Just the thing to raise the spirit glass and get you on your feet

We’re barely into the second week of 2008 and the research pundits are already on our case – but this time I agree with every word they say…

Wonderful how powerful is the instinct for self-preservation. Daily our senses contend with the battalions of ill-wishers who, in the guise of benefactors and philanthropists, cause us to sit alone broodily pondering in a dark corner of the soul whether it would be nobler in the mind to stuff our head in a gas oven. But then an inner voice speaks, soothing and gentle, “Come off it, you pillock,” it murmurs, “things are not as bad as all that.”

Sometimes that inner voice is joined by outer ones spoken by real corporeal beings and the chorus is so merry, one leaps and springs about like a prima ballerina firing on all 12 cylinders. I am happy to report that I enjoyed just such an experience the other day and as a consequence you find me tapping out these words with an unaccustomed vim and vigour.

But first came the gloom. If one had hoped that a festive season of joy and excess had worked its magic on the crabbed souls of the health lobbyists, statisticians, prodnoses, killjoys, and sourpusses one was quickly disabused. No sooner had the bells rung in the New Year and the last fireworks died in the sky than they were at it again, warning us in tones sonorous and forbidding that death lurks in every bottle of booze, that our children are swelling like prize marrows, and all that awaits us slothful adults are the damp confines of the grave.

When Gordon Brown, who has been cast by adroit Nature in the form and aspect of a professional pallbearer, announced that only fit people will qualify for treatment under the NHS (this being the medical equivalent of only people who have no rubbish qualifying for its collection), I breathed a sigh and reached for the pearl-handled revolver and the bottle of whisky.

But then, mirabile visu, as the Ancient Roman said when the outsider he had put his toga on came running home a winner, the Angel of the Lord came down. I exaggerate of course, it wasn’t a divine messenger who spoke but Professor Marc Hamilton of the University of Missouri-Columbia, who is blessed all the same. Why? Because he has discovered that “standing up and pottering about does more to fight the flab than going to the gym”. His findings have convinced him of the benefits of standing as opposed to sitting. When sitting, he says, one remains still whereas “if you stand up, you are much more likely to end up pacing or pottering around, and that seems to make a crucial difference”. Standing, he adds, is more beneficial than vigorous exercise.

As if one angel was not enough, another came fluttering down in the earthly shape of Dr Iain Lang of the Peninsula Medical School, which is part of the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth. He confirms what many of us have long suspected, that the “sensible drinking” guidelines propounded by the prodnoses are far from sensible and are indeed idiotic. Better still, Dr Lang says the grape and the grain are life-enhancing for the over-65s. Alcohol can boost the functioning of the brain, banish depression and provide a sense of wellbeing. Men and women who drink moderately see a “beneficial effect on cognitive and general health”, he adds.

It is no exaggeration to says that, between them, Prof Hamilton and Dr Lang have altered our conception of history. For as long as public houses have stood, which is a very long time, and for as long as men have followed their example and stood, the one leaning upon the other, the combination has been derided as the height – or should that be the depth? – of dissolution and iniquity.

As one who has in his nonage leant against many a pub wall, here waiting for the establishment to open its doors, anon seeking support after it had closed, I have suffered both opprobrium and guilt. And I know others who have suffered likewise. Now at last we are freed from these slights, the blots from our escutcheons erased, the stains on our characters removed.

Let purse-lipped matrons pass us by, let mothers hurry on shielding their infants’ eyes, we know that as we stand up, pace and potter about, tapping our watches and pressing our noses against the tap room window that we are, in effect, working out. And when tired by our exertions we should lean against the tavern wall, is such repose no more than our due?When, presently, the publican throws open his door and we sexagenarians thirstily scamper over the threshold it is but with a single aim, to improve our cognitive and general health. And what could be better than that?


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