Category Archives: Health & fitness

Mind The Gap

Genius idea:

Alternative Walking Steps Tube map download

A new Walking Steps Tube map has been launched by Transport for London showing the number of steps between stations.

Transport for London’s (TfL) new version of the iconic Tube map has been created, ironically, to try and get more Londoners off the Underground and out walking in the capital.

Many central London stations are less than 1,000 steps apart and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan says the map will be a fun and practical way to help busy Londoners who want to make walking a part of their everyday lives.  

The estimated direct cost to the NHS of treating obesity, and related morbidity, was £6.3 billion in 2015. Indirect costs are projected to be as high as £27 billion.

Never mind suggesting, how about physically throwing every Londoner off the tube and forcing them to walk a stop or two of their usual commute to work.

Just imagine how competitive people could become, and the conversations by the water cooler….

I bagged 3,000 steps this morning. 2 stops on the Circle & District Line. South Ken to Victoria. Boom. 

Not bad. But I’m gonna walk from Bank to Waterloo on my way home tonight, instead of jumping on the Waterloo & City Line. 3,300 steps. 1 stop. Job done.

Use technology. Lose weight. Get fit. Save the NHS billions.  Result.

Walking reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, stroke and depression. Just a 20 minute walk every day can provide noticeable health benefits.  I hope the new steps map inspires Londoners to travel and experience more of the city on foot. We’ll be rewarded with improvements to our health, economy and the environment around us.

Image result for walking in london

Spin commute – genius idea

I love spin cycle sessions in the dedicated studio at my local gym. As I wrote a while back, it’s a great way to push through the pain barrier, with the help of a sadistic trainer and some pulsating tunes.

And I love these guys at 1Rebel, funky new fitness gurus I’ve invested a small amount in, via crowdfunding.

They have dreamed up a great concept for their own oversubscribed spin classes, for time-poor cash-rich London commuters….a mobile spinning studio – on a bus. How cool is that! Why waste all that time when you can travel to work AND spin those wheels at the same time.1rebel2.jpg

1rebel.jpg

And when you’re done, have a cool down and shower at the 1Rebel studio in St. Mary Axe, and grab a refuelling smoothie before hitting the office. BOOM!

1Rebel are talking to bus companies now and hope to launch the service in a few months, if demand is high enough. If I were still working and had a London commute, I’d sign up as quickly as Lance Armstrong had blood transfusions.

Spin Cycle

No, not the washing.

I’m talking about a full-on cycling session in a funky indoor studio at a gym, such intense exercise that blood, sweat and tears will soak clean through your lycra-clad body.

Spinning has been around a while, but I’ve only got into it recently. I go to the Charterhouse Club in leafy Godalming, Surrey. There’s a certain irony in the beauty of nature outside the studio walls, and the torture that’s wreaked on your body inside.

Each session is 50-55 minutes in total, including the essential warm-up and cool-down elements.

Bring a large bottle of water, a towel – you WILL sweat profusely -and more energy than a hormonal teenager at a school prom.

The bike is a Keiser. The name is appropriately redolent of power and control.

Adjust the height and pitch of the saddle, the handlebar – vertically and laterally – and settle your feet into the metal pedals. And start spinning those wheels, dude….

The instructor will rule your life for the duration of the session. But at least you know it will be a well-trained, measured death.

Dim the lights. Turn on the fans. Crank up the music. Warm up the legs. Stretch the key muscles. And begin….

That monitor tells you everything you need to know for the next 45 minutes….

  • RPM….how quickly are you spinning those wheels? 70-100 is comfortable, anything above 100 could hurt. But it all depends on…
  • Gear = resistance. The flat road gear is likely to be 10-12, and a hill climb could start at 14-16, maxing out at 24. I think it’s 24, but I’ve never been above 22. And that really hurt
  • the clock. Do not look at how many minutes have elapsed. Just get in the Spin Zone and enjoy the ride. Ha!
  • watts & calories counter. Watts = power being expended. Apparently the wattage is more important than calorie consumption. All I know is that a wattage of 200+ is invariably really, really hurting, that a 450 calorie session is painful, and that 500 calories is a near-death experience

What I love about a spin class – in a masochistic way – is the way the instructor puts together the session: they will drive you onward – beyond what you think you can achieve – using a devious combination of RPM and resistance, on long sprints, up gruelling mountains and – using the all-important principle of “intervals” – every possible combination in between.

And the music – their personalised playlist – is chosen to sync perfectly with the pace and resistance of each part of the session. I’m not sure I could see a class through to the finishing line, without that symbiotic relationship between the pulsing power of the music and the rapidly sapping energy of mind and body.

At the end is a sense of simultaneous physical weakness and mental strength. And some very sweaty clothes.

Cool down those fatigued muscles. Stretch. Dry the sweat off your bike for the next victims.

Breathe.

Shower.

Rinse and repeat.

Sushi Rehab – the debrief

So that was an interesting experiment. Eating nothing but sushi for a week, to try and lose some of the festive excess that had gathered around my midriff, like shipwrecked passengers clinging to an inflatable dinghy.

And the results are in…..

It’s official. Sushi is fattening. Or, at least, it’s not thinning.

I’ve lost a couple of kilograms, as hoped, and I’m back to my pre-December fighting weight of 70 kg. But my waistline has stubbornly – and annoyingly – has stayed at a  positively lardy 36″.

So what went wrong? And what was the point of all that Japanese warrior-like discipline?

I tried, I really did.

I was having sushi for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I sampled ready-made options from Waitrose, Sainsburys and M&S (usually by the sandwich counter, if you’re interested). Each one came with those nice little bundles of pickled ginger, eye-watering wasabi, a little plastic container of soy sauce, and some wooden chopsticks.

(Hot tip, from my old Footwork International boss Yoshihiko Nagata: pour the soy sauce onto the wasabi and stir it all together for sushi dunking. Like mixing cement for the new patio).

I had salmon, prawn, duck and tuna, all wrapped in those sticky rice and seaweed bundles. I went off-piste once at home, with teriyaki chicken, but I was essentially faithful to the sushi ethos. Apart from adding extra soy sauce.

And apart from when I dragged Gill to Yo! Sushi! in Guildford, and we had some gyoza dumplings, more teriyaki and a couple of other really nice things from those mesmerising conveyor belts.

And I even forced an old colleague to have lunch at a Japanese restaurant when we met in London, when it would have been so easy to succumb to a posh burger, pie & chips, or an artery-hardening curry.

But, to be completely transparent, the week didn’t end well: we were staying at The Croydon Park Hotel for a night on a writing assignment for Silver Travel Advisor. There was no sushi in sight. But there was a 5 course all-you-can-eat buffet, with freshly carved roast beef and all the trimmings. And a vanilla cheesecake to die for. And apple crumble and custard. All washed down with a Bloody Mary. And some red wine.

OK, it’s a fair cop. I failed. But I do really like sushi, and we’ll continue to have some at home. Not every day, but now and then.

And my next plan to lose that unwanted 2″ round my middle-aged waist…..soups and salads. And a little more discipline.

 

 

 

 

Sushi Rehab

This year’s festive season seemed to go on way longer than usual. Perhaps that’s because it did….

Starting with the magnificent Pine Cottage Supper Club on 11th December, it really only ended for us 2 days ago, on 11th January, after returning from a cheeky week skiing in Champoluc, Italy.

But there’s always a price to pay, right?

That month of almost continuous gluttony and debauchery was enjoyable, but physically damaging. And a week of pasta and pizza heaven, washed down with calorific Moretti beers and bucket loads of vino rosso, was the straw that broke this greedy camel’s back.

It’s a miracle that I’ve only added a few kilograms to my pre-piggery fighting weight, but it’s no surprise whatsoever that it’s all gravitated to my middle-aged midriff, as inevitably as a fat guest is drawn to an all-you-can-eat wedding buffet.

Desperate situations need desperate remedies.

Sushi.

(pic from Waitrose website).

Andy Murray swears by it. And if it helps get him fit and lean enough to win Olympic gold medals and Grand Slam titles, it might just work for me too. It even seems to be improving his sense of humour.

But let’s not go overboard. I’ll try it for a week. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, and see how much of my expanded waistline – now a shameful 36″ at its lardiest girth – I can make disappear.

I’m not expecting miracles. I don’t expect I’ll ever revisit the unchanging 32″ waist of my distant youth, but getting safely into all my middle-aged 34″ jeans without lardily rippling over the waistband should be an ambition.

I’ll report back when I’m done. In Japanese, and with a vastly improved backhand. But still with no sense of humour.

(small print terms & conditions: I’m also allowed fruit and coffee. Can’t survive without caffeine!).

The NHS revisited

I eulogised recently about the almost impossibly good treatment of my Dad at the Royal Surrey hospital in Guildford.

Over 10 days – initially in A&E and then in a surgical ward – the care and attention lavished on his ailing 87 year old body was remarkable.

But, in view of the explosive population growth – through a combination of increased longevity and net migration – is the NHS sustainable in its current form?

I experienced A&E myself yesterday, at first hand. Well, middle finger.

I managed to slice open a large flap of skin over the knuckle of the third finger on my right hand, courtesy of a shattering cafetiere resisting being wiped up. Feisty things, these coffee making gizmos.

My first instinct was to avoid going to A&E if at all possible, not wanting to waste their valuable resources on a minor domestic injury.

Actually, that’s not true. Before doing anything else I had to enjoy  my freshly baked bread, the crust of which was still warm and oozing with butter, and just crying out for its strong cheddar cheese partner.

A man’s stomach waits for no one. The blood gushing from my wound was temporarily addressed by a rustic dressing of a couple of absorbent sheets ripped from the kitchen roll dispenser.

At 1 pm, I called 111, the NHS non-emergency number, hoping I’d be sent to the GP’s surgery rather than A&E.  15 minutes later, after a thorough series of questions and assessment,  I was sent to A&E.

It was 2:30 by the time I registered with the 3 A&E receptionists. I’d parked at the distant Tesco’s, as the usual Orwellian scenario was unfolding at the vast hospital car park. And I’d stocked up on coffee and a newspaper, in anticipation of the inevitably tortuous afternoon ahead.

“It’s a quiet day, you should only have to wait 30 minutes to be seen.”

Promising.

“That’s just for the initial assessment.”

Worrying.

Sure enough, I was seeing the triage nurse not much after 3.

“Fingers crossed” – ho ho – “we can get away with sticking a steri-strip on this. Less restricting than stitches”.

Phew.

All cleaned up and sent back to the A&E waiting room, always an interesting study of humanity.

It was close to 4 by the time I was called through to see a young A&E doctor.

I explained again what had happened.

“Has this been cleaned up?”.

“Yes. And the nurse thinks a steri-strip might be enough. And better than stitches?”

“Hold on. I need to speak with the Consultant.”

5 minutes.

“I think I’ll glue it. But let’s have an X-Ray first, to make sure there’s no glass left in there.”

A 20 minute wait outside the X-Ray cubicles.

15 minutes inside the X-Ray theatre, taking a couple of artfully posed snaps of my offending digit.

Back to the always entertaining A&E waiting room, elevating my wounded finger like an assiduous schoolboy attracting teacher’s attention.

Finally called back to see the young doctor at what must by then have been after 5 pm.

“OK. Good news. No glass in the wound.”

Phew.

“But let me check something with the Consultant.”

“OK”.

5 minutes listening to my case being discussed on the other side of the curtain.

The Consultant and the young medic return.

“I think that needs a couple of stitches, I’m afraid. Better than gluing.”

“OK”.

I got to know the lovely young doctor as she whacked some local anaesthetic – 4 separate, painful pricks – into the bony top of the finger. She’s hoping to do a year out, in an Australian hospital, before returning to focus on a surgical career back in the UK.

We talked books, as I’d asked the Consultant if it would be ok to have a pint at tonight’s book club meeting in the pub.

After 2 stitches – “I’m a perfectionist” – she called the Consultant back in. The wound was still bleeding – quite a lot – and she didn’t want to sew it up prematurely.

“Squeeze it out, and ask him to elevate the wound before closing up.”

1 final stitch. Bit more chat. Done.

Sent away with a pretty rustic dressing, and a couple of spares, told to keep it dry for 7 days and get the stitches taken out at the GP’s surgery.

Finally home at around 6:30, after a cheeky cappuccino at the hospital’s insanely busy Costa outlet, waiting for some feeling to return to my poor finger before driving home.

Again, what remarkable service. But does it really have to take all that time getting processed through A&E, with highly trained resources who somehow don’t communicate as efficiently as everybody would in any commercial organisation?

I’m incredibly grateful for the thoroughness and professionalism of all the staff, but I ask again….is the NHS sustainable in its current form, free at the point of entry?

I fear not.

By the way, I had a couple of pints at the Olde Ship Inn as we discussed the heart-rending novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.  For medicinal purposes.

 

 

 

 

The NHS

I’ve just experienced an unexpected and intensive 10 days of exposure to some of the inner workings of our remarkable National Health System.

My poor Dad was rushed in, via ambulance, to A&E at the Royal Surrey Hospital late one night and moved through the system thereafter, from A&E to the EAU (Emergency Assessment Unit) and then to the Frensham surgical ward.

We visited every day, and became immersed in the medical processes and jargon, as well as the infrastructure surrounding what is akin to a small city.

We got used to the nuances of the parking options, the Costa coffee queues, M&S snacks and the vagaries of the creaking lifts. We made sure we smothered our secular hands in the anti-bug gel dispensers. We filled out endless menu choices for a disinterested patient. We harassed the nursing staff for updates. We listened to medical advice on Dad’s changing diagnosis. We hoped. We prayed.

With my loving son’s hat on, words can’t adequately describe my gratitude for the care and attention given by everyone at the Royal Surrey. From the paramedics in the ambulance, to the nurses and doctors in A&E and the EAU, to everyone on the ward – the tea-trolley wheeler, the pharmacists, the endlessly patient nursing staff, the young doctors, the consultants, the surgeons, the nutritionists – we thank you all.

But with my ex bean-counter’s hat on, it’s hard to see how a system this professional, caring and so committed to the perfect solution for everyone – free at the point of service – can be sustainable.

Net migration is now running well in excess of 300k every year. The average life expectancy was around 60-65 in the 1940s and 1950s, when the Beveridge Report formed the basis for the current NHS. Today’s average lifespan is closer to 80, and is expected to be close to 90 by 2030.

I don’t know what the solution is, other than forcing those who can afford it to pay for some medical treatment, in order to ensure that it continues to be free for those less well off.

(cartoon courtesy of Gary Barker)

But I do suspect that the current system – and more importantly, its staff – will inevitably buckle with fatigue and stress, if we expect them to continue to provide this level of care and commitment for an ever-increasing and ever-ageing population.

(cartoon by Graham)

In the meantime Dad is back home, with more drugs to get through every day than Amy Winehouse managed in a year, and a series of follow-up appointments to look forward to.

But without the NHS, he would probably have left us many years ago.

Welcome home, Dad. And thank you to Mr Beveridge and the NHS.