Some new research has shown that regular exercise not only staves off heart disease, diabetes, stroke risk and some cancers but also helps keep your brain healthy, so you are less likely to succumb to dementia.
This isn’t really news – scientists and doctors have been banging on about the amazing benefits of regular exercise for generations.
With this in mind, I watched the London Marathon at the weekend and then heard that a friend is now in training for an ultra-marathon (50 miles).
Why? We all chorus. Why do they do it? I’d rather eat a Marathon for 26 miles than run one (that’s a joke for everyone over 45).
But we all know why – being fit makes you feel bloody brilliant. Your sleep is better and you need less of it; your energy levels are higher and stay higher; you automatically eat healthier food and – and here’s a cracking bit – you can get away with eating more, so can shrug off the odd shashlik chicken or plain chocolate Bounty. Aches and pains melt away, you get up from a chair without saying ‘oof’ and can run for a bus, the school pick-up or last orders without being sick.
On top of that is the mental benefits. I don’t mean the amount of oxygen in your brain means you are likely to be staving off Alzheimer’s disease. I mean the sheer, heartwarming smugness of knowing you are in good shape.
Better shape than the cow-flanked families queuing into the car park at McDonalds; better than that bloke at work who has a Wispa and two cans of Coke for his breakfast and whose breathing sounds like a rusty old boiler; better than the expanding backside of the woman rolling down the supermarket aisle, trolley loaded with fun-size Bounty bars and family pack Doritos.
You are slim; you are fit; you wear trainers and leggings because they are your workout gear, not your couch clothes – you are better than everyone else in the room.
It’s a no-brainer that being fit brings nothing but good. Only it isn’t. A no-brainer that is.
Because, if it was, we’d all be running marathons and chomping on bananas instead of Bounties. And we aren’t, because our brains don’t let us.
You can rationalise it much as you like, read up on the medical evidence, imagine yourself two sizes slimmer and eight sizes smugger, but it doesn’t stop you ordering chicken korma with rice and a side of Bombay potatoes and a peshwari nan and poppudoms and dips. For the fifth time in a month.
And anyone who has staggered their way through a run, or cycled round the park, or got to the end of an exercise class knows without a shadow of a doubt how good, how euphoric you feel afterwards. For a long time afterwards too, right into the next day when your stiff legs and aching arms are a cause for secret smug smiles.
But, as far as your brain is concerned, none of this trumps the ten minutes of pleasure to be gained from shoving a bowl of profiteroles down your neck. And even that isn’t unadulterated – you are wracked with guilt, or anger or misery at having given in. Yet still you do it.
Why brain, why?
Why isn’t the brain strong enough to say no? To remind you how much better everything is when you are fit, and how shit you will feel afterwards? What’s going on with evolution that the dubious short term delight of a tub of Ben & Jerrys with squirty cream and Golden Syrup will have you dumping the diet? Shouldn’t the threat of diabetes and heart disease have bred this need out of us?
So why is it hardwired to go for the sugar and fat option? Does this go back to the Stone Age? Were there fur-loincloth wearing fatties, spreading their grilled dandelion leaves with mammoth fat and dipping their fingers into honeycombs? Can’t see it somehow – you needed to be fit and thin to run away from rampaging mammoths and swarming bees.
Or have we short-circuited nature with our statins and heart bypasses? Does our brain know, deep down, that it doesn’t matter if we spend our lives porking out in a chair because Medicine will sort it all out?
But even if this is the case, being fat and unfit feels shite, and being fat and unfit and sick feels even shitter. And your brain knows this, as it persuades you to drive to Pizza Hut instead of the swimming pool.
I have come up with two possibilities: The first is that our brains simply hate us. They tell us what we should be doing to make ourselves feel great, then go and make us do the opposite. Our brains want to upset us, to make us depressed, to feel like failures, to get ill.
Or: Our brains are really stupid. They want short-term gratification, to live for the day, to be comfy. They want profiteroles.