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Can we help shy Simon kick chocolate and live a long life?

PUBLISHED: 12:01 26 June 2017 | UPDATED: 13:28 26 June 2017

Simon with many of the things he fancies but which don't do him much good: crisps, chocolate and biscuits. Picture: ANDREW CLARKE

Simon with many of the things he fancies but which don't do him much good: crisps, chocolate and biscuits. Picture: ANDREW CLARKE

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Aren’t many men reluctant to look after their health! Steven Russell press-ganged a friend to try a How Are You? quiz. Is he fighting fit or in trouble?

Simon doesn't do badly with these, but he could eat a few more. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto Simon doesn't do badly with these, but he could eat a few more. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Meet Simon. He’s a little shy. Who wouldn’t be, when we’re laying bare his health and lifestyle for all to see? (Which is why I had to agree to using a made-up name for him.)

A bit of biog. He’s 53, married with two nearly-grown-up children, lives quite close to the Norfolk/Suffolk border and has spent virtually all his career in a branch of the financial industry.

He was thin and fit in his 20s (I knew him then) but something went wrong. Trousers and shirt-collars don’t fit like they used to. Once, he could run like the wind. Now, a stiff walk is enough to raise a sweat.

Is he in the danger zone? (Think stroke, diabetes…) He’s about 5ft 9in, by the way. Weight? He won’t say. I’d say (and here we could ruin a long and beautiful friendship) he’s a good three stones overweight. Maybe more. Sorry.

So: time for Simon to sit Public Health England’s online, 10-minute, How Are You? quiz and see if we can’t guarantee him a long and healthy life… (About 
40% of deaths in England are related directly to behaviour, apparently.)

“How are you feeling right now?” it asks, and invites Simon to move a pointer on a scale that runs from “Really knackered” (we like the everyday language) to ”full of beans”. He hums and hahs before settling for 60% knackered.

Can he run for miles or not run for a bus? Depends how far he has to run… Settles for closer to the “bad” end of the pole than the “good” end.

Simon could maybe take up this... Picture:: AP/Alastair Grant Simon could maybe take up this... Picture:: AP/Alastair Grant

Feeling calm or totally wound up? Varies during the day: sometimes quite chilled, sometimes off the Richter scale. Opts for a general 60% wound.

Sleepless nights or sleeps like a baby? Tricky one, this. He has no problem dropping off, or staying asleep. But work and the other pressures of life often means he gets perhaps five hours of shut-eye a night. Doesn’t sound good.

Lean and mean/fat and flabby is easy: 70% lardy, he accepts.

Later questions get down to the nitty-gritty. “What stops you taking care of yourself?” asks the screen. From a menu of options, Simon picks “I don’t have the time” and “It’s more important I look after others”.

Every now and again the “programme” offers words of advice. We read them on screen, but in my head they sounds like HAL 9000, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“Sorry to hear you’re not feeling that great at the moment Simon. Sounds like you could do with a bit of help to get you back on track.” The good news: “You can make simple changes that fit around your life and should help you feel better fast.”

So what’s he eating? From a series of questions about food, Simon chooses roast potatoes over boiled, chipped or jacket. Wholegrain cereal, lower-fat hard cheese, lean meat or meat substitute, and three to four servings of fruit and vegetables a day sound pretty good.

Or this. (Though perhaps not quite so intensively.) Picture: AP/Mike Fiala Or this. (Though perhaps not quite so intensively.) Picture: AP/Mike Fiala

The snacking doesn’t… Our brave subject admits (once the thumbscrews are applied) to fruit, chocolate and sweets, biscuits, crisps, and toast with low-fat spread. Which prompts another observation from HAL.

“You say you’re feeling overweight Simon, and that might be because you’re choosing some unhealthy options. It’s easy to slip into bad habits, so you should take a closer look at your diet and see what simple changes you can make. Avoiding foods that are high in fat and sugar and choosing high fibre, filling carbs is a good place to start.”

Top marks for hardly ever drinking alcohol and never having smoked.

Exercise? Ah… Perhaps 10 minutes each weekday of “anything that makes you breathe harder” – such as fast walking, cycling and sport – but an hour on Saturday and an hour on Sunday. Ish.

Cue HAL. “You’re worried about your weight, but you’re not really active enough Simon. Doing more will burn extra calories and tone you up – as well as helping you feel better about yourself. It’s a win-win!”

And then the results are in. Simon gets seven out of 10. “You’re doing okay Simon – but there’s plenty more you can do!”

His “amber” areas involve moving and eating.

Or this. (But perhaps not at this level...) Picture: MATTHEW USHER Or this. (But perhaps not at this level...) Picture: MATTHEW USHER

“You should be aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, 5-days-a-week, as well as two 30-minute sessions of strengthening exercise. You’re doing well on the first target, but you need to do more strengthening.”

A couple of downloadable apps, which show the way forward, are suggested: such as “Couch to 5k”.

And food? “An easy way to make a difference is to swap some of your favourite meals for healthier ones, and also cut down on snacking.”

That’s probably the Mars Bars out, then.

Happily, more apps are available, including Easy Meals.

HAL’s cheery send-off is: “Eating more healthily and increasing your activity should help you lose weight, but there’s more information and support available if you need it.”

* How do you shape up? Do the quiz at www.nhs.uk/oneyou

'Im having to spend nine or more solid hours sitting at a desk at work, often more, and then have to do bits at home just to keep my head above water. Its that need to push on that makes it so easy to reach for a chocolate bar,' says Simon 'Im having to spend nine or more solid hours sitting at a desk at work, often more, and then have to do bits at home just to keep my head above water. Its that need to push on that makes it so easy to reach for a chocolate bar,' says Simon

‘How do I break this vicious cycle?’

Simon says: Ah. Nothing I didn’t know, really. The $64,000 question, though, is how to do it. Like many people today, spare time is limited – and that’s not just an excuse. When I was a boy, I’d be cycling to school, cycling during the weekend, playing sport and walking. Now, I’m having to spend nine or more solid hours sitting at a desk at work, often more, and then have to do bits at home just to keep my head above water. (It’s that need to push on that makes it so easy to reach for a chocolate bar. Fruit doesn’t hack it, does it, in the same way?) Add an hour of travelling each day, and the natural desire (need) to spend time with the family, and there’s not much left. I know I must change, but how do I break this vicious cycle?

So: What to do?

“Simon’s response is not unusual – it’s the practical tips and motivation that he needs help with,” says Dr Angela Fletton, health improvement specialist for Norfolk Public Health.

“The key is making things manageable – finding exercise he can do in short bursts, such as using stairs instead of lifts, parking the car further away than usual and increasing his step count (use your phone to track the steps). Check out www.activenorfolk.org for local opportunities, such as the free 10-week Fun and Fit courses, and find activities he can do with his family.

“Having an NHS Health Check (see www.mynhshealthcheck.com for details on eligibility) is a great place to start; staff are trained to have those conversations with people who need to make small lifestyle changes to improve their health. Slimming World is also available upon referral.

“The One You website www.nhs.uk/oneyou has lots of great tips and links related to health behaviours to help people make changes.”

n In Suffolk: www.suffolk.gov.uk/adult-social-care-and-health/public-health/public-health-advice/

n In Essex: www.livingwellessex.org

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