From fat to fit: Putting mind over matter when it comes to exercise

Our writer finds the psychological battle is just as important as the physical effort

It's nearly four months since I started what I steadfastly refuse to refer to as my "fitness journey". I'm happy to report that the issues that sent me kicking and screaming into the gym – horrendous lower back pain and occasionally debilitating sciatica – have all but vanished thanks to the tutelage of my trainer at Iconic Fitness in Dubai, Hannes Loubser.

When I first sat down with the guys at Iconic, I was asked what I wanted to achieve (apart from the obvious) with my sessions, and I told them that I’d like to be able to change my attitude, to get over my lifelong aversion to physical exercise.

And while I’m still nowhere near my goal weight or shape, I reckon that my outlook is now entirely different. It’s constantly on my mind to be more active and to look after myself more in my middle age, and I’m feeling better about myself than I have in a very long time.

Apart from the absence of pain in my back, I’m sleeping better and have improved my dietary habits. Since the beginning of the year, I haven’t eaten any meat and have almost entirely cut out dairy products and, apart from the occasional pining for a slab of Stilton and a box of salty crackers, I have to say I haven’t missed it.

I’m more mindful of what I put into my body and, as a result, I am mentally and emotionally sharper than ever. It’s been quite a ride.

And ride, as you'll have noticed over the past three weeks, is what I should never have stopped doing. For nearly three years, my bike has languished, unloved and unmoved, tucked away in a corner on my balcony where it was out of sight and out of mind. I'd forgotten about the many benefits brought about by doing a thrice-weekly circuit of Dubai Marina, and now that they've been rediscovered, I don't want to stop and return to my old ways.

I still don’t find any appeal in going to the gym, and for the life of me I cannot get my head around anyone spending their time and energy on an exercise bike or spin class. For me there’s no substitute for the real thing. And I will, over the next few weeks, engage in another low-­impact activity that should do my core some good while avoiding the demolition of my knees and other joints: swimming. The sea should be getting warmer now, so on the mornings I’m not cycling, I reckon a visit to the pool or a short stroll to beach and some time in the water will bring about further improvements to my general health.

Key to my enjoyment of ­either activity, though, is being up and out early enough to beat the crowds and the soon-to-be raging summer temperatures.

Anyone who knows me would agree that, over the years, I have often been a complete stresshead. I'm easily enraged, and even my colleagues have at times felt the need to caution me that I may be heading for a heart attack, so quick was I to react badly to the slightest annoyance. I've definitely mellowed, and I've stopped shouting at other motorists and customer-service staff – I've chilled out and calmed down. Exercise, I have come to realise, plays a very important part in that, and my stress levels are greatly reduced by being active. After a bike ride, I'm physically exhausted, but am in a much better place mentally, ready to face the day and whatever it might throw at me.

Being middle aged is a mixed bag. I’ve become more at ease with myself, more accepting of my flaws and foibles. I’m happy in my work and enjoy a stable, fulfilling marriage. I became a father again a couple of years ago, and am able to recall and avoid many of the mistakes
I made the first time around. Also, I’m wiser and less prone to making rash decisions, flying by the seat of my pants. That said, I’m more aware than ever of my mortality and my ageing, the decreasing hair count, the transformation from a dark brown thatch to pure silver, and the ever-increasing collection of wrinkles.

If I let myself, I could become morbid about the fact that I'm heading far too quickly into my twilight years, but it's had the opposite effect. Dr Muir Gray said in his book, Midlife: Look Younger, Live Longer, Feel Better, that while none of us can yet reverse the ageing process, we can feel younger and more energetic if we develop the right attitude. "Remember," he says, "midlife is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning." And while my hopes of achieving a washboard stomach are unlikely to ever come to fruition, I do believe that I finally have attained what has eluded me for 46 years: the right attitude.


Read more about Kevin's experiences:

Get on your bike

I might even invest in some more lycra

Some things are worth getting out of bed for

Cutting out animal products is one thing, eating healthily is another

Find the right coach to reach your goals