Pretty much exactly a year ago, I was given one of those lovely medicals the NHS has started giving people as they turn 40.

Nothing BAD was found, thank goodness, but my GP did sternly tell me that my weight was likely to affect my health more as I got older, and a combination of poor diet and ridiculous stress meant my blood pressure was too high for someone my age.

I was surprised how much I took the results to heart – the idea that idling around, drinking too much coffee and worrying myself half to death on a weekly basis might be affecting my overall life expectancy was pretty depressing, actually.

Truth be told, though, I’m not one of those people who’s going to rush off and join a gym and lose 10 stones in a year. I promised myself that I wasn’t going to make any changes that I didn’t want to keep up permanently – that any changes I made had to be things I could live with, and commit to.

So I started swimming. I’ve always loved to swim, but my attendance at the local pool was pretty sporadic. Now, I started swimming regularly for 30 minutes, three times a week. I pushed myself to swim a little further each week – starting with an admittedly puny 10 lengths of breast stroke and working my way up to swimming 40 lengths of alternate front crawl and breast stroke.

Alongside the swimming, I bought a bike, and started cycling to the local shops (unless it’s chucking it down in which case I’ll still drive – I’m still me, after all). And I walk the dog, every day, even if it’s just for 20 or 30 minutes.

I took some steps to improve my diet, keeping a record of what I eat, and cooking more at home. It’s pretty basic stuff – more fruit and vegetables, less convenience food. I take the view that life’s about the 90% though – the odd pizza on a Friday night, or bar of chocolate to balance out a horrible day at work are very definitely still on the menu.

And it’s working. I’ve lost a steady half pound a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. As of today, I’m just over three and a half stones lighter than I was this time a year ago. I can feel that I’m stronger, and fitter. Where I used to want to cry after 10 lengths of the swimming pool, I can now swim 40 lengths without too much pain – although I have to seriously talk myself into doing the last 10.

Often, I motivate myself by holding imaginary races with pensioners in the next lane – although it’s embarrassing how often I lose. Or I do my version of “What would Jesus do” which is “What would Mirka do? Not give up and have a chocolate biscuit, I bet.” 

It’s not been without challenges. To say the least.


For starters, I look ridiculous in a swim hat. Why don’t these things come in different sizes, FFS? I look like a beach ball trying to squeeze into a condom. Or something.

Starting any sort of exercise regime when you’re seriously unfit is problematic. In December, I pulled a calf muscle badly, and spent 2 days in and out of hospital convinced I was about to die from DVT. In March, I trapped a nerve in my chest wall, between two ribs, which was ridiculously painful. I also shamed myself thoroughly by begging my ridiculously lovely and patient GP for an ECG and a breast exam after he casually said, “The good news is the pain’s definitely not heart or breast-related, and should resolve in six to eight weeks,” which I took to be GP-speak for, “It’s 50/50, you’ve either got heart failure or breast cancer.” 

Christmas happened. I went on two cruises.

Basically between December and March, I lost and gained weight, swam and didn’t swim, and basically my fitness levels went to pot.

As my latest injury has started to ease, though, I’ve started swimming seriously again, although I have been taking it easy, building up from 25 lengths and adding 5 more lengths each week. It feels nice to start to get some fitness back.

But it’s still hard. I love to swim, but it’s weirdly hard to pull yourself away from work for an hour and do the getting changed, swim and shower routine, isn’t it?

And often the hardest thing is not listening to the voice in your own head that tells you that you’re really crap at this fitness lark, and why aren’t you in the park doing lunges or putting a cross-trainer in the spare bedroom and eating Scan Bran muffins for breakfast (Google them, if you dare). As if you’re ever going to be one of those fit, healthy people and not a rather-too-fat, neurotic wreck. AS IF.

But I figure I only need to ignore that voice enough to keep doing what I’ve been doing for a year. I’m a little way down the road, compared to where I was. And perhaps in another year, I will be a bit further still. That’s something. It’s certainly better than nothing.

I think the key thing is not giving up, not going backwards, and going easy on myself when things do go a bit off-plan. It happens. Life happens. And it’s all about the 90 percent.

What do you think?