A worthwhile exercise

A worthwhile exercise

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I never thought I’d find myself writing an article urging people to take exercise. But here I am. Well, in line with the way this blog works, I’m not really going to tell anyone what to do, I’ll just explain what’s happened to me.

I’m one of those people who hated PE at school. I was never any good at sport and I hardly did any after leaving. I love walking and for many years now I haven’t had a car, so it’s not as if I’ve gone without exercise, but it’s not something I’ve ever consciously done.

A few years ago, though, I was given a warning that my hours sitting down at work were taking their toll on my body. I developed a strange feeling in my legs when I walked, as if I was getting an electric shock. My doctor told me it was sciatica and I eventually managed to free myself of it, but the following year it came back, worse. For a few weeks I could hardly walk and had to drag one of my legs around as if it was broken. I was feeling very low. Whether it was the painkillers my doctor gave me, the New Age massage and (horrible!) acupuncture woman I went to see or simply the arrival of spring, the sciatica eventually relaxed its grip and later in the year I went to special classes to teach me exercises to do to try to stop it coming back.

However, I was left wondering if I really ought to be looking after myself better, although I didn’t really know what kind of exercise to do. Running didn’t appeal at all and nor did sweating in a gym. I tried to fit in as much walking as I could, but it didn’t seem enough. Then my wife encouraged me to take advantage of a swimming pool at the gym she belongs to near our home. I finally joined in September and I’ve been going swimming three times a week ever since, one of the few forms of exercise I’ve ever really enjoyed.

I can only say that it really has made a difference. I feel much fitter, far more relaxed and capable of doing a great deal more. I’ve been through a whole winter with hardly a twinge of sciatica and I may even have lost a little weight. So I have to recommend exercise to anyone who thinks sitting in front of a computer screen all day is probably not doing them any good. And I think the best way is to show you some arguments to help overcome objections you may have (I certainly did) to the idea.

I haven’t got time

I spent years saying this. But, however busy you are, it’s probably not true. As I was once told, you’ve always got time, it’s really a question of whether you make it a priority. My advice would be not to be too ambitious and to make a realistic assessment of the commitment you’re prepared to make. It’s no good saying you’re going to go running every morning if you know that you’ll just put your nose back under the covers the first morning it feels a bit cold. And fit it into your routine. I generally go swimming after taking my son to school so I don’t even have to make a special journey.

I’ll lose work if I’m out of the office

You won’t. It was certainly one of my worries, but I’ve found that being out of communication between 9 and just after 10 three days a week has cost me almost no work at all. I always check my mobile phone for e-mails when I come out of the pool and there are rarely any urgent ones. Being constantly on call is far less important than we like to think. And I work the same number of hours as always, of course, just at slightly different times of day.

I don’t know what kind of exercise to do

This was definitely my problem until the idea of swimming came up. So choose something that suits you and that you like doing. Don’t be one of those idiots who joins a gym and never sets foot in the place. If you don’t like working out, simply find something else to do that isn’t going to cost you money.

I won’t keep it up

While you’re thinking like that, you probably won’t. This really follows on from the previous point. If you choose something you like doing, you’re much more likely to keep it up consistently. And don’t be perfectionist about it. If you miss a day for any reason, it’s not a dramatic failure, just get back on track at the next opportunity.

I don’t really need to do it

You may think that. I certainly did for a long time. But all you need to do is to look at some of the dire health warnings for people who sit at computer screens all day to see that you probably do. And I can assure you that a bit of exercise certainly makes me feel better, more alive and ready to get plenty of work done.

So are you a reluctant exerciser like me? Or are you an enthusiast? What do you do? Please feel free to leave a comment.


  1. Jayne Fox

    Thanks for this, Simon. Like you, I was a reluctant exerciser, but I’ve found that life is so much better if you exercise. We translators are often glued to our desks – we need to move more!

  2. Tanya

    Hi Simon,

    Sorry to hear that you had to face that diagnosis. Health issues are why me and a few friends started the 1,000,000 miles campaign on May 1st. It is aimed at translators and interpreters and promotes exercise in any form that results in distance. Our goal is collect 1,000,000 miles within a year. So far it’s +3k in the first month. So feel free to join!

    Jayne is participating, too: she scoots. 😀 I had never heard of it before, but it seems she’s having fun.

    Wishing you all the best!

  3. Catharine Cellier-Smart

    I was a reluctant exerciser too, but now I get jittery if I have to miss a day’s sport!
    Another argument I would add is that I find taking an hour away from my desk to go to the gym helps me put things into perspective. I might be quite uptight before I go, but the simple fact of having to concentrate on something else, something physical, means I generally come back to my desk feeling refreshed, with my ideas in place.

    • simonberrill@sjbtranslations.com

      I agree, Catharine. I often think more clearly while swimming than I can at my desk with work, e-mails, chat and other distractions pressing for my attention.

  4. Karen Elwis

    I was interested to read your article, Simon. I’ve always been keen on sport (all sorts – apart from swimming, ironically!) and still play hockey in my early 50s – though admittedly I’m not as quick as I used to be at sprinting from one end of the pitch to another… Like you, I spend myriad hours every day in front of my computer (mainly copywriting in my case) and am painfully aware this is not conducive to good health, so I also try to factor in a few visits to the gym every week. Other ‘sporting’ activities include chasing our escapee lambs round the Kinross-shire countryside, which certainly tends to get the circulation in my legs flowing again 🙂

  5. Claire Cox

    Agree 100%, Simon, although swimming isn’t my thing either. Twice-daily dog walks, plus yoga, tennis, dance and badminton – oh, and gardening for good measure! But I have found that by the time I’ve done the two daily dog walks, it’s no longer practical for me to try and fit exercise into my working day, so I’ve moved all my classes to the evening now my boys have grown up and left home. I used to do daytime classes, but I found the whole morning had disappeared by the time I’d walked the dogs, driven to the class, danced for an hour and a half, driven back and had a shower – and you really can’t expect clients to remember that you take a whole morning out! Most of my clients know about the regular dog walks and in theory I’m contactable by mobile if they really need me, although that’s not always guaranteed living out in the sticks 🙂

    • simonberrill@sjbtranslations.com

      Thanks for your comment, Claire. I agree, you have to make your schedule suit you. Customer contact is a potential problem, but here in Spain it’s unusual for me to get many calls before 10am and I’m always back here before 10.30 so it doesn’t make a lot of difference. I don’t think I’ve missed out on a single job through being in the swimming pool. I’m sure the dog walking must give you plenty of exercise on its own, and that’s something you have to do whether you feel like it or not!

  6. Bronwen Davies

    I keep meaning to get into swimming as that is the only form of exercise open to me other than walking. I have just been on holiday and went swimming a few times in the resort’s pool and that did me good so here’s hoping I get into the habit now that I am home again. Agree with your point about being realistic and seeing what works for you.

    • simonberrill@sjbtranslations.com

      Thanks for your comment Bronwen, and good luck with the swimming. I’m sure if you can find a local pool and make time to go two or three times a week you’ll soon feel the benefits.


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