typing. Not conducive to good health, given that sitting down can lead to an increased rate of a range of health problems, including blood clots on the lungs. Yuk. When I’m home, the daily doings of family life keep me on my feet most of the time, but it’s not enough really.
I did try running a few months ago (whatever happened to “jogging”? It seems to be definitely “running” now…), inspired by my office-mates and their tales of the mythical moment when “the endorphins kick in” and you feel amazing. I tried it for two weeks. A distinct lack on endorphins. Lots of puffing and panting in a sweaty blather, looking faintly ridiculous, my body letting me know in several different ways that it really was not enjoying this, until I pulled a muscle in the back of my leg and my career as a long distance runner was prematurely laid to rest. I wasn’t too sad about that, if I’m honest.
I tried yoga. I kind of enjoyed that, even though it was actually surprisingly hard work. I had to pay for 10 sessions, but with work commitments I ended up only making about 6, so I didn’t do that again. Apart from gardening, the odd extra bit of cycling and walking the dog, that was about it really. I used to play football occasionally at events with 12 year old boys where a few similarly out-of-shape dads could convince themselves that they were actually sort of still in shape, and reasonably good at football, neither of which were really true.
Then, two weeks ago, one of my very best friends, who I’ve known since I was 16, had a heart attack. At 46. A year older than me. If he hadn’t been at his brother’s house, who called the ambulance quickly, he may not be here today. He spent 5 days in hospital, had 2 stents put it, and will be on medication for the rest of his life. They did that amazing thing where they insert a tube into your wrist and through that can basically give your heart a full MOT, unblock tubes, install new bits and so on. It was a huge shock to friends and family, I think I’m still feeling it.
He’s the first of my peers to have such an experience. Luckily he’s still here, but he could easily have not been. Since the beginning of Transition, we have talked about how change happens. How can we bring about the kinds of change, on the scale required, to turn things around in time? We challenged the “people will only change when they have no choice” school of thought, because if it were true, there would be no recovered addicts in the world. We speculated on the approach of Motivational Interviewing, which finds that change happens when our actual behaviour and our core, foundational beliefs come into such discrepancy with each other that we have to change.
We’ve tried to model, through Transition, an approach that invites people, without the guilt-trips and cajoling, that change is more fun than no change, and for some, that really works. As someone told me the other day, “I’ve cut my carbon footprint by 60% over the past 2 years, and it’s been an absolute blast”. But I do now appreciate that there is also a place for being shocked into action. I’d known I should be doing more for years, and didn’t do it. This was the kick up the arse that I needed.
As a result, I’ve finally found a form of exercise that suits me. Swimming. Swimming’s great isn’t it? Never really appreciated it before. One of my regularly-exercising colleagues told me that when it comes to fitness things, it takes 3 weeks to form a habit. Well, I’m nearly 3 weeks in now, and it’s starting to feel like a habit. I try to go every lunchtime. The first time I went I could only swim 2 lengths front crawl before I was too puffed and had to do a couple in breast stroke to get my breath back. Now I can do 50. I can feel myself getting fitter, and more resilient when I am swimming. And yes, whether they’re the mythical endorphins or not, I definitely get something from it.
Great thing about swimming also is that you don’t need to fear looking like a big red sweaty blob, because everyone looks red and wet. It is sufficiently solitary to overcome the need for out-of-breath conversation-making, but there is also a social aspect to it. And the whole politics of lane swimming are fascinating. It has introduced my to a whole fascinating subculture of slightly out-of-shape over 40s who plough up and down the lanes every lunchtime. I love it.
For ages I had thought I should give it a go, but I didn’t have any goggles. That was my excuse. But I never got round to getting any goggles. Funny that. When I decided I was going to give it a go, it turned out they sold really good ones at the swimming pool. Just at the counter. Doh. So I guess this post is like my giving up flying post, or my I’m leaving Amazon post, it’s a statement of intent that people can hold me to, that I can hold myself to.
So yes, people, I am now a swimmer. I will do it in whatever lunchtimes I can. I don’t want to drop dead at 46 thank you very much. In the same way that I don’t want a world that has warmed by 4 degrees, a world run by Amazon, a world where the NSA have access to whatever personal data they feel might come in handy at some point, a world that thinks depending on cheap oil into the indefinite future is a smart move, I don’t want to live in a world where I keel over in a few years. It’s time to do something about it. Being of service to these times requires a healthy body to get you around.
Life has given me a kick up the backside, and I intend to be propelled forward by it. And thanks Iain, delighted to have you still with us mate.