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Why I joined a gym

By Aakar Patel
May 23, 2018 08:27 IST
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Elizabeth Hurley, one of the great beauties of our time, said there was only one way to lose weight, and it was 'to go to bed hungry', says Aakar Patel.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

This month, once again, bravely, I have ventured forth into the world of fitness. This means joining a gym and then, of course, attending it regularly, which is the slightly more difficult part.

I say again because, like all of us in the middle class, I have had episodes of 'wanting' to be fit and 'doing' something about it.

This happens usually at the spur of some deluded moment, when one imagines that being fit and looking fit makes life in some way different (of course it doesn't).

And I say bravely because the dozens of failures of decades past have had no salutary effect in tempering the delusion described above.

As someone very wise once said or wrote: Insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.

But here we are once again.

To my credit, though, there is an external catalyst for the current insanity.


A few weeks ago, a friend of mine in Surat had a stroke. He is about my age, and overweight, as the majority of us middle-class Indians are.

A man of immense talent, energy and mental agility in the decades I had known him, he is now all but incapacitated.

Moving around requires the help of other people given that much of his body isn't functioning and everyday things cannot be done without support. I need not go into details.

This is, of course, not at all uncommon for men of middle age in our part of the world. He's a little over 50 and I'm going to hit that half century mark in a year-and-a-half.

More of us live on and survive into old age even when afflicted by serious illnesses that only decades ago would have laid us low. That is the miracle of modern medicine. But it also means that more of us live with disabilities of all sorts, and this is what I am seeking to avoid.

The secret to being fit is actually not a secret: Eat less than you want to, every day, and exercise, often.

Elizabeth Hurley, one of the great beauties of our time, said there was only one way to lose weight, and it was 'to go to bed hungry'. It's that simple.

Hurley, who looks ravishing at 51, eats one meal a day.

Anyway, having decided that I would be fit, I scanned the neighbourhood for gyms. Having one within walking distance is critical because it eliminates an important barrier to regularity.

There were three that Google threw up. The first one, about 200 metres down the road, was one that I had been to earlier. I walked over after work one evening to see what was different.

It had become smaller since I had last visited and though it had a lot of machinery, most of it was for weightlifting, which requires more individual coaching than the place could provide.

It was also totally empty, which is not a good sign. I took down the details for membership (about Rs 2,000 per month, reducing as the period went up) and moved on.

The second place, a little further down the road, was more lively with less of a bodybuilding-type set-up. It had potential, but I thought it was a little too foo-foo.

Those exercising were middle-class types with the same issues that I had, and that was depressing. I took the details -- this place was slightly more expensive -- and moved on.

The third place, closest to home, was the smallest, but it was quite full. It had a half dozen or so young men or boys, and a couple of young women.

It was a modest space and had not much machinery. The owner/coach explained that all of them were cricketers at various levels and this place upped their fitness. This seemed to me interesting.

I took details, again Rs 2,000 a month, and went home to consult my wife. After a brief pluses and minuses list, I picked the third place and went over the next day with a Rs 2,000 note.

There was no signing-up and no waiver and release form, which I had expected. The routine given to me was basic: 20 minutes of running on the treadmill, about 15 minutes of exercising the 'core' (the fancy name that is now used for the torso) and about 20 minutes of lifting weights.

After three days of the treadmill, I got bored and asked if I could do my warm-up run outside and then come to the gym. This was fine and so I began a schedule of running on the road for about half an hour -- not much, a distance of about 4 km.

As regular runners will know, the thing that gives up is not the body but the mind and people who exercise regularly need to keep themselves distracted in order to go through the motions.

For me this is the most difficult part. The panting and the aches become amplified in the mind and it is not easy to force oneself to carry on with the run when this happens in the first few minutes.

But for some reason, perhaps the motivation of being middle-aged and not having many more chances, I have remained more or less dedicated to the task.

Back in the gym, I am clearly the least fit of the group that exercises together. The others are supple and energetic, while I am half-dead at the beginning.

But once one is over that, it is enjoyable to be in the company of people who may one day become professional athletes.

I asked the gym’s owner the other day how long it would take me to get fit. Two months, he said. That is ridiculous, of course.

My guess is a year, and I cannot remember ever having stuck to an exercise routine for that length of time.

I have been through the same process far too many times to believe with any certainty that this time my fitness episode will last or actually lead to anything meaningful other than hours spent sweating when one could be doing something else.

But it occurs to me, come to think of it, that in the matter of exercising, if one does do the same thing over and over again, the result is certain to come.

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Aakar Patel
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