Friday 14 March 2014

Cannery Row

Welsh language version of our Let's Get Physical! campaign logo

Since my back trouble last year I have been wary about swimming outside even if the water is heated as it is at my gym. I was afraid I might seize up in the cold air or in the not so warm water.

But this morning it was impossible to resist swimming a few lengths outside at 7.30 a.m. as the sun came up - and no adverse affects so far.

While I swam I contemplated my chances of making some progress in increasing my own physical fitness this spring and on into the summer, inspired by our Let's Get Physical! campaign.

The campaign is aimed at (and indeed run by) clients and carers primarily but of course we hope staff will also join in and benefit. We are working with Bipolar UK and the Mental Health Foundation with extra support from Diverse Cymru to make sure we reach out to everybody. More will follow soon on this.

Anyway, back to me. I'm not very fit at present and carrying a bit more weight, mainly as a result of my illness last year which set back my exercise routines. So, how to get moving again on diet and exercise?

The one principle I reminded myself about as I puffed up and down the pool this morning was this:

There is no point in embarking on a temporary regime in respect of diet or exercise

Why? Because as soon as you stop you will revert back to the weight and fitness level which your long-term behaviour inexorably leads to. Meanwhile you will also probably have a miserable time feeling hungry and exhausted, deep down really knowing that your temporary efforts will be frustrated when you stop.

Much better (and more comfortable and healthy) to make realistic life-long changes in your diet and exercise routines and habits. Of course you won't get as fit and slim as quickly as you might on many temporary regimes but consider the choice: either endure discomfort and make quick progress which is then all lost when you stop the temporary regime or be patient and kind to yourself by making permanent adjustments and so experience steady improvements which can be sustained for life.

The exception to this would be if your GP says you need to take short-term action for reasons of your safety - but that would be unusual.

Have I always stuck to this principle? No, I have felt panicked sometimes into looking for quick fixes and I know that's hard to resist. But unless you genuinely decide to make permanent changes then you are not going to succeed long term: it's as simple as that.

Another good tip is not to try to blackmail yourself into doing exercise by buying a gym membership or expensive equipment. Gyms and suppliers of equipment thrive on people who spend up and then fail and feel guilty, just as many magazines and diet clubs thrive on selling the myth that temporary or cranky diets work.

I do belong to a gym, but I only joined after I had proved to myself that I could sustain a light exercise routine. My gym membership fee is about half what it would be if the members who never attend started to turn up. And of course nobody needs a gym in order to take exercise.

None of this is new. In John Steinbeck's amusing and atmospheric 1945 novel Cannery Row the denizens of this depressed and eccentric sardine-canning district of Monterey decide to throw a party for a popular local scientist and give him presents...

"Eric, a learned barber who collected the first editions of writers who never had a second edition or second book, decided to give Doc a rowing machine he had got at the bankruptcy proceedings of a client with a three-year barber bill. The rowing machine was in fine condition. No one had rowed it much. No one ever uses a rowing machine."

Sardine canneries on "Cannery Row", real name Ocean View Avenue, Monterey, California