Tuesday 27 March 2012

Gym'll Fix It

For the first time since 2008, and the first time regularly since... some point previous to that, I have started going to the gym.

The reason for this is simple. I've kind of got fat. Came as a surprise to me, I can tell you.

The sad thing here is that it actually did come as a surprise to me. I was a pretty skinny teenager, and remained so up until my early twenties. In my mind's eye, I'm still slim. When I think of how to describe myself, the words "fairly slim" tend to come to mind, even though they're an utter lie. It's not that it's an intentional lie - it's that I don't feel like a fat bloke. Not really.

It's not exactly rocket science how it happened. My work has, for most of the last ten years or so, involved me sitting in front of a computer. My main hobby outside of work is writing, which involves me... sitting in front of a computer.

Add in the fact that I'm a lousy cook. Well, that's not entirely true - if I put in the effort, I  can cook pretty well. However, I'm unlikely to put in the effort. Even though I've been a vegetarian for almost two decades, I'm far more likely to plump for a pot noodle or a pizza than I am for something healthy.

It's not necessarily that I'm lazy. I'm just not good at this stuff. I mostly started gaining weight when I quit smoking. Throw in a divorce a few years later, and I kept gaining weight over a good few years. My mother, bless her, has consistently been telling me I've lost weight every time I've seen her, in outright contradiction to all visual evidence to the contrary. This is because my mother is lovely.

Just before my thirtieth birthday, I went to the Doctors, as I'd consistently had pain in my hand for a long time. Being male, and an idiot, I put it off until the joint under my thumb swelled up visibly and painfully to the point of nausea. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. It made me feel very, very old.

If you don't know, arthritis is when joints become inflamed - my hand had become particularly inflamed, and I didn't do anything about it other than start wearing a wrist support which actually caused more harm than good. The Doctor told me to start using ibuprofen. I've always avoided pain killers where possible, but I've found that ibuprofen has become my best friend. It was actually designed for arthritis, and God, it's good. I only use it when I have to, but it does work.

Since then, the arthritis has flared up mainly around my ankle and knees. At one point, I developed a click in my knee when I was going upstairs that I swear echoed, and every time I get up from the sofa, it takes me a while to get my ankles warmed up to the point where they'll actually move.

I realised I didn't like hobbling around, and that I wasn't making things any easier by carrying around all this extra weight. I may as well generally be carrying around a full rucksack. On top of that, building up the muscles in my legs may actually help me to take the pressure off the joints. The problem is that running is quite high impact on those joints.

So recently, I've been making more of an effort. A lot of this is down to my girlfriend who has rediscovered her love of cooking, and has been cooking lots of good, healthy food. She's also been encouraging me to eat more healthily generally, but in a very non-pressured way.  It turns out that fruit and vegetables are delicious. I can only assume this will come as much as a surprise to you as it did to me.

My work does have a small gym. It's been taunting me for months, but it didn't help that I felt massively self-conscious. It's one thing to actually be willing to get into the gym, but other people around, getting to actually see how out of shape I am? No. Not good.

So I got over it. About a month ago, I started using the gym. It was kind of scary at first, because I felt ridiculous.It doesn't help that I feel like it's all kind of mystical. The exercise bike, for example, has all these different settings on it, and I don't know what most of them mean. There's something that I can only describe as a big...frame like thing, which has loads of different attachments. On top of that, there are five different dials on the shower. And besides, will I look more strange if I keep the towel tightly wrapped around me when I'm getting changed after the shower, or if I go what the Ancient Romans would call "cock out"? Is it a moment of "God, you're obviously massively uncomfortable with yourself, aren't you?" or is it a moment of "For the love of God, why did you think it was appropriate to take the towel off before putting your pants on?" - I have no idea.

I kept relatively quiet that I was going to start using the gym. Some of the guys at work were very supportive, and one of them asked me a few times if I wanted to double up at the gym, but the fact that I could use it pretty much on my own felt very important, due to the whole 'feeling ridiculous' thing. Being able to be there pretty much alone, with my MP3 player on felt more private, and while I felt uncomfortable, that seemed like a good place to start.

I found it tough going at first. Of course I did. I had to stop a few times on the bike just to be able to keep going and get water, but I did keep going. And then I went back the next day. And the next.

And it's working pretty well. I've been going a minimum of three times a week, and am aiming for four times a week most times. It gets so much easier, and just over a month later, I'm burning twice the amount of calories than I was when I started, and I've started adding in a little bit of weights and stomach crunches.

I even bought some new trainers for more general wear, so I now have a pair specifically for the gym. It probably says a lot about me that, along with comfort and fit, my main requirement for trainers was 'not something that a twat would wear'.

The scariest thing? I've found that I actually enjoy it. The weight hasn't started dropping off yet, but my ankle and knees are definitely hurting less, and I'm feeling some actual muscle in my legs, and if I squint, I think I'm losing a bit of the gut. I'm also drinking more water and eating more fruit at work. The weight will come. I know this.

I know myself too well to be able to feel comfortable saying that I'm going to be able to keep this up for the long-term. But last week, I missed a session due to a lack of towels, and I ended up actually feeling quite anxious about it, and felt so much better the next time I actually went into the gym.

Fingers crossed, this will help. Fingers crossed, I'll be able to keep it up.

I think I deserve a beer now.