My third book, Ten Lessons from the Road, came out earlier this year. I’m really pleased with it, and I would love people to read it. But I’m realistic about how few people will actually read the book. So I decided to give it away -for free– here on my blog. Hopefully it will reach more people that way.
Ten Lessons from the Road has ten chapters, each one short, sweet and ideal for a blog post. I’m reproducing them here, one each month, and I hope you enjoy them.
The only downside of this is that I can’t reproduce on the blog the beautiful photos and cool layout of the book which make the book what it is. But, hey, it’s free here! You can see how the actual book looks in the 30-second preview video above.
9 – Shed a load. Hit the road. Save the Earth, save yourself.
Are you fit enough?
If not, why don’t you do something about it?
I am no bronzed and muscled gym god. I suspect that you are not one either. That is not what this chapter is about. It is about being healthy, increasing your self-respect and enabling you to perform better in every aspect of your life.
I am no athletic superstar. I was never in any sports teams at school. I realised, sadly young, that I was never going to play for Leeds United. In Los Angeles I nearly lost an arm wrestle to a 50-year-old woman. But by the end of my journey I was riding for more hours a day than cyclists do during the Tour de France. I could eat as much food as I wanted to, and I would not get fat, and I could sing at the top of my lungs as I rode smoothly and efficiently up Alpine mountain passes. It felt good.
I felt tired but satisfied at day’s end. I am not advocating an obsessive fitness regime, nor any fitness regime at all, actually. Rather, I encourage everybody to remember the benefits a healthy lifestyle can bring.
“Anima sana in corpore sano” – “A healthy mind in a healthy body.”
The ride had been a powerful learning experience for me. I had much to reflect on. I hoped not to lapse back into the sedentary life of our rich world, where even children do virtually no exercise and are prevented from taking risks. We drive everywhere, we eat crap food, we slouch indoors and we forget that doing exercise is something that makes you feel good, not bad. We eat too much, we run too little.
Healthy mind and healthy body: how mad we are to neglect our body, the very machine that carries all our thoughts, emotions, ambitions, dreams, fears and even our life itself. And yet we still expect to live smoothly, healthily and happily to a ripe old age.
Are you fit enough?
I am lucky. I am healthy, I’m not sick or injured. I live in a country with hospitals and clean water. Things are on my side. But I also do what I can to keep things that way. I eat pretty healthily. I like eating, and I eat a lot, but I don’t eat vastly more calories than I use. I like getting outside and running around and – when it’s raining and cold and I really don’t want to do it – I understand that it’s good for me so I just do it anyway.
Why don’t you do something about it?
It’s not easy to drag myself out of bed at 6am to run or swim or go to the gym before work. Every so often my weak side wins and I just roll over and go back to sleep, but usually I manage to beat the sleep demons, get out of bed, splash cold water on my face, and head out to do some exercise. And I never, ever regret it once I’ve done it. Never.
“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” – Plato
I had overestimated the physical side of the expedition. My body had gradually strengthened and hardened to meet the challenges of the road. It was a real thrill to have become so fit. To ride 100 miles a day, spending eight hours in the saddle on a laden bike over demanding terrain and to be able to wake the next morning and do it all again, and again, and again was something I was very grateful for. We greatly underestimate our bodies. People I met used to say to me, “I could never ride that far.” For most people that was nonsense. I am no sporting superstar.
“A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise.” – A. A. Milne
Far less than half the adult population of Britain does what the government recommends to be the minimum level of physical activity required for good health (and they include walking to the shops in their criteria!). If that applies to you, do yourself a favour. Even if you don’t want to play a sport, have no desire to run a marathon, and do not feel the need to test your physical limits until you throw up, just do something for your health’s sake.
Go for a walk, and promise yourself that you will stick at it for a couple of months.
Alex Vero was a 16-stone obese documentary filmmaker. He decided to turn his life around and see how far his fitness could progress in a two-year period – with the ultimate goal of attempting to qualify for the Beijing Olympic Games! He didn’t make the Games, but he did manage to make TIME magazine and revitalize his life.
Push through the pain and the stiffness and the embarrassment and the reluctance and, after a while, you’ll begin to feel better for exercising. You’ll start to lose those wobbly bits, both physical and mental. You’ll have more energy, more enthusiasm for life.
Keep going a bit longer and you’ll miss exercise when you don’t do it. It’s not always easy. When rain and wind rattled my tent in some soggy, grey dawn the last thing I wanted to do was get up and ride my bike for eight hours. Back home, I sometimes regret days when I couldn’t be bothered to go for a run. But I never regret it once I’ve been. Being fit feels good.
“Those who do not find time for exercise will have to find time for illness.” – Earl of Derby
If you enjoyed this chapter you can read the others here.