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Charles Bannerman: 'I’m deeply worried that Highland sports facilities may be in firing line'

By Charles Bannerman

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Some people may be thinking about changes.
Some people may be thinking about changes.

Within a few days, gyms will be full and a hugely increased army of runners will be taking to the streets as festive overindulgence prompts the annual pang of fitness consciousness, writes Charles Bannerman.

Unfortunately, though, this wise gesture of self help is all too transient and within a few weeks the motivation of many will start flagging, causing gym floors and pavements to revert to more normal traffic levels.

And therein lies the tragedy.

The road to health and fitness, as well as being paved with good intentions, can also be a very short one as resolve weakens so prematurely. I liken gyms to tomato ketchup manufacturers because just as the latter make much of their profit from what sticks in the bottle, the former do similarly through people who fail to utilise their contracts.

If more would persevere with their exercise programmes for rather longer, the benefits – both personal and national – would be profound.

I’ll admit that exercise isn’t the be all and end all of weight loss since you have to do rather a lot of it to make a difference. Indeed, you need to run around 30 miles to lose a pound of fat, but combine it with the major component of disciplined calorie control and you have a real opportunity to reduce your profile.

Read more: Charles Bannerman: Why do they chase external funding for the sake of it?

However the benefits of exercise go much further than weight loss. They range from efficient circulation to improved muscle tone and from organ health to mental health. The effect is dramatic, and also includes boosting both overall and healthy life expectancy, hence revolutionising the fundamental quality of your existence.

There are two considerations if you want to turn exercise to greater individual and societal advantage.

I’ve already made the case for greater encouragement to exercise and to keep it up. However, we also need to ensure that there are adequate facilities and opportunities, and that these become far more affordable.

In the face of almost universal public spending cuts, I am deeply worried that sports facilities may be in the firing line because to dispense with these would be a very false economy.

Charles Bannerman.
Charles Bannerman.

These facilities and their upkeep may appear expensive but they are actually dirt cheap compared with what the NHS now struggles to provide for the less healthy. Increased exercise is by no means a panacea and often wouldn’t be appropriate, but I believe that wider uptake would create NHS savings way out of proportion to what its extra provision would cost.

For instance, what High Life Highland receives from the public purse will only be a fraction of what it costs to run NHS Highland and a significant increase in the former would surely prompt a hugely disproportionate reduction of the latter. Exercise facilities must become more available, more easily accessible and much cheaper.

Hands up if you remember getting a Baths Card at school with its 100 squares each providing a free admission to the old Glebe Street pool.

Obesity often perplexes me since I struggle to understand how it can be so overwhelmingly prevalent in a society where food bank dependence is considerable and increasing. And obesity, with its multiple adverse health implications, is also just one of myriad health problems which, to the practical and cost advantage of the NHS, could be addressed through a more imaginative approach to promoting exercise.

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