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After a lifetime of being scolded by medics for my smoking, drinking and general inertia, here’s one health story that cheered me up, writes TOM UTLEY


For me, as for so many of us who don’t look after ourselves properly, the health pages in the newspapers generally make profoundly depressing reading.

Day after day, we read studies concluding that just about everything we do, or fail to do, is pretty well guaranteed to send us to early graves.

In my case, I smoke and drink for England and eat all the wrong things — red meat, fatty foods, too little fruit and veg. I spend much of my life slumped on the sofa in front of the TV and keep irregular hours, with often too much sleep and sometimes too little. I haven’t visited a gym since I left school half a century ago.

Furthermore, I live in an air-polluted city, drink gallons of coffee every day and have never used sunscreen to protect my skin, even on the most mercilessly sunny Mediterranean beach.

As if all this were not enough to kill me off, until my semi-retirement at 65 I had a highly stressful job for more than 40 years, daily enduring hours of idleness interspersed with bursts of panic-stricken activity to meet newspaper deadlines. A sure recipe for a heart attack, say the scaremongers.

In my case, I smoke and drink for England and eat all the wrong things ¿ red meat, fatty foods, too little fruit and veg. I spend much of my life slumped on the sofa in front of the TV and keep irregular hours, with often too much sleep and sometimes too little. I haven't visited a gym since I left school half a century ago

In my case, I smoke and drink for England and eat all the wrong things — red meat, fatty foods, too little fruit and veg. I spend much of my life slumped on the sofa in front of the TV and keep irregular hours, with often too much sleep and sometimes too little. I haven’t visited a gym since I left school half a century ago

Foolish

Indeed, if you were to add up all the years supposedly knocked off my life expectancy by each of these aspects of my reckless existence, you’d think I would hardly have made it to 35. Let alone would I be looking forward to my 70th birthday next month (Wikipedia please note, I was born in 1953, not 1952).

I would certainly be riddled with cancer or heart disease by now — but then, for all I know, it’s possible that I am. I can’t be sure, because another of my self-destructive weaknesses is that I’m terrified of doctors and never go anywhere near them, except on those very rare occasions when Mrs U marches me to the surgery at gunpoint.

I haven’t had a medical MOT since 1982, when it was a condition of my offer of a job at the Financial Times.

Nor have I ever sent a sample of my poo through the post to the NHS, to be analysed for bowel cancer. This is in spite of a barrage of text messages from the NHS, urging me to take advantage of its free screening programme for the over-60s.

Yes, I know this is incredibly foolish of me, and that a great many lives have been saved by the test. Coward that I am, it’s just that if I do have cancer of any sort, I don’t want to know about it. Nor do I want to spend my days hanging around in NHS waiting rooms, until I absolutely have to. I see, by the way, that the health service is now splashing out our money on TV advertisements, urging everyone who’s had a cough for more than three weeks to be checked out for cancer.

Good grief! Doesn't the NHS feel its waiting lists for appointments and treatment are long enough already, at some 7.5 million, without the need to drum up more customers on the off-chance that they may have something seriously wrong with them?

Good grief! Doesn’t the NHS feel its waiting lists for appointments and treatment are long enough already, at some 7.5 million, without the need to drum up more customers on the off-chance that they may have something seriously wrong with them?

Good grief! Doesn’t the NHS feel its waiting lists for appointments and treatment are long enough already, at some 7.5 million, without the need to drum up more customers on the off-chance that they may have something seriously wrong with them?

As it happens, I’ve had a cough for at least 20 years, but it has never occurred to me to trouble my GP with it. What with my 50-a-day Marlboro Red habit, I have a feeling I know what’s causing it.

After all these warnings of my imminent death, therefore, what a joy it was to read this week that I may actually live to a ripe old age. And all because I’ve been a pretty fast walker for as long as I can remember.

I’m indebted for this cheering news to a study in the snappily named journal, Progress In Cardiovascular Diseases, which finds that people who walk more quickly than the average tend to live longer than dawdlers.

Seething

What’s more, we’re not talking here about just a marginal difference. If we’re to believe this research, based on data from almost 400,000 Britons followed for more than a decade, ‘brisk walkers’ are more than a quarter less likely to die of cancer than people who walk more slowly than the average of 3-4 mph.

Meanwhile, the risk of dying young from cardiovascular disease was found to be 60 per cent lower among those of us who walk at more than 4 mph, and a whopping 70 per cent lower where early death from other causes was concerned.

Says the study’s lead author, Dr Jonathan Goldney of the University of Leicester: ‘We encourage walkers to pick up their pace where possible, as this may just improve their life expectancy.’

Now, I've never measured the speed at which I walk. But I do know that I'm hardly ever overtaken on the pavement

Now, I’ve never measured the speed at which I walk. But I do know that I’m hardly ever overtaken on the pavement

Now, I’ve never measured the speed at which I walk. But I do know that I’m hardly ever overtaken on the pavement. Far more often, I find myself seething behind others who walk two or three abreast, leaving me no room to get past them.

The worst offenders, as fellow sufferers will testify, are the increasing numbers who creep along, too absorbed in their mobile phones to get out of anyone’s way.

Meanwhile, Mrs U, though no slacker herself, has often complained that I walk too fast, saying she struggles to keep up with me and urging me to slow down.

Well, thanks to this remarkable study, I now have the perfect riposte: ‘Are you hoping to increase my chances of dying young?’ (On second thoughts, don’t answer that, darling!)

Impatient

Of course, there could be one glaring flaw in the theory that simply by speeding up on the pavement or in the park, we may improve our chances of longevity: is it perhaps possible that we may be confusing cause and effect?

To put this another way: do people tend to be fit enough to avoid early death because they walk quickly, or do they tend to walk quickly because they are fit enough to avoid early death?

It’s a question that has clearly occurred to the Leicester study’s authors but, alas, they have little light to throw on the answer. All they will say is that further clinical research is needed to establish the truth.

If my guess is right, however, brisk walkers tend, on the whole, to be non-smokers who watch their weight, take regular exercise, drink only in moderation and eat plenty of fruit and veg. Meanwhile, people like me, who walk quickly merely because we’re impatient, are the exceptions to the rule.

As for how I’ve managed to avoid serious illness for seven decades, living the life I do, I suspect it has precious little to do with the speed at which I walk. Rather, I put it down to the devil’s own luck.

And as I approach my 71st year, I won’t be a bit surprised if it runs out soon, which will be no worse than I deserve.

So, no. However fast you may walk, I wouldn’t for one moment recommend my way of life to those who hope to live long enough to see their grandchildren grow up.

I just rejoice that after a lifetime of being hectored and scolded by the medical establishment, I’ve at last read a health story that cheered me up.

So I’ll keep up the pace on the pavement while I’m able to — and I’ll thank you to keep out of my way.



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