I’m 52 and I am still physically active. The more I look around the more I think I’m a bit weird. On Sunday I will attempt to cycle 87 hilly miles around England’s Peak District. There will be many people over 40 but few over 50. Recently I have asked myself – when will I stop pushing myself like this ?
My Father is 82 and still cycling, playing tennis, gardening and doing DIY. My Mother, despite suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, still manages to walk around hilly New Mills at the age of 77. Both are from a generation which walked or cycled everywhere, and neither had a car until they were in their 30s. My Mother’s family used to walk from Chesterfield to Matlock after Sunday lunch, have some tea and then walk back. A round trip of around 25 miles. My parents’ generation would think nothing of cycling to the Lake District for a youth hostelling, a round trip of 200 miles come rain or shine. It means that now they are in the fourth quarter of their lives, they have better hearts and lungs than many 30 year olds. So, maybe I will keep going for a few years yet.
Sunday will be a struggle. In the 87 miles there are quite a few steep hills, including several at 15 to 20% inclines. I will be watching my heart monitor closely, keeping below 160 beats per minute if possible to make sure I make it round. I will be inspired by those riding the same route. People who have also decided not to give up.
Near where we live in Birmingham there are two schools. Parents regularly drive their children to those schools, often less than 500 metres. A lot of children walk with their parents, and a very few cycle along the pavements. Few of those children are fat. I feel sorry for the children in the cars. When they get to 50 they will only be able to stagger from their front door to the car, if they can get that far. The habits and more importantly, the attitudes formed in childhood stay with us for life. Being driven to school is nonsense, driven by guilt and fear, nurtured by tabloid obsessions with child abuse and abduction. Neither of these is any worse than they have ever been, but the paranoia surrounding them has become an industry in itself.
Many parents are also time-pressed or just lazy. One of my neighbours drives less than 300 metres to deliver her child to the school if it is raining. She is obese, and likely to remain so.
Reading all of the above some people would accuse me of being a “body fascist” or say that it is none of my business. They may be right. But some of these are the same people who find cycling or walking mildly ridiculous. If you have a car – why not use it?