Run for your life
MIDDLE-AGE spread is the ugliest thing a man – or woman – can possess. The Chinese in olden times used to joked about a big belly being the sum of all good stuff. In the bad old days most people seldom had enough to eat, so a big belly was indeed a sign that one was having more than one's fill of life.
Today, a belly hanging out from a middle-age person is a sign of indolence and gluttony. It is an unnecessary burden to carry, and eventually it drags the owner down into all kinds of hellish afflictions -- creaky joints, high-blood pressure, diabetes, gout, stroke and heart attack.
Once upon a time, I was carrying a belly, the result of too many nights consuming lard-encrusted noodles (the infamous "char-kway-teow" of Singapore), sauce-stewed fatty pork (a Hakka favourite dish), fiery chilli crab, marbled beef steak on a sizzling cast-iron hot plate, and golden-fried spring chicken, washed down into my guts by a Niagara of beer.
One day, as I was entering middle age (for me, it started at 40), I was felled by an attack of gout. Believe me, the pain was unbearably exquisite, concentrating on the left big toe. I was flat on my back, unable to rise because the slightest movement of the foot would cause an invisible demon to twist a steel needle through my body.
My boss then, a round-bodied Englishman called Mike Annetts, who insisted we had a mid-afternoon "Happy Hour" drinking session every Wednesday in his office, used to joke that gout was caused by slow horses and fast women. I soon discovered from the doctor that red meat (pork, duck, mutton, beef, crabmeat, shrimps), beer-drinking and lack of exercise were the culprits and as I didn't like the idea of lying on my back in excruciating agony, I decided there and then to stop my gluttony and start a programme of physical exercise.
As I couldn't run because of my swollen toe, I took to pedalling a stationary exercise bicycle. Here I made a startling discovery – if I pedalled to the point of exhaustion, the gouty pain would disappear. And so would my headache, backache and other pains. Rigorous exercise was providing the same effect as pain-killer pills.
One for the road
To cut a long story short, I have, since the initial gout attack a decade ago, changed my diet, eating only fish, chicken and vegetable. I've also become addicted to physical exercise – cycling, distance running, weight-lifting and scuba-diving – which turns out to be a natural cure for my sniffing nose, migraine and stiff joints, all of which I had been suffering since my teenage years.
Running is the best and cheapest way to good health and a trim figure. There's no need to buy complicating, expensive equipment. A pair of canvas shoes, cotton T-shirt and shorts are all you require. Heck, sometime I run topless, especially in the park after dark. You don't even need to join a gym (although it is a good idea). Just check out a safe route in your neighbourhood and start running for your life.
And on the clean, springy track in a stadium, I would run barefoot, which is so much safer than in those pricey, cushioned shoes that damage the feet and ankle.
I do my road running usually before midnight when there are few vehicles to fume the air. Usually I try to cover at least 5km in 30 minutes. Before the run, I warm up my legs and knee joints with a slow jog for a half-km. The slow warm-up is crucial as I discovered early on when I suffered painful knees because I was impatient and skipped it during my runs.
After the run, I continue walking for another km to cool down and then do leg squats to loosen the joints.
Loneliness of a road runner
A treadmill is safer and more comfortable, but you have to pay gym membership fees which not everyone can afford. Also, since the revolving platform helps to move your feet, the benefits of a 10km treadmill run, are equivalent to a mere 2-4km run on solid ground (on the ground, if you don’t apply energy, nothing moves!)
And when your lungs fight for air, your knees start to buckle and your mind gets lonely and bored, all the advice and motivating talk is forgotten There’s nothing I can add here then to say if you don’t run for your life, you will soon have not much life to run.
– Francis Chin, April 2002