From the overweight to the ill or disabled, anyone can improve their physical fitness

New Year, new you? Was that the resolution you made as the seconds counted down to 2013?

The season to be jolly after all is over, but the hangover – quite literally if you look at your waistline – is only just beginning.

On average we put on an extra 5lbs in December getting through an incredible 6000 calories alone on Christmas Day, so it’s hardly surprising that between 40 and 45 per cent of us make a resolution to eat less and exercise more.

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It’s easy to pledge to get fit and active as a clear, unblemished 12 months stretches out ahead – not yet filled with disappointments, stress or the general busy-ness of 21st century lives which make having that bar of chocolate or glass of wine much easier but finding the time to do some exercise far harder.

But if you’re looking for reasons to stay resolute then here are people to inspire you to put down the mince pies and get active.


“There was a time when I was hardly able to move. I became disabled 19 years ago and I didn’t alter the amount I was eating, so I started slowly putting weight on until I got to about 23 stone.

“I thought ‘this has got to stop’ and a friend got me something called the ‘cabbage soup diet’. Now I don’t like fad diets, but I tried it and it gave me a kick start to losing weight. After that I simply controlled the quantity and quality of what I ate.

“Ironically I used to work with people with physical disabilities at Craighall Day Centre and I’ve always been interested in nutrition.

“I lost about seven-and-a-half stone through diet alone, which my doctor was exceptionally surprised and pleased with.

“Perhaps because of the weight loss, about two years ago I got a wee bit more movement back in my right leg and so my GP referred me to a gym. I must admit, I thought ‘this really is not me at all’. I thought it would wreck me, that I would be exhausted, as I have all these disabilities and problems. But in fact it seems to boost my energy levels and I really enjoy it.

“Initially it was one day per week at Ainslie Park for ten weeks. I went in the first week, then the second week I said ‘is it okay if I come in again?’. Then I got my membership and started coming in regularly. I built it up and built it up until I now go in twice most days. I’m a bit of a gym fiend and that’s very surprising to me.

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“It also makes a big difference to things like cholesterol. When I started at the gym my cholesterol went right down, and has now stabilised at a really good level. Part of that is due to my diet, but also exercise burns it up.

“I still eat all sorts, homemade soups and tonight I’m having a stir-fry. I must admit I do like the fattening things like chips and ice-cream, but I like the slimming stuff as well. It means I can treat myself every now and then: you enjoy it more when you don’t have it all the time.”


“My daughter Rebecca had a hip infection last year and never walked for about eight weeks and so put on a lot of weight. Every time I said to her, ‘don’t eat that, it’s not good for you’, she’d say I didn’t know what I was talking about.

“So we really needed help to get the weight back off. She’s tall for her age at 5ft 5in, but she weighed 16st 5oz. We went to the GP and he referred us to the Get Going class at Drumbrae Leisure Centre.

“To be honest we didn’t do much exercise before. It was definitely a big change. We did push-ups against the wall, squats, star jumps . . . it was basically stuff we could do in the house.

“Before, I had stopped smoking and sat at a forklift, and put on about seven stone. So over that eight weeks I lost about a stone and Rebecca lost 9lbs 4oz – apparently she was the biggest loser of her class.

“We also went power-walking through the industrial estates. I had never even thought of that before.

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“Now we’re not eating as much takeaway food, we’re cooking more meals. Before we would eat anything, like kebabs and pizzas. Now we eat mince and tatties, stew, pasta and loads of vegetables. Plus now we’ve got memberships to the gym and Rebecca got a Wii Fit for her Christmas. She’s looking a lot better now, and is down to 15st 4oz.

“We’re still keeping to it. We’ve got a three-month check coming up, and are going to see if we can go back after a year to see the difference in us.

“Rebecca loved it. She would come home all happy and yappy and wanting to discuss it. She’s got more energy. If I say we’re going for a walk, she’ll get up and go without moaning. She’s getting on better at school as well.”


“I went from a couch potato to a tri-athlete. I was in the Edinburgh triathalon on New Year’s Day, doing the swimming leg for the Edinburgh Bionic Bones relay team [they came 182nd out of a field of 275].

“Two and a half years ago, I had pain in my knee due to my weight. I went to the physio and was told to go to the hospital.

“There I was told exercise would tighten my knee up, so I went to the gym. Then I started going more often, until now I go seven days a week. I also swim five days a week and I do lots of classes as well.”

“I get up at 5am and go to the Royal Commonwealth Pool for 5.30, do a 40-minute swim then 30 minutes in the gym.

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“I started out with swimming, and the first class I went to was aquafit, because you’re weightless in the water. Then I did Bodypump, and realised I liked lifting weights. I’m not very keen on cardio, but I can dead lift 95 kilos. It escalated from there. I started going to a bodybuilding gym, and Portobello ran a ‘Beach Bootcamp’, running about in the sand. Now I love the boxing, I love getting into the boxing ring.

“I wasn’t keen on going to the gym at first. A fat person walking into a gym is really hard. Swimming is especially difficult: that’s the most naked you are in public.

“You’re very apprehensive standing in your swimming costume, thinking everyone’s looking at you.

“It wasn’t an immediate transformation, but I’m not intimidated by the gym any more. When you first start you get intimidated by the whole thing, but I’ll give anything a try now. My knee is feeling better. Before I was taking pain killers for it, but I don’t have to do that any more.

“I have lots of energy. I get up swim, gym, work all day, come home, then most nights go back out to a class. I definitely feel so much better about myself. The weight loss is definitely a good side effect of it.

“My diet hasn’t changed, because I always ate really healthily, I just didn’t do enough activity. I tend to eat more protein now for weightlifting, steak and eggs and things like that.”


“I was diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy five years ago. Basically, the nerves of your arms and legs start to get dry rot, so my hands and my feet, fingertips and toes, were dead and then slowly that paralysis was moving up my hands, my wrists, then up to my elbow.

“This all happened within a few days. I came on very rapidly. I went to accident and emergency and never came out for eight months. I just lay in bed, they couldn’t do anything for me, even in hospital. The joints seize up if they don’t move. It was a bad experience, lying in a hospital bed for all that time.

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“I was sent home with a hoist and a bed and two carers coming four times a day to get me in and out of bed and everything. I was in a pretty bad state. I couldn’t do anything: I couldn’t lift my arms, couldn’t lift my legs, couldn’t hold things. I was not a sick person, it was just paralysis, so I couldn’t do anything.

“After about a year or so of that, the physiotherapist service was provided, a one-hour session the first Monday of every month, so it wasn’t very generous. It was in a group of ten people, all of us in wheelchairs.

“The physiotherapist could see that it wasn’t doing anything for me so she advised me to go to the gym and got me a free trial: ten weeks of free 

“I went along to Ainslie Park and stuck at it. Within a week or two I could see that it was doing some real good. I would spend a whole hour being supervised by a trainer at the gym.

“In the beginning I was doing very simple exercises. Within two or three weeks I could see that my arms were strengthening and I could swing my legs around a bit more. I upped the frequency of my visits from once a week to twice a week. Before the end of the ten-week trial, I was going three times a week. I could see something was happening.

“Beforehand, I had no real prospect, and was a bit pessimistic about going. I was so weak I couldn’t really do anything. It was a great surprise to me that within a few weeks, after simple exercises with my hands and legs, I could start to move them. That motivated me to keep going.

“I did very small weights to start with, plus leg exercises on the machines. I couldn’t attempt a treadmill or anything like that, as I couldn’t stand up to do that. But if I was sitting down on my wheelchair or a machine, I could manage. Now I can stand to some extent, although I have no sense of balance yet.

“Going to the gym is the event of my week. I had never been to a gym before in my life. I thought it wasn’t the place for me, that I wasn’t that sort of guy. I went there feeling very apprehensive, because I was a guy in a wheelchair in a gym full of strapping young men and women.

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“But I was well looked after. Full marks to the staff, they did a wonderful job helping me. They assigned a trainer to look after me on every visit. He did a super job, gradually putting up the weights and stretching me further on every visit.”

Four weeks to get you up and running

In the first of a series of columns, David McLean, fitness manager with Edinbugh Leisure, talks through the basics in how to start getting active

THE reasons behind a desire to get fit can be multiple or very simple. Perhaps you’ve been inspired by the achievements of others, or maybe you want to join the ranks of the charity runners, hill walkers or cyclists, or it could be that your health is being affected.

Whatever your reason, if physical activity has not played a huge part in your life of late but you’re determined that 2013 is going to be the year to change that, we’re here to help with a four-week programme of tips and motivation to get you started.

Begin by asking yourself some key questions: What are your goals? What is it that you want to achieve, see or feel? What difference will this make to you now and when you achieve your goal?

Then identify your fears. What is it that has stopped you in the past and what can you do now to remove any barriers? How much time do you have to be active?

Finally, how do you want to achieve your goals? What kind of physical activity have you enjoyed in the past? What is easy and accessible to you?

Once you have all the answers clear in your mind, it’s time to get started.

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With the fantastic views and green space in Edinburgh, why not start off with walking? Enjoy the scenery or head to a local park. If indoors is more your thing, why not check out your local sport or leisure centre? Edinburgh Leisure has more than 30 across the city for a start. With friendly gym instructors on hand to assist you in achieving your goals, a visit is worthwhile.

Try a fitness class. Classes vary from low impact to building up to high impact with ways to make exercise easier or more challenging depending on your level and how much effort you want to put i to your activity. Remember to make sure that you wear clothing that feels comfortable and is appropriate for your activity. Drink fluids regularly and increase the intake depending on the intensity of your activity.

And finally . . . get to know your limits. Check with a doctor or physician if you are unsure of your limitations or if you have any prescribed medical condition.

Next Friday: You’ve started, now you need to keep going

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