The greatest obstacle most of us face in reaching fitness, writes Conor O’Hagan – at any age or stage in life – is recognising the difference between fatigue and lethargy
A confession. I’m not what you’d call a high-energy person.
I have never, in my life to date, leapt out of bed (except on the one occasion in Sardinia, but there was a scorpion on the loose). My natural state is lethargy and every single session of exercise I have ever undertaken has required an effort of will – even though, when it came to it I enjoyed virtually all of them. I don’t know if Kathryn Thomas has the same problem, but if she does, she’s hiding it well.
The reason for this revelation (I don’t bare my soul for the hell of it) is that early in January, having endured the traditional madness that is Christmas, Ireland will plunge headlong into the less traditional but equally compulsory madness that is RTE’s Operation Transformation. Love OT or hate it, it’s hard to avoid – so maybe you shouldn’t try.
Operation Transformation and its many reality TV cousins involve a lot of exposure to flab, and people struggling to embrace a more active lifestyle. By and large, I’ve steered away from the subject of weight in this column. I’m not an expert and I speak as someone who carts around a good couple of stone of excess famine insurance. Although walking is pretty much unchallenged as the best way to lose it, personally I’m not comfortable with the current tight focus on weight as the measure of health. But one thing that comes through loud and clear when fat people get the OT treatment is the role of psychology, and that in the battle for health and fitness everything changes when you start enjoying the process. For most people it’s the tipping point, where willpower at last ceases to be the only driver. And that’s fertile ground in any fitness context.
Back to the TV. There’s an ad campaign you may have seen, using the tagline ‘The Joy of Movement’. It has the ring of a slogan for mass calisthenics or some unsavoury political movement, but it does convey something important – that exercise doesn’t have to be something you do because you have to. Except that for many of us it is. The pleasure of running around for no reason at all is something we forget as our lifestyles polarise around work and leisure, and, partly because the language of fitness is laced with concepts of morality, duty and judgement, the association between activity and pleasure can be hard to regain. Our first thought is that we’ll get tired, which we don’t like. The second is that it’s cold outside. And so on, and so sedentary.
In my opinion, the greatest obstacle most of us face in reaching fitness – at any age or stage in life – is recognising the difference between fatigue and lethargy; and the best way to underline the distinction is to enjoy being active.
With Christmas and the winter solstice behind us, according to www.timeanddate.com the last day of January will be 77 minutes longer than the first; confirming that, as we are fond of saying (though usually not so much in January), there’s a grand stretch in the evenings just now. There’s an even grander stretch in the mornings, which is something I can’t quite get my head around, but that’s what the numbers say. The darkest days are over.
My point, and you saw it coming a mile off, is that with more daylight comes greater opportunity to really enjoy walking and consequently more chance of success in whatever you’re hoping to achieve through it, if anything.
Don’t wait for the clocks to go forward; take advantage of the longer mornings and evenings by walking; slow or fast, near or far. Do it just to remind yourself that there’s pleasure to be had from movement (joy might be pushing it a little).
Energy isn’t something you find or lose, it’s something you expend. If that sounds a little pedantic, it’s probably because I am pedantic – but haven’t you ever dragged yourself off the sofa, convinced that you’re too tired to move, to go for a walk, only to find that the Gods of energy have smiled upon your endeavours, and you’re enjoying yourself? I can’t be the only one.