Blog by Richard Madeley
A few years back – well, quite a lot of years back, actually – I went for my first MAMOT (Middle-Aged M.O.T.) at my local surgery. I was in my late forties, and at just over 14 stone no-one could call me fat, but giving up the fags a decade earlier had definitely liberated my appetite. I was getting a bit fleshy. A bit breathless.
I was doing five days live TV a week, ten months of the year, and used that as an excuse not to bother with much exercise. I drove, not walked, to the shops. I decided I didn’t have the time or energy for a jog. The latter was certainly true. No exercise means low energy. But I hadn’t made that connection.
I was, frankly, a bit of a mess, but hid it with well-cut suits and a certain je ne sais quois.
Then I got the results of my M.O.T. Elevated blood pressure. Cholesterol up around the 6.5 mark (it should be below 5.0). Fast pulse. Body mass 8 – 10% above what it should be for my height (in other words, a touch porky).
My dad died of a sudden coronary at 49, when I was 21. True, he’d smoked like a chimney most of his life and that had furred his arteries and major heart vessels, but he too did little or no exercise.
I screwed up the letter giving me my test results, stripped for a bath, and stood on the scales. S**t! Closer to 15 than 14 stones now!
I decided I didn’t need to worry too much about my diet – I don’t like butter, puddings or most sweet things and figured I ate mostly healthily – but it was time to exercise. I consulted a few websites and reckoned regular brisk walking would do it.
So I bought a backpack and started legging it to the local shops and back rather than driving. That was around three miles every other day. In Cornwall where we spend much of our time, I stopped motoring to our local village (Polperro) and walked over the cliffs instead. Good, heart-pumping, stuff – another three-mile round trip but much of it up steep rocky paths. My daughter Chloe (a fitness fanatic) came with me sometimes and watching my puffing, huffing, face, would laugh and say: ‘Come on dad! Good for the heart, good for the lungs, good for the legs and good for the buns!’ (Buns being buttocks, which also get a good workout as you plough your way uphill).
Result? Six months later I’d dropped to twelve and a half stone, my blood pressure was well within the ‘normal’ zone, and my cholesterol stood at 4.8. All entirely down to regular walking.
I’ve since read that regular brisk walks also help guard against dementia: as the feet pound the ground, the impact helps pump blood up the arteries into the brain, and a good blood supply to the brain is an important factor in warding off dementia.
It’s National Fitness Day next week – Wednesday, to be precise. There are events all over the country. A few years ago I would have yawned. Now I cheer. Getting fit is nature’s life insurance. You don’t have to join a gym or train for a marathon. Just start walking.
Worked for me. And I’m now twelve years older than my was dad when he died. So we don’t have to be the prisoners of our genes. We can walk out of that particular jail.