I have just finished a health and fitness programme with four mates of mine as a feature for Men's Health magazine. These were guys who are all about my age who had all put on weight because of sedentary lifestyles and a distinct taste for good food and drink (in quantity!) and were feeling decidedly middle aged and unfit.
The challenge was to take them through a 10 week programme that was a mixture of cardio/circuits and a few light weights that I had devised, to get them into shape and get them started on leading more active and healthy lifestyles.
It was a bit of a struggle at first because these guys were busy people and the whole idea of the program was to integrate it into their schedules so that it became both achievable and more importantly, sustainable.
We have just completed the 10th week and I have to take my hat off to them. I have had them up at 7am in the morning, running, jumping, crunching and lifting (and often moaning) and they have all done remarkably well. As a result, they all lost a shed load of weight and one of them even managed to bring his blood pressure down to a normal reading, the first time in five years. So big cheers all round for the lads and they will be featured in Men's Health magazine later in the year.
I enjoyed instigating this challenge as I have always been passionate about exercise and do everything I can to encourage people to take up some form of activity whether its swimming (of course) but walking, running, going to the gym or even dancing! Yes, of course it keeps you physically fit and healthy, but there are the other benefits of social interaction and the contribution exercise makes to mental health and emotional well-being which really makes it worthwhile.
Doing the programme with the lads was also a very bonding experience for all of us, and they all agreed that the support of each other helped them complete the 10 weeks especially when the going got a bit tough.
But although they all managed to keep up with the physical and mental program, the most surprising thing for me was the education that they needed about food. Now I know being a professional athlete most of my life, has meant that education about nutrition and the properties and combinations of food is second nature. However, it struck me that amongst the lads, (and I don't think they are exceptional from the rest of the population) there was a complete disconnect about the basic function of food and drink which essentially is just fuel for the body and therefore, you only need to take on what you use.
If you take on too much and don't use it, it stays on board!
But I also understand why this has happened.
The way food is marketed to us via the media, in the supermarkets and in the crowded schedule of food and cookery shows on TV, completely distorts our relationship with food. How often? How much? What are we putting in our bodies? And more importantly why?
I am struck by the number of cooking shows and food programs which extoll the virtues of great food and great cooking (which I love!) which do not show calorific value to the meals being presented or perhaps hint that this level of consumption of food is an exception and not something you can or should eat everyday.
And forgive me here, but when I see some food experts and critics coming onto these shows who are morbidly obese and woefully unhealthy, I just wonder about the messages we sending out about the relationship we have with food.
Would we ask a practicing alcoholic to advise us about the benefits and joys of drinking?
I tend to agree with Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, who recently expressed concern that obesity and being overweight are being normalised.
My mates are not exceptions but the condition they found themselves in was the result of years of careless and some times ill informed food and drink habits.
My plea is that we develop a major intervention with the next generation of young people who are growing up on a diet of misinformation about food, exercise and looking after their health. We really cannot let this level of bad education continue otherwise we are storing up huge problems as a society and for those individual young people that we care about.
If I had my way:
- Every young person would have their own individual recordable health and fitness profile and a program to improve it from the age of seven that would follow them through to adulthood.
- Every company, public or private, would have a basic office work-station work out for all employees so that everyone can do something to improve their health and fitness, even if they are sitting down all day.
- Everyone would have a basic education about nutrition, food properties, qualities and portions.
It's not rocket science!
The lads having now shed the pounds and had a wake up call about their in-take of food and drink, have committed to sustaining healthier lifestyles.
I have made it my goal to stay on their case.... I have a vested interest in keeping them fit and healthy as they are my golfing buddies and here is no fun in beating or worse being beaten by, a bunch of unfit, unhealthy deadbeats!