Exercise

“Fit and fat is better than being unfit and thin.”

Forget pills, staying active is the best medication.
After-all, when it comes to being healthy, there is almost nothing else that comes near it in terms of its effectiveness.

There is a quote from a health promotion consultant called Dr Nick Cavill that seems to pop up more and more regularly these days – ‘If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost effective drugs ever invented.’ When you look at the statistics, it is difficult to disagree.

There is strong evidence to suggest that exercise reduces the risk of the following conditions by the following percentages…

Coronary artery disease and stroke – 35%
Type 2 Diabetes – 50%
Colon cancer – 50%
Breast cancer – 20%
Osteoarthritis – 83%
Depression – 30%
Dementia – 30%
Hip fractures – 68%
Falls in older adults – 30%

These are not insignificant numbers as I’m sure you will appreciate. Exercise really is good stuff and also helps with self esteem, sleep quality and energy levels.
The government’s aim is for everyone to be doing around 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week. Moderate exercise is something that essentially causes you to breath faster, increase your heart rate and feel warmer – a good way to gauge it is if you are breathing too heavily to sing the words to a song. Examples might be going for a brisk walk or hike or playing a game of volley ball. Only half of us in the UK are reaching that target. It doesn’t take too much of an imagination to consider the effect it would have of all of us matching this target on the mortality rates for all of the conditions above.

It goes deeper than this though. We are a species that evolved as hunter gatherers, constantly on the move, but in world with televisions and remote controls, motorised vehicles, and robots that do your hoovering for you, it comes as no surprise that we are suffering from the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. As such, even if we are reaching our exercise targets, if we spend the rest of the time sitting or lying down (and the average person in the UK sits for 7 hours a day, 10 hours if you’re over 65 years old) then those benefits are lost or at least have less impact on the risk of adverse health conditions.

It is therefore key for us to move about every now and again even if we’re not exercising. The recommendation is that every half an hour, we should get up and move about for 2-3 minutes. Practically I know sometimes it may seem difficult but actually when you think about it, is it really? Sometimes only the smallest things need adjusting to achieve this, whether it be an agreement with your boss to get up and walk around the office once in a while or maybe even (as horrifying as this sounds) keeping the remote in the shed at the bottom of the garden. Essentially we’ve all got a bit lazy and our bodies are experiencing the consequences.

For those thinking, ‘well my knee hurts too much for me to do any exercise’, or ‘the local volley ball court is too far away,’ I’m afraid that’s no excuse. Remember, moderate aerobic exercise is anything that gets you breathing and increases your heart rate, so if your knee hurts, do some swimming or even some armchair aerobics, likewise if you can’t get to your local sports centre easily, go for a brisk walk down the road or around the garden for 30 minutes every day. There is a mode of exercise for almost everyone.

Why does exercise and activity help you may ask? Recently, research has revealed quite in depth benefits that we were previously unaware of. Much of this has to do with the anti-inflammatory effects of activity. At the cellular level, our bodies are in constant turnover. Each cell in our body has something called a mitochondria which is essentially a mini power plant. It is here that we produce energy to be used in various processes throughout the body. Each mitochondria will build up a charge and if we are not using energy, they stay charged. The longer they do, bits of charge will gradually escape in the form of ‘free radicals’. These free radicals are bad news and contribute to cell and mitochondrial damage, aiding the ageing process and generally making us less healthy. It is thought that this process causes microscopic inflammation throughout the body.

Activity and exercise helps by utilising this energy and preventing release of free radicals but also produces anti-inflammatory substances from muscle that help to mediate the inflammation at a cellular level. That is not to mention its effect in increasing insulin sensitivity of cells, reducing risk of conditions like diabetes, along with strengthening heart muscle to reduce average heart rates and contributing to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

There is a lot of focus these days on weight loss when it comes to exercise. This is quite a damaging concept and is reinforced by many commercial diet plans and courses. Although it is important to maintain a good weight and avoid obesity, weight loss is not the be all and end all. There are two types of fat. Subcutaneous fat (sub – beneath; cutaneous – skin) is the stuff that pads out our waist lines and is the most visible. However, arguably far more important is the fat that surrounds our organs like the liver and the heart. This is called visceral fat (viscera meant ‘internal’ in latin) and build-up of this visceral fat has significant implications for our general health. Even if our exercise seems to be doing nothing to our subcutaneous fat, it will be having far greater effects on our visceral fat and this is very important. Therefore we mustn’t measure the success of our exercise or indeed any form of activity with weight loss. Fit and fat is better than being unfit and thin.

The Perfect Working Space

It was that bird’s-eye view that appealed to me, observing everything going on without being in amongst it all.

The discussion around where to write is somewhat of a cliché in the blogging world, but it is an interesting topic nonetheless. After all, finding the right environment to craft your literary masterpiece is an important decision and one of the first ones I had to make when embarking upon the novel.

I commenced the actual manuscript when I was living in London having just arrived from the leafy countryside of Yorkshire (full of awe-inspiring and quiet locations to put pen to paper). Although I knew I was leaving a menagerie of prime writing spaces behind me, I was confident that the urban mess of the capital would provide at least as many ideal spots, if not more. My assumptions were perhaps a tad naive.

There are some incredible spots in London, no doubt. In an ideal world I could head up to the top of the Shard and sit at my own personal desk looking out over the city each day, sipping on fine wine and eating a selection of luxury fruits served by quiet but efficient servers with perfectly ironed clothing and impossibly good looks. Thinking about it, that all might actually have been a bit too distracting.

In reality it took me several months to find a spot I was happy with. In my mind, I had envisaged a quiet and trendy cafe in some stylish backstreet with Hugh Grant types popping in for their morning Espresso every now and again. And I did find a few contenders. None of them however felt quite right. For a start, in some of them the coffee practically blew my head off producing hands so shaky that I had trouble hitting the keys of my laptop. This left me with an unacceptable typo rate. Added to that, the seats were often made of the finest wood which, although very pleasing to the eye, was not pleasing to the buttocks.

I shifted my attention the various museums dotted around and their respective cafes. These often proved far too busy and too far afield to be a viable option. Libraries seemed like a possibility for a while, but again, for me at least they seemed a little cluttered and obvious. I wanted somewhere a bit more exciting; somewhere different. I ended up gravitating towards Westfield shopping centre, near the BBC (now sadly relocated to a more central location). You may feel this would be busier than anywhere, but for a time, I sat in the rafters outside the cinema with a takeaway Costa and began happily typing away. It was that bird’s-eye view that appealed to me, observing everything going on without being in amongst it all.

Before long I found somewhere else and this was to be my main writing space for the rest of that year. It was a pub funnily enough, one of these gastro pubs attached to the shopping centre, complete with chaotic revelry on a weekend. Fortuitously, my week day schedule meant that it was practically empty at the times I wanted to write and their comfortable tables and chairs, coupled with just enough activity to be stimulating but not intrusive meant that I got a lot of work done. I even scored the occasional free drink as staff got to know me.

In the end, a writer’s space is very personal and of course everyone works differently. Take the famous authors for example. Roald Dahl had a tiny shed in his garden that he called the ‘Gipsy House’. I found a video on YouTube once showing him going through his set-up complete with armchair, blanket and what is essentially a wooden board he puts across his lap before he is ready to go. Apparently Charles Dickens preferred to work at his own desk which he shipped with him whenever he was going to be away for any length of time. Ian Fleming of course had a luxury retreat (the Goldeneye Retreat) in Jamaica which is fairly outrageous and JK Rowling apparently finished her final Harry Potter book in a Scottish hotel.

Since that year, I have written everywhere from poolside at a Spanish villa, in a cabin in the Canadian Rockies, and at various cafes in my hometown. Unlike the jobbing author who writes full-time, For me, the process of writing is almost that of a leisure activity. Working at a traditional desk feels too much like I am doing ‘work’. Having said that, writing the creative aspects of a novel are altogether different from going back over things and editing. Once I had reached this stage, the desk in my flat was more appropriate. Despite the obvious distractions that the home environment presents (PS4 and Netflix being the main culprits), sitting in the office and hunkering down to focus isn’t really that bad once you’re on a roll. For me, I prefer winter evenings, ideally when it is raining outside; far more of a cosy experience where one can put on several warm layers and reimmerse oneself in the story that is already set out. Working in the height of summer for me is not very productive; either that’s just me or the sign of an underlying thyroid issue.

I’m about to embark on the next draft so I suspect this is where I will do the majority of the work from now on, but of course if The Shard were to offer me one of their penthouse offices, that would be difficult to turn down.

One can live in hope.

W