Opportunities and excuses

Over 117 miles cycled on Friday for a weekend of camping with the kind of fantastic long-standing friends you can just pick up with where you left off.

It’s not a great campsite, but it’s pretty much central between friends who’ve been flung apart by life, partnerships, jobs and a healthy snootiness about the north/south – depending on your perspective.  With the sun shining, it was bliss.

With the 90 miles cycled last Saturday, and another couple of shorter rides during the week, it added up to about 260 miles in the saddle last week, which is a lot even for me.

I realise that for some my mileage – coupled with my inoperable brain tumour – might be an inspiration. I’m embarrassed, but take it as a compliment. To be honest, right now I just have more time than most  to get out on my bike.

But I also realise that in some warped way, my diagnosis could be used as an excuse – even a reason – for some people not to be doing a bit of exercise now and again.

After all, we’re told by government, charities, our doctors and TV shows that if we want to live long and prosper, we should exercise regularly and eat well.

We should raise our heart rate for 30 minutes at least five times a week (vigorous walking, vacuuming and sex are recommended).

We should eat five portions of fruit and veg a day. We should drink no more than a couple of units a night and we should stop smoking.

Then along comes this bloke who’s cycled regularly for 10 years, raced his bike, climbed the Alps and the Pyrenees on it, has a pretty healthy vegetarian diet, has never smoked, doesn’t drink that much these days and – well, guess what – he gets a life limiting brain tumour anyway.

So what’s the point in all that health crap?

It’s the flip side of Aunty Mabel who smoked like Drax and drank like a basking shark until she died peacefully in her sleep on the night of her 112th birthday, and never regretted a single drag.

One thing you learn very quickly after a cancer diagnosis is that statistics don’t mean much when drilled down to individuals.

The statistics say patients with my kind of brain tumour live between five and 10 years after diagnosis. Does that mean I’m definitely going to die in that period? No of course not. It could be sooner, it could be later.

Statisticians have looked back at how long people with my tumour generally survive and simply described where the tallest bar charts are. There will, of course, be what they call ‘outliers’ at either end – that’s Aunty Mabel.

The truth is this. Whether I exercise or not, or get a brain tumour or not, makes not one bit of difference about someone else’s life chances.

What statistics do show is that the more someone exercises and the healthier they eat, the less likely they are to die young.

The evidence is overwhelming: fitter healthier people live longer. Those who do no exercise, and who drink and smoke too much, die sooner. The link between cancer and being overweight is now clearer than ever.

Lack of exercise is now killing as many people worldwide as smoking, the Lancet reported last week.

Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France yesterday, the first Brit to do so in the history of the race. British Chris Froome was second and won a stage. Scottish David Millar also took a stage. Manx Mark Cavendish took three.

The London 2012 Olympics starts this Friday. British cyclists are likely to win medials in pretty much every cycling event.

The UK is about to enjoy a renaissance in cycling, with it becoming more popular, more safe and easy to take up than ever before. Even the sun has come out this week to encourage us onto our bikes.

If all of this has, even for a minute, reminded you of that dusty old bike in the garden shed, hold on to that thought.

Why not promise yourself a ride this week? To work, to the shops, even to the pub? Why not get a little out of breath and a bit sweaty and just see how it feels?

Why not text a friend – right NOW – and say, let’s go for a bike ride this weekend?

Getting fitter and healthier is something people definitely have to decide to do for themselves. But the inspiration has never been better to be getting on our bikes.

If people decide to go for a ride, or indeed for a run/swim/walk/mammoth sex or vacuuming session, then fantastic and I’m with them all the way (except, perhaps, the last two).

If they decide not to, I just hope they don’t use me or people in my situation as an excuse.

(Top photo: courtesy of the amazing Johnathan Cover at Clover Leaf Images, www.cloverleafimages.com)

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