Sunday, 24 June 2012

The horrendous spectre of UK obesity

Perhaps even the dog looks overweight? 
Here in the UK the National Audit Office reckons the NHS spends £500M a year on obesity related problems.  By the time that's factored to include the impact on the wider economy, the figure grows to £2Bn.  By any measure that is a huge amount of money.

I want to bring some encouragement to the blogosphere world on the point of obesity.  There is a way out of this problem which includes changing lifestyles, changing the national diet, the way food and beverages are taxed (or not as the case may be) and offering real help that really works.  I'm not an expert on this, moreover I'm just an ordinary person but it is something that concerns me, having once weighed 13 stone 8lbs in 2003.  For the last few years I have been a steady 10 stone 7lbs (BMI 21.5) so perhaps I have had a narrow escape and a bit of an awakening.

The main thing is not to ponder the negative aspects of obesity too much, although these are important and I'm going to mention these below.  The main thing is to grasp the belief that obesity CAN be overcome, the result will be fantastic and if it applies to you, you will never want to go back to that old lifestyle again.  Please read that last sentence again and absorb it before you go any further.

Yesterday we were out and about; a normal Saturday afternoon thing for us.  We stopped and had a little snack at a "beauty spot" which was no big deal.  In fact, here's Hannah enjoying hers:

What sticks in my mind was seeing a woman on a nearby table.  Clearly obese she was eating a burger with all of the trimmings.   Perhaps she was eating then out of habit, perhaps out of seeking some comfort or maybe a whole load of other reasons.  While the food may have tasted nice to her, it could only have given her some brief pleasure, if anything at all.   She looked as if she was hating it and taking no pleasure from eating it, perhaps it was tinged with some guilt.

While obesity can take hold at any time in life, perhaps for many the middle-aged obesity problem is a big issue.  I mentioned earlier I was over weight a few years ago and thankfully never made it to the realms of obesity but it could so easily have been the case for me.  I remember it crept up on me.  We often joke about "married contentment" when we notice our friends becoming a little more cuddly and we've been the subject of that banter ourselves.  It is so easy for people in their 30s or 40s to continue eating as they did in the 20s but the waist line grows in such a gradual way it is never noticed until, well, you notice it with a shock.  The fact is, for many people, our metabolism changes alongside our lifestyle becoming more sedentary which in turns leads to those extra pounds and kilograms.

As I said earlier, there has to be that solid belief that it can be overcome; changes CAN be made which are effective and the effect will be so wonderful you will never want to return to those baggy clothes.  People who do lose that surplus weight have so much more energy and ability to get out there and have some enjoyment.  No more wheezing, panting or struggles in doing simple things.  Do remember as you improve your weight and fitness, the more you achieve the easier it becomes to achieve even more (does that make sense?).

We all know the basic reasons for obesity: the wrong foods in the wrong quantities and not enough physical activity.  Wrong foods mean, put simply, foods with too much sugar and fat.  Not enough physical activity means a sedentary lifestyle which does not include some kind of exercise which gets you out of breath 3 or 4 times a week.

In 2009 here in the UK it was reported that:

60% of adults were over weight (22% of men were obese, 24% of women were obese)
31% of children were over weight

Good things to look forward to by losing weight:

  • You will probably live longer and enjoy good overall health
  • You are less likely to suffer from diabetes and associated problems - eyesight, problems with feet and circulation etc
  • You are less likely to have heart disease
  • Your blood pressure will be normal
  • You will look good, feel more confident
  • Your mental health will be better with a better chance of avoiding depression, or anxiety problems
  • Your fertility will improve
  • You are less likely to suffer from certain cancers
  • You are less likely to suffer from arthritis, indigestion 
  • You won't snore as much


Saturday, 23 June 2012

Active parents = active children?

Becky, my 13 year old daughter riding my bike!

I know that my first responsibility is the well being of our two daughters - to provide, love, nurture and prepare them for making a good contribution to society when they grow up.  For me, this is probably the most difficult job in all the world.

One of the things we are determined not to do is to fall into a modern parenting trap.  The trap is raising kids in sterile plastic bags, while wrapped in cotton wool.  Another thing is ensuring they're not lazy and ought to have a bit of independence as they grow up: self confidence and reliance.  There seems to be a mentality around about not climbing a tree because you might scrape your knee, or not to risk going outside because there's a chance it may rain.

Kids don't seem to cycle very much these days

Earlier this week I took my kids to school and happened to notice another parent unloading a bicycle from their car.  Naturally this caught my eye and this was soon followed by bumping into an acquaintance (Chris) who is a Bikeability trainer (in "old money" this is the Cycling Proficiency test).  We had a brief chat in which he said he'd come to do the cycling training.  Out of one class only 3 children were doing it (and I think that was Year 6 - an ideal age).  This is depressing and sadly it is not unusual.  I remember when our girls did this training, there weren't many others doing it.

The vibes I pick up is around the kind of excuses parents sometimes use to justify their own lifestyle.  Some of these are paraphrased as:

  • The roads are too busy
  • There are too many potholes in the roads
  • Bikes are too expensive
  • We don't have enough time
  • There might be a paedophile lurking out there somewhere 

Why is this so important?

Physical fitness

I was at a conference earlier this week at Bristol (Social Investment in the public sector) and it was mentioned the NHS spends 10% of its funding on Diabetes related issues.  Type 2 diabetes is a growing problem which, it could be argued, can mostly be attributed to modern lifestyles with their poor diets and a lack of exercise.  Children tend to follow the example of their parents, often picking up many traits of their lifestyles and attitudes.  While I was in the West Country I went to see my parents at the coast and it is appalling seeing young adults waddling along the sea front so heavily.  Many were over weight and you could see plenty of "man boobs" wobbling around under football tee shirts - there were so many!  It is not helped by the number of candy floSome wise wordsss, chip shops, fizzy drinks etc that could be bought in many places.  There were middle aged people who were clearly obese needing walking sticks and then some older folk needing huge battery powered wheel chairs which were almost the size of a small car.

Surely it is important that our children, who are still growing and impressionable, grow up being physically able (wherever possible) and fit and healthy.  Their habits, interests and past times now will probably have an influence on their adult lives, so let's get this right now.


Rising to a challenge takes some confidence and I think it's good to stretch our children from time to time.  There's something about that self belief, confidence and willingness to rise to the challenge - isn't that a quality  we need in society, in commerce?  Then there's something being able to accept things when we fail, when we don't quite make the distance.  That happens in life and knowing how to handle that is important.  Being able to reflect is important too, to learn from our mistakes and errors, to consider our impact on others around us in our communities.

How do we know our limits unless we try; unless we push ourselves to the limits and then just a little bit further?

Pushing boundaries

Children can push boundaries in all kinds of ways and I think that's all a part of growing up, no matter how trying it is for parents at times.  To be honest, there are some boundaries that get pushed which I don't find helpful (like my patience at times!) but other times with school work and what can be achieved is positively encouraged.  Surely so many things have been achieved by the "greats" of history when boundaries, accepted conventions and beliefs have been pushed to the limits?

To be imaginative, to dream

Just imagine how dull the world would be without art, without music or an outlet for our feelings and emotions.  Just imagine a world without people with vision, without courage or conviction to do what is right.  We must nurture our children to be like that but vital to do it with the right value base - to know what is right and wrong, just and unjust.  

Some wise words

Surely the age old saying of "healthy bodies, healthy minds" must have much going for it.  That's just a saying but in the Bible there is the book of Proverbs (which I often find myself reading or recalling) and in chapter 22 it says:

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it (verse 6)

The sluggard says, "There is a lion outside!" or, "I will be murdered in the streets!" (verse 13)  For me this means we shouldn't be lazy, thinking of excuses and reasons why we shouldn't do things.


You might like to check out a blog I enjoy - the Family Adventure Project - now I don't know if they're Christians or have any faith (I honestly don't know) but I do admire them.  They also cycle, amongst other things, as a way of raising their kids in a wholesome way.  Very readable, sometimes funny, sometimes reflective, inspirational and always worthwhile.

Cycling to school a previous blog ramble from April 2011.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Running - the benefits of little and often

My feet and legs after yesterday's muddy run!
Rambling readers with good memories may recall I set myself a little challenge at Christmas time (click here) which involved running a little every day for a set period of time.  That was worthwhile and I benefited from those runs; I am doing it again now.  I think it is okay to do this but only for 2 or 3 weeks in order to maintain my overall well being, doing exactly the same every day might become a bit monotonous.

So a week ago I decided to do this again for a similar period.  It involves running for just 20 - 25 minutes each day.  Here are the main drivers: and why I recommend it:

  • Keeps your ankle and knee joints in good order
  • Raising the heart rate everyday keeps your arteries flowing nicely, maintaining the capacity of your heart to pump a good volume of blood around
  • A 20 minute run at a gentle pace burns around 150 - 200 calories and good for maintain a healthy steady weight
  • Each time you run, your bones are put under a little stress.  This in turn helps them stay strong by being constantly repaired and made stronger, thereby maintaining a good density.  Obviously this applies to the bones in your legs but also in your feet, hip and back to a certain extent.
  • Twenty minutes is fairly easy to squeeze into a daily routine
  • It prepares me well for longer runs - yesterday I did my 8.5 hilly run.  This is my best, most favourite run, I love it!  Strangely I found the first 20 minutes the hard part - after that it was a breeze. I had the fun of running along some muddy trails as you can see from the photo above
  • You'll find deep sleeping becomes easier, especially if you have things on your mind
  • Running over grass or uneven ground helps strengthen tendons, muscles and ligaments - especially around your feet and ankles
  • I never take any water with me on a 20 minute run, even on a hot day, so it's less to carry or faff around about.  A smoothie afterwards is ideal
  • Easier to incorporate some faster and more vigorous runs - do remember you need to warm up for a few minutes before increasing the pace.  I often look out for a landmark 100 - 200 metres ahead and sprint for it.  Wow that feels good and increases my heart rate tremendously for a brief period
  • You might even get a dose of the Runner's High after a 20 minute run.  Normally I need to go for longer and harder before I get much of a buzz but when I do that is just so amazing....
  • You will never doubt that you're a RUNNER
I'm going to enjoy doing this for a while but I'm still going to have at least one longer run each week - these are really special!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Cycle Hub

On our C2C ride we came across The Cycle Hub in Newcastle and I thought it was worth a mention.  Here goes: it is a social enterprise - this means that any trading profit is traded back into the community in some manner.

The Cycle Hub is right on the Cycle Route 72 on the banks of the River Tyne.  It's whole aim is to promote cycling for everyone.  It does this by renting out bikes, offering workshop facilities, nurturing a cycling culture and a place for local cyclists to meet for a coffee.

Sounds great and I hope they succeed.  They've only been open for a couple of weeks and clearly still doing some of the finishing touches.  There are some retail offerings; right from bottle cages to £3,000+ bikes as well as the cafe serving light snacks.

I would really recommend anyone cycling past drops into say "hello" and maybe stay for a snack.

 So. if you're on the Cycle Route 72 in Newcastle, why not take a look?  I think this place will grow and grow.  All the best to The Cycle Hub

Monday, 11 June 2012

Carrying bikes on cars

Transporting bikes by car is a tricky business and one that I don't enjoy.

At best they always look as if they're wobbling a bit, causing air turbulence which sounds too loud or worse still it is an accident waiting to happen.  Once we had a close shave when a roof mounted bike fell sideways - thankfully the straps holding the wheels in place prevented the bike from falling off completely.  I think it was the girls in the back that spotted the bike falling over and said "Dad your bike is flying outside the window!".  Nevertheless we still had to stop quickly on a dual carriage way near Oxford to fix the problem and later touch up the car's paint. Last year when the above photograph was taken, we were just setting off from Cumbria to return home and look at the way the car is weighed down, not helped by those bikes!

Our trusty old VW Vento (long lived and very practical) was replaced quickly owing to a slipping clutch and a few other niggles.  It was replaced by a Toyota Avensis (boring but smooth and reliable).

We have tried roof bars with a bike adapter on the Saab we once owned but it was a very fiddly process getting the bikes securely fixed and ready for driving away.  That's why we prefer the rear type of rack.  If you're thinking of equipping your own car ready for transporting bikes, here's a few things to consider:

  • we use a lot of extra fuel with the three bikes on the back.  At motorway speeds (a steady 65-70 mph) we reckon to lose about 10 miles per gallon.
  • with the boot fitting racks, it is impossible to open the boot with the bikes on.  Luckily we have folding seats so we can access the boot ("trunk" for USA readers!).
  • normally these racks can be switched from one car to another fairly easily
  • they are not too expensive - i.e. about £100
  • it is easier to lift bikes on to this kind of rack, rather than up on to the roof
  • we can still use our roof box if we need to (i.e. carrying all the camping stuff)
  • although our bike rack is designed for three bikes, it always feels like we're pushing it to the limits - three bikes are quite a weight
  • tighten up all the straps evenly i.e. a little bit at a time and then again once the bikes are loaded.  Worth checking once again after a few miles once everything has settled into place
  • make sure the bikes are clear of the lights and number plate.  Likewise make sure they are not hanging too low - on our way back from the C2C we saw a trendy Mini with the bike so low the exhaust was going to melt the bike tyre
  • be careful reversing - you can't see as well and remember your car is a metre longer.  For roof rack types, try to avoid driving into car parks with low barriers designed to stop vans and lorries, for obvious reasons....
  • if you're buying a new car, try doing a deal with the garage for some custom bike rack.  Potentially this is eye-wateringly expensive but could be the most secure way of carrying your bikes.  
  • the friends we went to do the C2C ride with had a tow bar mounted rack which looked pretty solid and had the advantage of being low down, so easy to load and I reckon it was more streamlined.  A disadvantage is having to have a tow bar fitted but worth considering....
Now come on, have you had any disasters?  Just leave the confession in the Comment box below.  I promise nobody will laugh or snigger at your stupidity.....

Saturday, 9 June 2012

C2C Coast to Coast

Becky, just before dipping our back wheels into the Irish Sea
Here's the ingredients of our C2C cycle ride, from Silloth to Tynemouth....

In numbers:

Miles: 110                     Punctures: 0
Days: 3                          Travelodge nights: 4
Kids: 3                           Adults: 2
Back-up Mums: 2          Sun burnt: 0
Cycle Route: 72            Days we got wet: 2
Wrong way: 2                Steep hills walked: 0

Hannah, Kate & Becky.  I just can't remember what Dave was getting them to count.

Day 1

We stayed the night before the start at the M6 Travelodge called Southwaite, just a few miles south of Carlisle and started the C2C ride from Silloth.  We maintained the tradition of dipping our back tyres into the Irish Sea before we left and although we felt a bit daft climbing up and down with our bikes, we drew some comfort in knowing the local folk must be used to this kind of spectacle.  Once on the road it took us a little while to get into the right pace i.e. not too fast or slow and a few minor adjustments to saddle heights etc.

Dave had worked out the route beforehand as he knew I would easily get us all hopelessly lost at least twice each day.  We aimed to keep off any main roads as much as we could and this worked fine throughout.

The first day was about 42 miles heading inland.  Not too hilly although Hannah maintains she had " Mum I cycled up at least three mountains today".  We finished at Brampton which is about 10 miles east of Carlisle.  Rachel and Ruth picked us up and took us back to the Travelodge before getting us there for an early(ish) start the following day.  A few comments about sore bottoms but everyone was keen for.....

Day 2

In Brampton, ready for C2C Day 2
That's me in the middle.  You might be wondering why I'm on a mountain bike which is too small for me.  Answer: girl (Becky) on right hand side who is hankering for a new bike and wanted to have a go on mine, the Thorn Audax Mk3.  Before we set off I lowered the seat, swapped the pedals and tilted the handlebars up for her.  She loved riding my bike and I hated riding hers - a neat reminder of why riding a bike with the seat too low is hard work and painful.

This day contained some fantastic scenery having progressed from gently undulating countryside in Day 1 through to a more rugged and exposed landscape as we climbed out of Henshaw and past the Chesterholm Roman site up onto some stunning scenery.  Going up was quite a struggle for Hannah (12) and not a very experienced cyclist.  She's not alone in leaving it too late to change into a low gear with a steep climb ahead and then grind to a halt when the low gear doesn't click in time.  Her solution?  Go back down to a flatter part and do it again: I really admired her for that.  Although the ascent was slow, she did it with a fair amount of "Daddy how long will this mountain take?" and singing made-up funny songs.  

Once we made it to the top, it seemed we had several miles of gentle free wheeling before we descended into Hexham, where we finished our second day.  While we were going down, man did the heavens open?  It was fantastic!  Talk about raining cats, dogs and stair rods!  It felt like we were cycling down a river at one point!

Day 3

Hexham to Tynemouth was easy on the Sustrans Cycle Route 72, so no need for Dave to keep an eye on the prepared route and no chance of me getting us lost (well, not much).  

This was a ride of real contrasts.  Firstly it was very different to the previous day and secondly within the ride itself we had some lovely riverside pastures and right through to the metropolitan areas of Newcastle.  Not many hills (or Mountains) for Hannah to sing her way up.

And then we made it to Tynemouth for the tyre dipping ritual once again.  Rachel and Ruth were there waiting for us with hugs, cheers and praise for the girls having made it.  I had previously promised Hannah and ice cream once we'd finished and the one and only ice cream van drove off as we arrived!  Nevertheless, the mums had a really nice hot meal lined up for us in a near-by pub where we could all reflect on the miles and smiles of the C2C route.
We made it!
Will we do this kind of thing again?  Yep, hope so!