As she released the pressure round my upper arm and consulted the dial, the nurse looked concerned.
I was having one of those health checks your GP offers when you get close to your four-score and 10.
“It’s a bit high,” she said, referring to my blood pressure. Previously she had sucked a finger full of blood out of me for a cholesterol check. That was a bit high too. Not enough to worry about but higher than it should be.
My weight was also up on what the chart said was healthy. But my height seemed to have shrunk. I was only 5ft 7in, instead of the 5ft 8in I had always believed myself to be.
“Well I’m not going on those statins,” I told her.
“Exercise is the best way of dealing with it,” she said. “That and maintaining a healthy diet.”
Well I knew that already, but I thought I was exercising quite a bit already. After all I have allotments to dig, a boat that I am restoring, and until she died recently, a dog to walk.
Then I thought about it a bit. I only do the allotment on two days a week, and it might be a bit of gentle weeding rather than aerobic digging. And working on the boat didn’t always get me puffed out.
So I have dug the old bike out of the garage and pumped up the tyres. I’ve also bought a helmet for the ridiculous price of £30 but I am not going for Lycra. And the yellow jersey can wait.
I hadn’t ridden the old bike for years and both it and I are rusty. It’s a bit scary. Cycle tracks in this country are not worthy of the name and you are not even slightly protected from traffic. I might save myself from a heart attack, only to be knocked into the next world by a passing truck.
Bit by bit though, I am finding the routes where the cars are less likely to go. Sometimes there are pavements that are wide enough for bikes and pedestrians. Occasionally there are even exclusive cycle tracks, though these are few and far between.
When I was a boy I went everywhere on my bike. Everyone did. It never seemed like hard work. Your bike was just an extension of yourself. There were not many cars about in those days of course, so the roads were much safer.
But I have found cycling to be by far the best form of exercise. There is no way you would get me going to a gym, spending huge amounts of dosh to pound a treadmill, heave on a rowing machine or ride a bike that goes nowhere. Besides I hate the smell – all that stale sweat.
Exercise has to be meaningful. I can use my bike to go to the shops or visit people. Even if you just go for a bike ride at least you are seeing the countryside. It’s not just exercise for the sake of exercise.
I also have a rowing boat – a real one that actually floats. It needs a bit of doing up but I can’t wait to get that out on to the water. I know of no better exercise than rowing for tightening the tummy muscles.
The point is, we are constantly being told that increasing numbers of us are getting type-two diabetes caused by obesity from eating too much of the wrong things and not exercising enough.
Other deadly illnesses, such as heart disease, some cancers, and even dementia, are less likely to occur if we eat better and exercise more.
It’s not rocket science. If we eat better and exercise more, we are likely to stay healthier for longer.
No one can make you exercise. You have to do it for yourself. And only you can ensure that there is not too much sugar or fat in your diet.
The government or councils could help by providing more and better cycle tracks and other exercise facilities. But they probably won’t even though there is a good economic case for doing so. Think of all the money that will be saved on healthcare.
So it’s down to us as individuals. All I can say is, that if you want to stay healthy – on yer bike!