“Sit as little as possible.”

This advice, offered by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche sounds like it came from a medical journal, though it is hardly fitting for a paraplegic like myself. But what he was getting at was that movement aids the thinking. Others, like Immanuel Kant, Henry David Thoreau, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau also theorised while walking. Indeed, literary history is veined with writers who extol exercise: Ernest Hemingway boxed, Kathy Acker was into bodybuilding, the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami devoted a book to running, while Philip Roth maintained his prowess well into his seventies by swimming daily.

I cannot compare myself to these literary greats, but the advice does remain: That exercise is not only good for the body, but also for the mind. For almost a decade, I had completely forgotten this, despite writing and publishing three novels during this period. And to think that before then, I was an avid sportsman; a Paralympian even. Exercise and fitness used to be a strong part of my DNA, before I lost it.

There were multiple factors for this. Too busy at work, various health issues and an overriding relief that sports was no longer a ‘must’. I even convinced myself that activity was not good for me anymore. Though I was mindful what I ate, I was less willing to compromise on the good Belgian beer and, inevitably, I gained weight. A change in my profession forced me to rethink what was important in life and I came to the conclusion that being physically active again had to be one of them.

I engaged with a physiotherapist to help reset my possibilities, I trialed a hand-bike to see if this could appeal and I dabbled on court, playing basketball again. But fitness levels and strength lacked, and confidence soon waned. It wasn’t until COVID-19 and the associated lockdown that I really made a go of it. Deciding I would hand-bike every morning before work, I set a goal of frequency, not of speed nor distance. I had learned that for something to become routine, you have to do this something 21 times. This meant that I had to run/cycle for the next three weeks, four if I wanted to utilise an advised day of rest.

The goal paid off. I have been ‘running’/hand-biking for two months now and I am approaching a total of 400 km’s distance. Whereas I started with less than 4 km’s a day, I can now quite comfortably do 20. It was important that the goals were not set too high. Progress is what counts. Every day a little and then see where you end up. A bit like writing really…

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