Archive for the ‘Health & wellbeing’ Category

Exercise and Me: Reaching An Uneasy Truce

I make no secret of the fact I hate sports. I have no hand-eye co-ordination and no dexterity. I can’t catch, I can’t throw, I can’t run without falling over. It’s been this way for me since childhood. I was always happier curled up reading a book than I was running about outside.

I hated physical education lessons and I was always last to be picked for teams. And because I am assuming this barbaric practise doesn’t happen in schools any more, let me enlighten those of you too young to experience this. ‘Picking teams’ was when the teacher couldn’t be bothered to divide the class into teams, so they would get the kids to do it instead. The teacher would choose two team leaders – generally those who were good at sports. The team leaders would then take it turns to select the people in the class they wanted on their team. Naturally they picked their friends first. Then the kids who were good at sports, and the cool people.

When it came down to only the unpopular and nerdy kids that were left, the choice for the leaders became more difficult. After all, you don’t want your street cred to suffer by picking one of the kids everyone made fun of. Whenever this ritual happened at my school, the outcome was always the same, regardless of which school it was (and it happened at several). At the end there were always two kids left: the special needs kid, and me. The special needs kid was a bit clumsy and a bit slow, but he or she had a reason for being that way. The special needs kid got picked before me. And as if being the one no one wanted wasn’t bad enough, as I made my way over to the team that was stuck with me by process of elimination, I had to listen to none-too-subtle complaints of my team mates. “Oh no. We’ve got her. We’re going to lose.”

This is why I hated PE. And then we moved to Canada when I was ten years old, and my misery was exacerbated in a country that places a great emphasis on sports. Canadians are born knowing how to play baseball, it seems, and they all get put on ice skates at the time they learn to walk. I was made to play baseball with the school, but I didn’t know how to play and I was too shy to ask, and everybody shouted at me when I got it wrong. A few weeks into our new Canadian life my class went ice skating. It never occurred to anyone to ask me if I’d ever been skating before (I hadn’t). I spent the session holding onto the side of the rink, and my classmates were fascinated – they had never met anyone who didn’t know how to ice skate before.

Things came to a head with my eighth grade gym teacher. She felt I was being wilfully lazy, and singled me out for punishment. Her name was Mrs Parker, and she still appears in my nightmares sometimes with her shrill cry of, “come on ladies, hustle!”

All this led to an insecurity that persisted through adolescence. Because I was no good at sports, I was somehow inadequate as a person. An inferior human being. Worthless.

When I got to high school I was able to drop gym class, which I did, like a stone. But it took me a long time to get over those feelings of inadequacy. That not being good at sports did not necessary make me worthless. That it was OK to be a non-sporty person and that there were other things I was good at instead. Like writing stories.

The psychological scars of all this are still with me. But I have learned to regard exercise the same way I regard vegetables. I don’t like either, but they are a necessary part of a healthy life, so they must be tolerated.

I have spent all of my adult life trying – and failing – to get fit. I have listened to all the advice: “look for an activity you enjoy”. But I don’t enjoy anything. Some things I can tolerate, like swimming. Some things I can’t, like pilates. “Stick with it, and you’ll eventually get that buzz from a good workout”. For over 35 years now I have been embarking on various forms of exercise, and I have never once experienced that “buzz” that people talk about.

But I am turning 50 this year, and I am now worried about the consequences of poor health in old age. So I am trying a new tactic. I am going for regular sessions with a personal trainer.

I was very nervous about starting this. I was imaging someone like Mrs Parker, who would shout at me for being lazy or not trying hard enough. Thankfully, this fear proved to be unfounded. For a few weeks now I have been doing weekly one-to-one sessions of 25 minutes, in the local park. I haven’t been particularly enamoured about this – as well as not liking exercise, I’m also not a fan of the outdoors. But Karen has been very supportive. Each week we try different types of exercise and she guides me through what I need to do, being mindful of what my limitations are (arthritic knee for instance) but always trying to get me to push just a little farther. Today she said she was impressed with the speed at which I was picking things up. The exercises involved a medicine ball, with some throwing and catching, which I was better at than I was expecting to be. “Who said you were rubbish at games?” she asked me. “Everyone”, I said. And she said that I just need more confidence.

So far, then, this mode of exercise has been going quite well but I am aware it is early days. Having someone who’s expecting me to turn up has helped me stick to this, and I do appreciate the one-to-one session, as Karen can focus on my technique and correct me when I’m not doing something right.

So, a shout-out to Karen of Be Epic, for her patience and tolerance and willingness to help me improve my fitness level. It might be slow going, but at least I’m doing some form of regular exercise now.

And to finish, because it sums up my attitude to exercise and weight loss, here’s a spoof of Adele’s ‘Hello’ by Dustin and Genevieve, called ‘Hella Cravings’. It makes me smile and nod every time I watch it.



I am not one of those people blessed with grace and elegance. I can’t throw, I can’t catch, I can’t run (and if I try I fall over), I possess no manual dexterity and I trip over my own feet a lot. This is probably why I’ve always been hopeless at sports. In school, not only was I always the last to be picked for sports teams, I had to endure the groans of the team that was stuck with me and the mutters of, “we’re going to lose now.”

Exercise remains a necessary evil. Whenever I try aerobics or zumba or anything else requiring co-ordination I get frustrated because I can’t keep up – I just can’t get my arms and legs to move the way they are supposed to. I persevere with the yoga, but it’s not easy for me. I have no balance and I get left and right confused, I ache for a week after every class and I appear to pull muscles (more on that later).

Things haven’t improved much as I’ve got older. I’ve always avoided hazardous activities such as ski-ing, since I’d be guaranteed to break a bone. Over the course of my life I’ve sprained my ankle three times, and it was always the same one (the left – it still gives me twinges now and again). On one occasion I was running across a field playing Paintball (told you running was dangerous), and on the other two occasions I was merely trying to walk down some steps. A few years ago I fell over trying to enter the underground station on the way home from work and bashed my head rather hard. I was taken to A&E and x-rayed, but my skull was intact. Instead I had concussion that had me off work for a week, and a golf ball-sized lump on my forehead that left me with a headache and a black eye as it receded.

A few weeks ago I managed to trip over my own feet walking across London Bridge on my way to work, and bashed my knee and my hand quite hard as I fell over.  I still can’t kneel down on that knee, and it looks a bit bruised.  This weekend I am also suffering with what appears to be a torn tendon in my calf.  Which I think possibly came about from my yoga class a couple of weeks ago – we were doing poses that involved leg stretches. It was hurting for a while,  and then it seemed to get better, but this week’s tube strike has necessitated more walking than usual on my daily commute, and this seems to have aggravated my injury.

This is how it’s been, all my life. I fall over simply moving through life. Apparently physical activity is bad for my health. It happens so often I get used to picking myself up and carrying on. I am usually full of bruises. I misjudge doors when I walk through them and walk into the wall. I swing my arm too wide and it hits something. I go to sit down on a bus and somehow manage to bash my backside on the bar separating the seats. I get bruises on my knees from bashing them on the underside of my desk.

I don’t what it is that causes this chronic inability to get my body to co-ordinate itself to do anything physical – even something as simple as walking. I spent quite a long time assuming I wasn’t any good at anything, but much of this came from the fact that when and where I went to school there was a huge emphasis on physical activity. Fortunately I had a couple of supportive English teachers who reassured me that one isn’t necessarily exiled from society simply because one isn’t any good at sports. They recognised that I had a talent for writing.

Perhaps the writing ability is nature’s way of compensating for my appalling lack of physical agility – as in, “kid, you’re going to go through life being completely hopeless at anything physical, but you’ve got a talent for something that you get to sit down for.”

I should probably give up on all things sporty and focus on the writing instead. At least I’m not likely to injure myself that way. Well, apart from bashing my knees on the underside of the desk…

Can We Start Again, Please?

2012 has not got off to a good start. My NetBook dying on New Years’ Day was the first bad portent. A sore throat the following day was the next.

This had turned into a cough by the time I went back to work. If like me you have asthma, coughs are never good. They take ages to go, and often turn into something far nastier.

After two weeks of struggling along and coughing like a plague victim, I went to see the doctor, who decided I had a chest infection. She prescribed antibiotics and signed me off work for the rest of the week. This was on Monday of this week. So I have spent the majority of this week cocooned on the sofa feeling sorry for myself. And playing Dragon Age, my latest video game obsession, which was the only thing I found I could concentrate on and at least it distracted me from thinking about how rubbish I was feeling.

I am not a good patient. I hate being ill. I hated the fact I was coughing so hard, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus on anything, and I had to put ordinary activities on hold. The antibiotics, although helping clear up the infection, have side effects, the most annoying of which is stomach pains. I also developed a constant niggling ache in my lower back, which I suspect is caused by straining some muscle or other through coughing too hard.

Now we are at the weekend, I have to say I am feeling a lot better. I am no longer waking up in the night having coughing fits. The back pain seems to be easing. If I eat something with the antibiotics – even if it’s just a couple of biscuits – the stomach pains aren’t as bad. The coughing is still there, but not as frequent, or as violent, as it was.

Frankly I’m tired of being ill, and I am keen to get back into the usual routine. I’m going back to work on Monday. I aim to do some writing this weekend. I’d even like to get back to going to the gym.

I would like to write off the entire month of January, as I got nothing accomplished during it. Well, I made quite a lot of progress in Dragon Age, and even managed to score a couple of trophies. But I’m not sure that counts.

New Adventures at the Gym (Part 1)

I have blogged many times about my dislike of exercise, and that fact that in spite of that I see it as a necessary evil – rather like eating vegetables. I do it because it’s good for me. This is even more true now, as I lurch towards the grand old age of 42. By anyone’s estimation this is middle age, and if I really want to live another 42 years I have to look after the body I occupy.

But up until recently I hadn’t set foot in a gym for months. The gym we had a membership with was council run, and it has to be said a bit shabby. Then a few months ago a new gym opened up, literally right across the road from our house (we can see the building from our living room window). It is a private gym, on the grounds of the local college. The college offers BTec qualifications in sports training, so I assume that there is some kind of sponsorship deal going on to benefit the students.

Even so, the concept of a new private gym so close to home was appealing, and we thought about joining. For a long time we only thought about it. Then two things happened that pushed us further in that direction.

Our old council-run gym has recently changed ownership, and is now run by a different organisation. I got a letter recently informing me that the new organisation have decided to give the place an £8m overhaul. This will require closing the premises. For 12 months.

A few days after that I got a phone call from the accounts department. Somehow, in the change of management, my bank details got mislaid and they were no longer attached to my membership record. So they had not been taking out my standing order for three months. Technically this meant I was was no longer a member. To address this, I had to go down to the sports centre with my bank details and fill in more forms in person.

Decision made, then. Since I was no longer a member and hubby hadn’t been for months, we cancelled his membership and joined the new gym. It all looked very nice when we looked around. Everything was new and shiny and worked the way it should. The gym was air conditioned. There were flat screen TVs everywhere.

All good in theory. Having paid up, we went for our gym induction. It became evident the gym hires a lot of the College students. My gym instructor was young enough to be my daughter. She asked me what I wanted from the gym. “Erm, tone up, lose a bit of weight. Work on the abs perhaps.” My stomach muscles have always been wimpy.

“How much weight do you want to lose?” she said brightly. “A stone, maybe?”

That took me aback a bit. Yes, I could stand to lose a few pounds, but do I really look 14lbs overweight?? She showed me the machines, and I insisted I didn’t want to use the treadmill. I really don’t like the treadmill. I prefer the exercise machines where you get to sit down. I don’t mind the exercise bike. I don’t mind the rowing machine. I don’t even mind the lat pull-down machine.

The perky child-like gym instructor also showed me some abdominal exercises. “These are really good for toning your abs,” she said. I struggled and puffed and wheezed before she eventually agreed with me that my abs were so flabby these exercises were currently beyond me. So she gave me some easier ones. Lying down and raising my legs in the air. Yes, I can cope with that one. Just about. The one where you lie on your back and cycle your legs up and down. That’s OK too.

So I’ve been going to the gym but my asthmatic lungs object to the extra work, and doing any form of exercise makes my nose run (always knew I was allergic to it…). I sound like Darth Vader as I attempt the Free Runner, and I’m blowing my nose constantly. And then I ache for three days and have to crawl up the stairs at home because my arms and legs and stomach ache too much to move properly.

In spite of all this, though, I am endeavouring to do a workout at least once a week (plus classes and swim sessions). So I was somewhat annoyed to find out recently that the membership smart card I was given that is supposed to log all of one’s gym time had not been properly calibrated, and none of my gym sessions up till now have been logged. So I’ve been struggling to be good all this time and the gym computer thinks I’ve been slacking.

So, now I have to start all over again with my gym sessions. I need to keep attending. It’s good for me. At least, that’s what I have to keep reminding myself…

Give Me A Break

If you’ve been following this blog a while, you will be aware of my love/hate relationship with exercise.

Actually, that’s not exactly true. There’s no ‘love’ about it. I hate exercise. I endure it as a necessary evil because it’s good for me (like eating vegetables). Because of this, it’s easy for me to find excuses not to do it. The last few weeks have seen a plethora of excuses. I’m too tired. I’m too busy. It’s too wet to tramp over to the sports centre. It’s too cold. My foot is sore. My arm is sore. The list goes on.

This is, sadly, a fairly familiar cycle because to me exercise is a life sentence. Starting is hard work. I get into a routine and it becomes easier to at least get there, but I miss a couple of weeks and I have to start all over again. Having missed several weeks now, of doing any exercise whatsoever, I find myself once more at the bottom of the hill staring up at the top, and it’s a very long way.

And just how many of my exercise classes I’m going to get to in the remainder of the year is questionable. After all, the most enjoyable part of the ‘Festive Season’, which is already upon us, is having an excuse to eat all the things I love but which are bad for me, and drink too much, and why would I want to spoil all that indulgence with the guilt of missing my body conditioning class?

So, I’ve decided to cut myself some slack. I have removed my exercise classes from my calendar for the rest of the year. There seems little point in keeping them there, when I have no intention of going to them, and to remind myself that I’m not there will just serve to make me feel guilty. I pledge to enjoy this indulgence without guilt.

In the New Year, of course, there will be no excuse for the guilt, and I will pledge to start the exercise regime afresh. I lose interest, but I always go back to the class. That’s part of the cycle.

But that’s next year. For the rest of this year, I’ve decided to focus on eating, drinking and trying to be merry. Pass me those mince pies…

Fashion Fix – One Year On

It’s now been a year since my fashion fix. If you haven’t been following this blog for that long, click here to gain an understanding of what I’m on about. I thought it might be a good time to revisit this subject (well, it works for Gok Wan).

I’m not the kind of girl who buys a new wardrobe every season. I think I’ve probably mentioned this before. I wear clothes until they fall to bits – literally, in many cases.

So, I am still wearing the clothes Joy picked out for me last year. I didn’t have an option to lapse back to my old wardrobe – it all went. I do, however, occasionally wear other things to work these days – things I suspect Joy would consider to be a bit too casual for the office. I’m not really a high maintenance kind of girl. Some days I really can’t be arsed faffing around with make-up, hair and jewellery – I just want to brush my teeth and go.

When I shop for clothes, I try to remember the lessons I learned about the colours and styles that suit me. Immediately after my style session I was afraid to go shopping, because I had no idea what to look for. But I now have more confidence, because I’ve got a little more rebellious. I will buy things because I like them – not necessarily because they are things the stylist would approve of.

With regards to accessories, well it was fairly obvious that wasn’t going to last. I don’t wear the chunky jewellery much these days. Big beads click together and bang against my chest in a way I find really annoying. I still prefer my own jewellery, unstylish though it may be. I’ve stopped using the ‘stylish’ handbag, and gone back to the old faithful brown shoulder bag that I can sling over my head to keep it secure on my daily commute. The ‘stylish’ bag doesn’t hold everything I need to take to work with me, and it keeps sliding down my arm in a most annoying way.

I didn’t get rid of any of my shoes, in spite of them all receiving a ‘thumbs down’ from the stylist. I keep the ‘work’ shoes she picked out at the office, but I hate wearing them. I just can’t walk in them. I do wear the ballet pumps, however. A year on they have now sufficiently softened up to not rub my feet.

It’s safe to say that I have lapsed somewhat. I think there’s an irony in the lesson I did take away from my style session – the most important thing about your clothing is that you feel good in it. It doesn’t matter how you look to everyone else. If you look in the mirror after getting dressed in the morning and think you look good , hold your head high and step out, and ignore what everyone else thinks.

And this, for me, reinforces the most important lesson in life. Be true to yourself.

Lessons In Yoga – Part 2

I have returned to my yoga class after an absence of several months. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to go. Life has been busy. At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself.

But the reality is we all have the same number of hours in every day. What we do with those hours is up to each of us. I have returned to the yoga class because it’s good for my state of mind, as well as being good exercise, and I have been shirking it for far too long.

My yoga teacher says we all spend too much time thinking about the past, and worrying about the future. We need to let go and embrace the present.

Good advice, but harder than it should be to follow it. I do feel that for a long time I was holding on to the past. I’m now in a position where I feel I’ve forgiven everyone for whatever they did in the past – including myself. And none of us knows what the future will hold, so there’s no point in worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.

Right here, right now, I’m actually in a good place. Maybe I am learning something from the yoga lessons after all.

Necessary Evil

The aerobics teacher who runs my Tuesday evening body conditioning class is energetic, enthusiastic and always cheerful. She is an excellent advertisement for the benefits of regular exercise – she looks 15 years younger than she actually is, and her body is firm and toned without being too skinny. She’s a popular teacher and her classes are always full. In fact, you have to book in advance to get into them.

However, she suffers from this delusion that we’re all there because we’re enjoying ourselves. “You all look so serious,” she says as we puff and sweat our way through squats and lunges. “Smile! It’s supposed to be fun!”.

I’m sure there are some people out there who find exercise fun. I am not, and have never been, one of them. I do exercise for the same reason I eat vegetables – I really don’t like them, either, but I eat them because they are good for me. After 40 years this body is showing some signs of wear and tear. If I want it to last me another 40 years (and really, I do) I need to treat it well, get the heart and lungs pumping every once in a while and avoid too much fatty tissue building up over the organs.

This is why I exercise. No other reason. It’s painful, and leaves me aching. Some people tell me that “you’ll feel good afterwards”. This very rarely happens. I just end of feeling rather exhausted afterwards, and then a day or so later the aching muscles kick in. Admittedly, regular exercise avoids that feeling of lethargy and sluggishness that tends to build up if I go weeks without exercising at all, but the only positive feeling I tend to get after exercise is one of virtue. I was tired, but I went anyway. Yay me.

So I will keep aiming for regular attendance at my weekly exercise class. As I will continue to eat vegetables I don’t like, I will do it out of a sense of duty of doing right by my body, which after all I only get one of. I will do it without complaining too much, and I will try my best to keep my swearing inaudible when I get pushed to do one more set of those squats. But don’t expect me to enjoy it.

Ageing Vision

Intellectually, we all know we’re going to get old, and there’s nothing that can stop it. With age, comes the fact that our bodies are going to wear out. Few people make it into old age without need of some artificial enhancement – hearing aid, glasses, walking stick (maybe even a plastic joint if one lives long enough).

I have been fortunate enough to reach the age of 40 with excellent eyesight – even considering I spend most of my waking life staring at a computer, and when I’m not doing that I’ve got my nose in a book.

However, these days are no more. My recent sight test has revealed that my vision has now deteriorated to a point where I need glasses to see distant things clearly – so, for driving, watching TV, and so on.

I had suspected this might be the case. There’s no doubt that my sight’s been getting shorter. I have been commuting through Victoria Station for the best part of 20 years. Once upon a time, I could read the train information boards from the back of the concourse. Nowadays, I need to be considerably closer than that to be able to read what platform my train’s leaving from. The only question was at what point would I be short-sighted enough to require specs? And it seems that this has now been answered.

I know glasses are no big deal, and I’m lucky to have not needed them before now. But I can’t help but feel just a little bit old, with the revelation of this first deteriorating body part.

Still, I had quite good fun choosing the frames. Seems there are a lot of cool styles to choose from these days. And I’m quite looking forward to seeing how I look in these new glasses. Maybe they will make me look more “writerly”!

Chlorine and Chipsticks

When I was a child, living in Lancashire in the 1970s, my dad used to take my sister and me swimming most weekends.

After the end of our swimming session, my sister and I used to get bags of crisps from the vending machine, and we would sit in the viewing gallery eating them, while watching the swimmers in the pool below. I usually went for ‘chipsticks’. I’m not sure if you can still buy those anymore. They were long thin corn-based snacks with a rather overwhelming flavour of salt and vinegar.

I have heard that smell is the most powerful sense for evoking old memories. I think this must be true. Even now, more than thirty years on, whenever I walk into the changing area of the swimming pool and get hit by the smell of chlorine, I immediately think of ‘Chipsticks’, and swimming with my dad.