This refers to physical exercise induced suffering.

Having just returned from a brief visit to Hadrian’s Wall, I’m reminded of many of my previous expeditions. No grand events of mountains, jungles and deserts, but needing organisation and stamina for all that. Several have ended up with serious pain and now, at 69, it’s no longer worth it. Then there are the curious charity events in which suffering is simply an accepted part. For example, a marathon bike ride (Yorkshire Rider) in which members of New Mill Choir take part. Are there any good reasons for walking, running, biking or swimming long distances in the quickest times? And what has it got to do with male voice choirs?

Exercise is, as yet, one of the few things not contained in the medical or new labour list of banned activities and substances. It’s actually one of those rare items that is positively recommended. But, forgive me for not assuming that this means it’s good for you. It’s simply that the risk of litigation or appearing in the tabloids is acceptably low if exercise results in death and disability. But watch this space, ‘Yuppie gym instructor sued. She did not tell me I would get addicted, says young executive. I’ve lost my girlfriend, my free time, everything’, or ‘Minister resigns. Outed as couch potato’.

So what are the benefits? An increase in feeling tone, which, after a long session, like Yorkshire Rider, tends to be suppressed by pain. Short and regular exercise is probably better if it’s feel-good you want. There are social spin-offs when the activity is done in pairs or groups – a matey shared adversity. Then there’s the pride in still being in control of certain parts of your body. Aging is no friend of toning and fitness. What about those cognitive behavioural middle managers? Don’t they love their targets and outcomes? Walking and running is ideal for the elderly filofax devotee. I’ve yet to see someone answer their mobile whilst cycling, but its only a matter of time.

Attitudes to ageing differ greatly from say 40 years ago when retirees were expected to quietly deteriorate at the expense of the younger generations. The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris actually discouraged exercise as a futile attempt to remain young. Now it’s all about longer fitter lives and projects that matter personally, not always a means of making monitory gains. Benefits include psychological as well as physical health and well-being.

There are corners of me that appreciate all these benefits. But, I have a slightly different spin on it. I value moderate to severe exercise mostly because I’m not doing anything else. The preoccupation with effort stops me from thinking. My working memory gets emptied and my mind becomes uncluttered. For a short while.

These are some of the harder walks I’ve done, some enjoyable.