As we enter a new year and new decade, you will, like me, have noticed lots of newspaper and internet features along the lines of “New Year, New You”. These are usually accompanied by brightly coloured pictures of young or not so young men and women smiling happily as they work out in a gym or run happily through a park honing their already toned bodies as they face the challenge of a new year. Age no barrier! one headline shouted to me recently, beside a picture of a cheerful pensioner on an exercise cycle.
It would be easy to become depressed by these images. As a stroke survivor – all right, as a mature stroke survivor – I can choose to lie back, watch the telly and scream with envy at these pictures and features (and I do) or I can choose to devise my own opportunities for creating a new me through thinking up exercise opportunities appropriate to my decrepit state.
This is a constant challenge. As followers of this blog will know, walking about, as recommended by physiotherapists, has no doubt done me some physical good, but it has also caused me a broken limb and various other injuries through falling over in the last few years. I am determined that the 2020s will see an end to such mishaps, but I still have a vision of a body capable of dealing with rough terrain and hills, especially downhills, let alone obstacle-strewn city pavements.
On Deeside, one of the difficulties of getting fitter and stronger for someone like me is that there are quite a lot of hills around and most forest paths are littered with tree roots and stones which present no challenge to the nimble human or whippet (yes, Archie is still with us), but can seem like elephant traps to me. In winter, ice, snow and gales provide additional hazards and challenges to anyone whose balance is compromised.
Thanks to some months of intense negotiation, our local stroke Stroke Association exercise group – new members welcome, by the way – has obtained exclusive access to our community gym for one hour a week. This has undoubtedly helped to boost the confidence of members, something which is just as important as any boost to our collective physical strength. Many of us are now able to grapple reasonably confidently with treadmills, exercise cycles and arm presses – things which to many of us had been part of an alien wold for far too many years.
As a combined Christmas/New Year present to myself, I decided to purchase a small treadmill for home use. I say “small”, but no treadmill is truly small (or cheap), so the only reasonable place to set it up was in our garage. With the help of a kind neighbour, that is what we did. The treadmill now sits in the garage in front of our little car and surrounded by boxes of empty bottles, boxes containing things we haven’t seen since moving here in 2006, a rather rusty fridge and various other bits and pieces. The result is, therefore, not anything like one of those fancy David Lloyd gyms. There is a chill in the air and there are no lycra-clad bodies about- not even mine. However, the treadmill is accessible when the weather is harsh or slippy, and I have managed to use it regularly since we first installed it at the end of November, thus avoiding much ice, wind and rain.
Walking on a treadmill in a cold garage surrounded only by boxes and a silent car is dead boring. For that reason, I have set up a small tape/CD player next to the treadmill and beside it a supply of ancient tapes and CDs. Some may prefer the rapid booming beat of 80s classics to accompany their treadmill rhythm, I favour BBC classics such as Yes Minister, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and so on. The doors of the garage are always shut when I’m in there, so I’m not sure what passers-by make of my laughing and grunting mixed with the mellow tones of the late Humphrey Littleton and his team of jokers which assail them as they pass.
One final thing, for now. I have been asked several times in recent days, where copies of Man Dog Stroke can be bought. The easy answer is by clicking on the link to Amazon on this website. You can also purchase the book through any good bookshop – the ISBN is 978-0-9570995-0-0 – and I would prefer that you did so in order to help local bookshops to flourish and to keep our high streets alive. If you live on Deeside, Deeside Books in Ballater could be your first port of call. Buchanans in Banchory usually have some copies as well. Remember all proceeds go to the Stroke Association. If you prefer e-books to the real thing, the book is available as a download. In response to requests from stroke survivors and others, I am also working on an audio version with a professional voice-over artist – watch this space.