I’m a big believer in non-scale victories as a motivational tool and when it comes to quantifiable fitness levels due to exercise and weight loss NOTHING makes me happier than when I can see evidence of how positive choices affect my life.
A few years ago, as many of my regular readers will know I had type 2 diabetes, pre-hypertension blood pressure, high cholesterol and at almost 35 stone was unable to walk to the end of my street.
I was a man in his early forties already trapped in his house and circling the drain.
Whilst wandering through the Leamington Peace festival (link) at the weekend admiring the colourful people and soaking up the scent of vegan street food mixed with incense I stopped at a tent and looked inside.
‘Free health checks!’ Read the sign hammered into the floor nearby.
I looked briefly at the people behind the flaps and was about to move along when a friendly lady waved a blue clipboard in my direction and said ‘would you like one?’
I turned and looked at her.
‘Ummm – I dunno…’ I replied. ‘…what does it entail exactly?’
‘Well we do a few measurements – check your weight, body fat, heart rate, blood pressure, peak air flow and heart recovery. It takes about 20 minutes.’
I looked at my watch – suddenly realising when I did that I had no-where else to be in a hurry.
‘Ummmm… ok.’ I said – completely unable to think of a reason to say no.
‘Great!’ She said enthusiastically. ‘Just fill in some basic info and pop inside to get weighed.’
I did as I was told – and within a few minutes (after having my height checked – where I appeared to have shrunken an inch to 5ft 10) I was standing on a body fat measuring scale.
‘You’re 94.3kg.’ Said a helpful lady dressed in green. ‘Your body fat is in a really good range too – it’s 18.6% – but your BMI is a bit high. That’s 30.1‘
I smiled at her, thinking that I’d definitely have been lighter if I’d been to the loo, hadn’t been drinking coffee all morning and wasn’t wearing rather heavy clothes.
‘I’ve lost a bit of weight lately.’ I said. I’m happy with my BMI right where it is.
(The NHS concours incidentally. According to its app I’m apparently still a lardy boy – but no longer classed as obese. Personally I disagree with it’s less than nuanced assessment.)
‘Well oddly…’ She said, looking at the results ‘I’d have to agree. You don’t have too much body fat. You look quite healthy too!’
‘I walk a lot.’ I said. ‘Back and forth to work.’
‘That’s great – walking is a good exercise!’ She said. ‘Head over to the next desk. They’ll do your blood pressure.’
I did as I was told, and after a brief introduction where I mentioned my previous hypertension problem I soon had a testing cuff on my right arm.
As it chugged away filling with air the man in front of me told me to relax.
I sipped from my flask of coffee – forgetting that this probably wouldn’t help matters.
‘Hmmm….’ he said when it was done. ‘That seems low. Let’s do that again.’
He released the Velcro on the cuff and re-applied it to my arm. The machine whirred into life again and this time I sat in silence, didn’t touch my coffee and stared into space listening to the nearby vegans walking by.
‘Ok – well it’s come out the same.’ He said, writing the results down.
‘Do you take a lot of medication for high blood pressure?’ He asked.
‘Nope.’ I replied. ‘No medication at all actually.’
‘Well – that blood pressure is excellent. It’s 116/68 – and your resting heart rate is 43.’
He looked up at me again after noting it on my form.
‘Do you exercise?’ he said.
‘I walk a lot.’ I replied. ‘Back and forth to work, sometimes at lunch and in the evenings too.’
‘Well keep it up!’ He grinned. ‘It’s clearly working for you!’
I shook his hand, picked up my clip board and moved to the next desk – (the hydration station) where a lady told me to drink more water every day as I sipped my coffee.
I told her I was very hydrated indeed and drank at least 4 pints of water (with caffeine suspended in it) every day.
She didn’t seem in the least impressed with my efforts and gave me a plastic bladder filled with caffeine free see through water and a biblical quote printed on the side.
‘Everyone who is thirsty may come and freely drink of the water of life – Revelation 22:17’ it said as a helpful reminder.
I thanked her and moved to where she was pointing with her biro.
A tall, fit looking wiry man in shorts with grey hair (who seemed like he was bursting with energy) was standing next to two exercise steps and holding a stopwatch in his hand.
‘Have a read of this disclaimer and sign at the bottom.’ He said – handing me a piece of paper on a smaller clipboard along with a biro. I read it through – and added my signature, confirming that I had nothing wrong with me that may cause me to unexpectedly drop dead in front of him.
Next to me a lady around my age was also filling one in.
‘Hello!’ I said, drinking my religious water.
‘Hi! She smiled – revealing a slightly twitchy grin.
‘I’ve been meaning to do this all weekend…’ She said ‘… because I’m a TOTAL hypochondriac and I want to see if there’s anything really wrong.’
She looked at my clipboard and then at her own.
‘Were you here yesterday too?’ I asked.
‘I have a stall over there.’ She said, vaguely pointing over her shoulder as she stared at the results she’d accumulated so far on her clipboard.
‘Ah ok – cool.’ I replied.
‘Right.’ Said the tall wiry man in shorts with the stopwatch.
‘I want you on the steps for three minutes…’
He looked us both in the eye.
‘…and the objective is to keep up a good pace. You need to raise your heart rate.’
He demonstrated the art of stepping as he spoke. It didn’t look unduly complex. Full feet only. No toes.
‘Ok’ I said and stood in front of the left hand step with the hypochondriac lady to my right – facing another similar step.
I looked down.
Hers had ‘Reebok’ written in big letters on it and it looked newer than mine – which was non-descript and had a worn black rubberised surface.
‘I have one of these at home.’ She said to me, pointing down at the Reebok step. ‘I do ten minutes in front of the television in the evening.’
‘That’s good.’ I replied ‘I bet time flies if you’re watching Love Island!’
She stared at me.
I got the distinct impression she didn’t watch Love Island.
‘Go!‘ Said the wiry man with the stop watch.
I started stepping briskly.
‘How many flights does someone normally walk up in 3 minutes?’ I asked after a little while.
‘I don’t know. Quite a few I bet. Maybe I should work it out.’ He replied. ‘Keep going.’
After a minute had elapsed he checked in with us. ‘Two minutes to go.’ He said.
I noticed that hypochondriac lady had started stepping in time with my pace and she seemed to be breathing more heavily than I was.
‘Have you been busy today?’ I said, chatting to the wiry man with the stopwatch.
‘Yes we have actually.’ He replied. ‘Keep going. One minute left.’
‘Time goes faster when you’re talking’ I said to hypochondriac lady, smiling.
She looked back at me but didn’t reply.
‘Ok…. aaaaaaannnnd STOP!’ Said the man with the stopwatch, and reached forward to place a small blue heart rate monitoring clip on each of our index fingers.
He watched both of them for a moment as the readings settled.
‘Ok… he said to me – your heart rate is 60. Remember that number.’
‘And you…. you’re 119.’ He said to the lady next to me.
‘What?!’ She said. ‘He’s 60 and I’m 119?!’
For a moment I thought she was going to demand a re-count.
‘Yep.’ He replied. ‘Remember it and write it on the clipboard. He took the clips off and started his stopwatch once again.
‘Sit over there and I’ll take your resting heart rate in a couple of minutes.’ He said – pointing to the seats we’d been sitting on before.
I sat down and the lady sat next to me. Without asking if it was ok or looking at me she immediately leaned over my clipboard in total silence, reading all of my stats.
She then pulled out her phone and stared Googling numbers.
She huffed, sounding unimpressed.
She looked at her clipboard once more, then leant over again and looked at mine – still without asking or saying anything, before Googling a different datapoint.
‘Right. That’s time.’ Said the wiry man with the stopwatch. ‘I’ll just pop these on again…’ he said – and placed the little blue heart monitors on our fingers.
He waited for them to settle.
’41.’ He said to me smiling. ‘That’s really good – it’s actually the same as me!’
She looked at him, waiting for her prognosis.
‘100.’ He said to her. ‘Yours is quite high. You probably need to do more exercise.’
She looked down at my clipboard again, reading its results for a third time and verifying them against her own.
Her body language spoke volumes. It was practically screaming ‘How has he cheated the test?!!’
‘You can move onto the lung capacity station now’ said the energetic wiry stopwatch man.
I complied – and left her busily looking at things on her phone to sit in front of a young man with a lung testing device.
‘Pick one.’ He said in an eastern European accent – motioning to a large cardboard box to the left of him that was full of plastic tubes. ‘They’re all new – just grab one and pop it into the end of the monitor.’
I did as I was told.
‘Now BLOW!!!‘ He said enthusiastically.
I blew. Enthusiastically.
‘650’ He said. ‘That’s good. You’re not a smoker are you?’
‘I used to be.’ I replied. ‘I gave up.’
‘I bet you exercise too?’ He said
‘I walk a lot.’ I replied. ‘Back and forth to work.’
‘Well it’s working.’ He said ‘You’re supposed to be at 640 – so that’s better than good.’ He smiled. ‘You can move on.’
I moved on.
Better than good. I like that. Being worse than good is never good.
‘Hi!’ Said a chipper middle aged lady with a nice smile and a healthy tan at the next table.
‘I’m going to fill in all of your details and tell you how old you really are.’
Her fingers were poised and ready to type above a battered and elderly aluminium MacBook Pro.
It looked like a 2008 model. You can tell by the thickness and the ports. I’m a nerd. It’s a curse. I can’t help myself.
‘How much sleep do you have?’ She said.
‘About 5-6 hours typically.’ I replied, looking at the mag-safe power connector.
It’s a really elegant design. It prevents a lot of accidents when people trip over cables.
‘I don’t find I need much more and I get up a lot in the night. I eat tons of veg in the evening so I always want a wee.’
She nodded, typing.
‘Do you eat breakfast?’ She asked from behind the glowing Apple logo.
‘Not really’ I replied. ‘Rarely.’
She carried on typing on the subtly backlit keyboard. The Macbook had a slot loading DVD drive.
Sigh. Those were the days. DVD drives…
‘I do eat breakfast when I stay at hotels – but otherwise I’m never normally hungry till later in the day.’ I said.
‘Ok – getting more sleep and eating breakfast will make you live longer.’ She said matter of factly and started printing off my results. ‘However your health age is already younger than your actual age.’
She handed me the paper and I scanned the results.
The crosses weren’t quite in their boxes.
I could fix that – but I decided not to go into detail.
I was more concerned that the promised additional 30 years of health at the top of the printout was decided upon in 1972 when people ate lard whilst smoking pipes in flammable shirts and driving cars without seatbelts.
‘You’re 43.2‘ and you already have an extra three years on your life span’ she said. ‘Get more sleep and you could have even more!’
I thanked the lady, shook her outstretched hand and moved to the last table – which was full of pulses and healthy grains in little labelled polythene bags.
I sat down in front of brown rice and noticed quinoa to my left and edamame beans in the middle of the table.
The man behind the desk stared at my results.
He was sitting in front of lentils.
‘Do you exercise?’ He asked.
‘I walk a lot.’ I replied. ‘Back and forth to work.’
I paused for a moment, focusing on oats.
‘Well – I walk a LOT actually.’ I said. ‘I actually walk around 3600 miles a year – and about ten miles a day on average. I’ve also lost 20 stone and pushed type two diabetes into remission as well as my previously high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.’
He fell silent.
I noticed that his hand was resting by dried chick peas.
‘Do you want to see a picture?’ I asked.
‘Yes!’ He said enthusiastically.
I showed him my favourite, placing my phone on the table in front of him by kidney beans.
‘I’m pretty darned proud of that picture.’ I said. ‘It represents a lot of hard work.’
‘It really does!’ He replied. ‘Well done you!‘
‘It’s always nice to have a check up and make sure everything is ok though.’ I continued. ‘It keeps me on track. I like to see continued evidence because it keeps me focused.’
For the next few minutes we chatted as if we’d known each other for a long time – and we shared thoughts about diabetes and how much of a change people can make with even just a little effort.
He was frustrated (like I was) that the national health service didn’t tell people what we both knew was possible – that it could all be fixed or immeasurably improved with continued effort and a healthy lifestyle.
I liked him. He seemed very well meaning and he genuinely wanted to help other people live better lives.
He also thought the same way I did.
You can’t tell people how to live their lives if they don’t want to listen. It’s far more powerful to demonstrate the capacity that we all have for profound change and let them draw their own conclusions.
I left (after warmly shaking his hand) feeling that the world needs more people like the ones in that tent – who freely gave up their spare time to make a difference.
It needs armies of them in fact – all ready to show anyone that will listen the evidence that is hiding in their own bodies.
Hypochondriac lady had by this time walked off. She had told me she didn’t want to receive a print out or a conclusion.
I wondered if she preferred to silently worry instead of listen. Hopefully not.
Maybe she’d left the tent with a renewed need to stand on her step in front of Love Island. Maybe she would harness her obvious dissatisfaction with my stats and combine it with her dislike of amorous youngsters in swimwear.
Maybe it would fuel her exercise for longer periods.
Maybe it was a turning point…
The thing is – you never know when such a thing is going to arrive. You just have to be in the right place at the right time – and possibly that was the push she needed to get fitter.
I hope so internet – because it would be great to think that if in a few months time she looked down at another piece of paper like this one that she’d smile like I had.
Lord only knows where the back massage disappeared to though. I really fancied one of those…