Keeping fit

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 04 November 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1234
  1. Judith Hollis Triantafillou, general practitioner
  1. Athens, Greece

    Our beach is a lovely place in late September when the tourists have departed and only the regulars are left to enjoy sun and sea. As I puff back and forth across the bay like Thomas the Tank Engine laboriously clocking up my set number of laps, I keep an eye on my father's white head bobbing along in the shallows and draw protectively closer as I see him making for the beach. He hates me to fuss but this year he's forgotten his swimming specs--an indestructible steel rimmed pair from the second world war--without which he's as blind as a bat, and unless firmly pointed in the right direction tends to find himself under the wrong umbrella, which can lead to misunderstandings.

    Mission accomplished, I'm back in the water automatically counting strokes again and pondering the possibilities for winter exercise. We try to continue swimming as late in the season as possible with the eternal hope that maybe this year we'll achieve the rugged status of winter swimmers but even so that only accounts for the weekends, leaving the question of exercise during the rest of the week unsolved. After an indolent youth I'm a relatively late but very ardent convert to the health benefits of physical exercise but the problem in this city is how to achieve it. Take children for instance, generally walking only a few hundred metres or bussed long distances to school, where they get at best 40 minutes of gymnastics twice a week in a concrete playground; other activities such as swimming, athletics, and basketball are extracurricular and need a determined effort by child and parents--strongly reinforced by me as their doctor--to participate. The positive effects on the children's health, however, can be dramatic, swimming in particular seeming to confer relative immunity to recurrent winter coughs and colds.

    So perhaps I'll take my own advice and swim during the week in the local pool, which is open to the public for two hours at mid-day, although pressure of work can make timing difficult and then there's the problem of hair, which has to look reasonable for work in the afternoon.

    What about gymnastics? I went along to inquire at our neighbourhood gym, which I had previously attended for several years, battling my way doggedly from by-far-the-worst to not-quite-the-worst, my peak of achievement being a “Bravo, Judy” from our beautiful aerobic instructress who was very kind and used to let me off the difficult bits. This year it's a man with a fanatical gleam in his eye; I heard him yelling at the group yesterday as I went past and the music had definitely been speeded up so maybe it's not such a good idea after all.

    Cycling in Athens is suicidal and lots of people have taken up walking but that's not much fun in a polluted city with inadequate pavements completely obstructed by illegally parked cars. I could always try theexercise machine that I bought my husband two years ago and which he uses every day unfailingly to hang his clothes on but, I know I'll defect within a week.

    My kilometre completed, I'm out of the water and lying in the sun feeling relaxed and contented. I think I'll cut my hair again and stick to swimming after all.--JUDITH HOLLIS-TRIANTAFILLOU, general practitioner, Athens, Greece

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