Guest Post – On the Benefits of Exercise and the Perils of Obesity

The internet is a wondrous thing, but sometimes it gives people with a rather strange view of the world the opportunity to push their own point of view. That’s not bad, it’s just a reflection of social networks enabling people with shared extreme view to find each others and, sometimes, to communicate aggressively with those who have a different perspective. Case in point: at the recent Webstock conference a couple of presenters made reference to the so-called “obesity epidemic” and it’s relation to media, health and exercise. There was no admonishment of fat people per se, rather some general comments and opinions.

One attendee took offence to this and went out on Twitter castigating the speakers for using fat in a negative manner. I unwisely got involved in a long and heated twitter exchange which, to summarize, went along the lines of me saying that, in my opinion, being fit is a more healthy option than being overweight. A natural enough perspective it would seem, but apparently one disputed by a couple of commentators who made the mental leap from my advocating fitness to me being both a hater of fat people and a misogynist to boot.

Ah well, no use losing any sleep over that, but the exchange got me thinking ad reminded me of an article for a company blog written by an old friend of mine who historically was overweight, a smoker and sedentary. A few years ago he had an awakening and decided to do something about his lifestyle. it’s an inspiring story and one which more people need to hear. I’m personally proud of what Ed has done, and believe others might be inspired by his journey…

Hi, my name is Ed. I’ve been working in the Oilfield service industry since 1996. The first 10 years were spent working on land seismic crews all over Asia and the Middle East. The past 6 years have been spent in Dubai supporting the IT for our remote field crews. I have smoked since I was 16 and not done a scrap of exercise since I got my driver’s license the same year. I was so averse to doing exercise that stuck on my parents fridge in New Zealand is a note that my sister had written in the early 90’s. It has the family exercise program on it; jogging for mum n dad, rowing for my sister, and for me, the “TV advertisement break, sprint to the fridge and back”.

The story starts in 2006. 2006 was a tough year. It was the year I got the dreaded letter from our company doctor, following my tri-annual medical, saying you need to lose weight and stop smoking. My BMI was 35 and the only exercise I got was walking outside every hour to have a cigarette. 2006 was the year I lost one of my closest friends to a brain aneurism at age 32, only six weeks before my wedding. 2006 was the year my father was rushed to hospital following a bout of angina to have a double stent inserted in his clogged arteries. 2006 was the year I married my fiancé, and found out my wife was expecting our first child. 2006 was also the year I had a trip to hospital in the back of an ambulance after collapsing in the supermarket on a Friday afternoon. It was the year that I found out my true family medical history; both my Uncles & Aunt on dads side of the family had double bypass surgery, and on my mother’s side there was a history of strokes. Could it get any worse?

2007 didn’t start any better. Another emergency trip to the doctors after some abdominal pains, the cause was not found, but the doctor did note that I had high blood pressure and put me on medication. Apparently eating Burger King for lunch and KFC for dinner 7 days a week is not so good for you. The hypertension and meds concerned my wife a lot as her sister is a pharmaceutical salesperson. The doctor also noted that I was well overweight and suggested that I lose some weight or face the consequences. After a few months on the blood pressure medication, I revisited the doctor to get a refill. She took my blood pressure, noted that it was normal and asked me what dose I was taking. She was well pleased to hear that my prescription had run out a week earlier and suggested that I wouldn’t need them anymore. Apparently loosing 20 kg is good for you! It was the year my daughter was born. There is no joy quite like that of your first born child. If you want any tips on losing weight, it’s a simple math problem. Calories in minus calories burned equals weight lost. OK, so it’s not quite that simple in practice, but that’s the basic principal. The key is to find healthy foods that you like, and to eat correct sized portions. Smoking also helps, but apparently it’s not good for you!

2008 was focused on maintaining the lost weight.

2009 was the year my first son was born. My med-track showed no change in triglyceride levels, one of the important markers for a healthy heart.

2010 was the year of the Schlumberger Stop Smoking campaign. In April read through the booklet reading all the familiar material, i.e. smoking is bad for you; it causes all sorts of health problems. Then I got to the last page, last paragraph, it basically said, if you can’t give up, smoke less. That’s me I thought, I’m no quitter! So I stopped having my first cigarette of the day. My routine was, get into the office at 7 a.m., make coffee, have a smoke. I moved my first smoke back to 10 a.m. and it just grew from there. In a matter of two months I had gone from 20 a day to four a day. One day in June I forgot to have a smoke at all, and I thought “let’s see how far I can push this”. That was the last day I smoked. In July I started running. In the space of a month I had gone from being able to run 2 km to 10! After only four months of running I was able to complete 21 km in 2:20.

In 2011 I continued running and in February completed the RAK Half Marathon with a couple of guys from work. I finished in 2 hr 24 min, which left plenty of room for improvement next time! During the year I had a couple of blood tests to check my triglyceride levels. There was no change and they were still above normal limits.

2012 started off great, and continues to be. In January I finished the 10 km event at the Dubai Marathon (with 9,999 other runners) in a time of 51 min 41 sec. In March I encouraged my wife to join me for our 3 yearly med-track checkup, for the first time in 10 years, my triglycerides were within normal limits! Also in March I broke 2 hours for the half marathon at the inaugural Emirates Hills Half Marathon.

Looking back over the past 5 years I am amazed at how easy it actually was. The trick is to take it one step at a time, one day at a time. Keep your goals small, write them down, and keep them realistic. Re-evaluate the goals regularly and reward yourself when you reach milestones. Go out and buy a new ipad, or ipod, or Garmin forerunner 305. Do not forget to brag about your accomplishments on Facebook. If I can do it, so can you!

4 Comments
  • Hi Ben

    I too was at Webstock and watched with interest the webstock hashtag light up with the comments you mention above.

    A quick question, did the people that took exception to your comments track you down during or after the conference and discuss in person?

    Cheers
    Stuart

  • Hey Ben, I had a discussion with Jo after the show and my understanding of her perspective was that we should stop using *fat* as a convenient benchmark to measure *broken*. Not all overweight people have unhealthy diets. Not all fat people are lazy. Not all overweight people are making a conscious decision to *be* overweight. Yet we continue to heap assumptions on them and hold them up as poor examples of human beings. I can totally see how that doesn’t easily segway into the tone of the conference (encourage inclusion, consume thoughtfully, kill assumptions, stop misogyny and bias). I didn’t personally notice any hypocrisy from the speakers, but Jo’s perspective certainly made me think.

    • Thanks for the comment Kalena – it seems to me that some people wanted to pick a fight and would have done so no matter what was said on the day. It’s easy to find offence if you’re searching hard for it….

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