The main reason most of us try to eat less and maybe do more exercise in January is that we want to, or feel we should, lose weight.
It could be that our reasoning is wrong. And it could be that is why we – or most of us – fail.
Surely what we should want is for our bodies to function optimally, first, as there's nothing more important. And second, for our brains and our bodies to both want the same thing – which never happens when the body wants to eat but the brain wants to starve it, which is what happens on a diet.
I've been catching up with some reading and research while having to take an enforced bed break for much of the past week due to an horrendous bug bringing me down when I least expected it.
And after ploughing through all of the latest (or re-hashed) diets for you in a recent blog and ending up quite depressed at the futility of the same-old, same-old every new year, what I read this week has given me a new perspective.
There is plenty of recent and long-term research to show that getting older – being old – does most definitely not preclude us from keeping our bodies fit; from doing regular exercise and from keeping our strength.
Get active more often
For example, only a couple of weeks ago, The Journal of Physiology published work by Kings College London and the University of Birmingham to show that staying active is the key to ageing optimally, with things like muscle power, lung function and stamina related more to the frequency of the activity you take than it is to your age.
A week later, we had the results of a large European study which finds that our chances of staying alive into old age are much more closely linked to activity than to keeping the weight off. “Lack of exercise is twice as deadly as obesity,” went the headlines.
Alongside this growing realisation that it is keeping your body fit, rather than simply watching the calories, that is most important, is an increase in people leading by example. Just look at Jamie Oliver's wife, Jools. Never fat, but never particularly strong-looking, when she turned 40 last year Jools decided to do more exercise. “I want to feel and look strong, not like someone who doesn't really eat.” And now she does – honed and toned and full of energy, she looks terrific. And the women's campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez has similarly realised after years of being at 'constant war' with her own body 'viewing my body as the enemy, something to be held down, disciplined for bad behaviour' that what her body really needs is to be functional.
The point is – at any age, you can improve. If you're in reasonable health you can actually achieve more than you would ever have believed.
And the silly part is – if you do get active and become stronger and fitter and healthier – you'll achieve those poundage loss goals anyway, in all probability, because being active is like lighting the flames of a furnace in your body – you'll permanently be burning more fuel which means you can naturally eat more without having to worry about what you weigh. The difference is, you won't be thin – you'll be in good shape, which is a whole different thing.
And if you feel inspired to give it a try, The University of East Anglia finds that walking with other people is one of the very best ways to do so. Apparently if we walk with others we get even more benefit than going it alone. Try Ramblers or Walking for Health.
Meanwhile, I've done nothing for what seems like ages, and so to say I'm annoyed with myself, my body and my predicament is putting it mildly. However I daresay I'll get better eventually, and I can't wait to get started.