Exercise? What exercise?

Having watched ‘The Biggest Loser’ (www.itv.com/biggestloser) on television over the past few weeks, I have become very conscious of my lack of exercise. I was amazed at how much Jessie and Kevin had lost and admire their determination to slim down. How difficult it must have been to resist all those yummy goodies and to keep to a grueling exercise routine!

When I was very young, I was skinny as a rake. In fact, I was mostly skin and bone. As I grew up, I remained petite, although there was a time when I had moved to Canada and found myself putting on 10 pounds due to a different diet and lack of exercise. Before I went to Canada, I was schooling in Singapore and all of us were made to exercise diligently, with P.E. and games during and after school at least 3 days a week. Between the heat and the exercise, most kids were slim at least during their school days.

In Canada, I tried to jog daily but found this extremely tedious. I was in high school then, and lived in a residential area, where I was unaware of exercise facilities close by. (I am sure that there must have been a swimming pool at least, but I never knew where.) In any case, I was very focussed on studying hard and doing well enough to get into a good university, as I was cramming a year’s study (Grade 13) into 6 months. I went to Canada to study in July and graduated at the end of the year. In the January of the following year, I matriculated into Guelph University.

This was when I started to notice that I was putting on a little weight. Thankfully the University had a swimming pool, so I started to get up early each morning to swim for an hour before attending lectures. By this time, I had become so out of practice that I was only able to do a few laps of a 25-meter pool before tiring. However, by dint of determination and sheer pigheadedness, I eventually managed to swim 60 laps each time I went to exercise.

Food at Guelph University was excellent. We had great salad bars, interesting sandwiches stuffed full to the brim, delicious hot dishes, and wonderful desserts. I think that this university had some of the best food I encountered in any of the three universities I attended. I also came to know some students from Hong Kong very well and also some Canadians, all of whom were great cooks. The Canadians would invite me to breakfast in the morning and fill me up with fluffy pancakes covered in butter and maple syrup. The Hong Kong group would cook up a storm for dinner and then make supper at 11 pm. Unfortunately, this did not help my waistline.

As a lowly student, I did not have the means to learn how to drive, so I walked most everywhere. I used to walk a mile across a flat windy plain of fields and countryside belonging to the Agricultural School with a friend of mine to Stone Road Mall where we would enjoy browsing the shops and go grocery shopping. In order to save money, I would then walk back that same mile to my apartment near the University with a backpack full of food and other necessities. I think these regular trips saved me from truly putting on weight.

In Edmonton, where I studied for my M.A., I remember one day in winter when I became hopelessly lost as I wandered around a residential estate looking for the house in which I was living. I had moved to the city from Toronto and was staying with relatives until I could find reasonable digs. It was terribly cold, with a high windchill factor, everywhere was white with snow, and all the roads and houses looked alike. I had just moved in with my relatives and could not remember the way back from the bus stop, nor could I remember the name of the road. I thought I would freeze my toes off – they were so numb, I could not feel them. At this point, I decided that swimming was going to be my exercise of choice, as I would be able to do this in midwinter as well as midsummer.

By the time I came to study for my Ph.D. at Edinburgh University, I had become very adept at walking long distances and actually enjoyed doing so as long as I had a destination in mind. I do not find aimless meandering particularly interesting, although I do like going for rambling walks in beautiful surroundings, just to be contradictory! These walks gave me the exercise I needed. I walked everywhere – often with heavy books on my back. I had tried swimming in the local pool, but it was expensive and the water was cold. A student on a budget must live within her means!

Marriage, work and young children saw me walking from one end of Edinburgh to the other. I used to walk the mile or two to work each day and when the kids were still small enough to push in the buggy or carried in a backpack, I would walk at least 3-5 miles a day in order to save on bus fares. We were poor as church mice and had to make do with whatever we had, stretching every penny as far as possible. The great side effect of all this walking and lack of sleep because of our infants that kept me awake at all hours was that I was able to fit back into my jeans within 6 weeks of giving birth.

Walking in Bowness on Windermere village along the shores of Windermere Lake. Across the water is a folly on Belle Isle, an island in the middle of the Lake.(Photo courtesy of www.cumbriaphoto.co.uk.)

Walking is great exercise, and I am only sorry that I do not have more time for this gentle activity now. I kid myself that I am exercising enough by climbing up and down the stairs at our guest house as I go about cleaning the place; but, really, nothing replaces actually walking those few miles each day to tone the muscles and lose weight. Now that I am in my 50s, I feel that it is even more important that I make time to exercise; so, this year, I am going to promise myself a short walk each day if I can manage to get away from work. There is The Dales Way Footpath (www.dalesway.org.uk) just a minute’s stroll from our door, and we are members of the conservation body that looks after this footpath. I am, however, rather skeptical about walking the Footpath on my own, since someone – in this case, Hubby, who works with me – must always be on duty at the guest house when we are open, and I do require a companion with a good sense of direction as I have lost my way before while walking the fells to one of its viewpoints. Unfortunately, I lack a sense of direction and am quite capable of losing my way whilst walking a straight line!

So, why am I wittering on about exercise? Well, for those of you who love exercise and enjoy active sports, I would just like to say that there are lots of physical activities you can take part in in the Lakes. Climbing, walking, riding, mountain biking and cycling, sailing, etc. For more sedate activities, you could try archery, fishing, clay pigeon shooting, etc. For some exciting sport, even though it does not take much exertion, why not explore Lakeland country lanes in 4-wheel drive vehicles?

Easter time is a great time for physical exercise and outings in the Lakes, since temperatures are kind and make it neither too hot nor too cold to be out and about. People of all ages visit Blenheim Lodge, and we have single, double, twin and triple rooms, so you can either come on your own, as a couple, or visit with friends and family. For guests who are not so nimble anymore, there are plenty of other attractions to visit and things to do. Check out Muncaster Castle (www.muncaster.co.uk) and its owl centre; take a scenic drive over Kirkstone Pass; enjoy a day at South Lakes Wild Animal Park (www.wildanimalpark.co.uk) where you can be ‘Keeper of the Day’; visit the Laurel & Hardy Museum (www.laurel-and-hardy.co.uk) in Ulverston, where the famous comedian, Stan Laurel, was born, etc.

There are so many things to see and do in the Lakes, so do come for a visit soon!

'Row, row, row your boat . . .' A great way to exercise on one of the numerous lakes in the English Lake District. Here are some canoeists enjoying a little scenic activity. (Photo courtesy of www.cumbriaphoto.co.uk.)

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