David Whiteley: Has lockdown made us fitter?

Paddle boarding is one of those things that saw a boom during the pandemic (photo: MaximFesenko/Gett

Paddle boarding is one of those things that saw a boom during the pandemic (photo: MaximFesenko/Getty Images/iStockphoto) - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Born in South Essex, TV and film director David Whiteley shares his unique insights and experiences of life in the county

Happy New Year! And let’s hope it is. I can’t believe there will be many people who are sad to see the back of the last one. A mere 12 months ago, none of us could have predicted what was going to happen. But we’re all now far more proficient at Zoom calls, so that’s something.

Maybe another positive thing to come out of all this, is that some of us are fitter. Last year I couldn’t scroll through Instagram without seeing umpteen people cycling, running and even old friends from Leigh on Sea who had decided to take up winter swimming! Early morning dip photos now pepper my Insta timeline. Sure, I surf the North Sea all year round, but I’m in a 6mm wetsuit. These guys must have anti-freeze in their veins, as they opt for swimming costumes, rather than rubbery neoprene.

With lockdowns, restrictions and gyms having closed, those with a penchant for exercise have had to make the outdoors their fitness zone. But with the government actually putting exercise into the mix for what one was allowed to do, I’m sure this has encouraged many back into their running shoes.

Normally, with the start of a new year, we come up with all of our resolutions, to get fitter, eat healthier, and all that jazz. Maybe for 2021 our challenge is just to keep keeping fit. If we had crystal balls at the beginning of 2020, we’d have bought shares in facemasks, hand sanitiser and bicycles - you couldn’t get a new one for love nor money.

I was recently back in Leigh on Sea, visiting my mother, who’s now in a care home. It was lovely to see her, but tough too, so afterwards I went to see my aunt, to share some memories and some fresh air. We took a stroll along the beach at Thorpe Bay and, bearing in mind it was a weekday in the middle of the afternoon and sunny but still pretty chilly, I was simply astonished to see so many people out exercising. There were loads of runners and cyclists, oh and some rollerblading.

‘This is nothing,’ said my aunt, ‘it’s usually much busier’. Looking out on the glistening water of the Thames Estuary, I could also see a few people paddle boarding! Another thing we should have bought shares in. Sea kayaking used to be all the rage. Now it seems balancing on a board, designed for surfing, with far more chance of ending up in the icy drink, is more in vogue.

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As a surfer, I don’t really see the attraction, but what do I know? Maybe that adds to the thrill. The added jeopardy of ending up in the sea maybe hones one’s concentration. Having had a go at paddle boarding once, you certainly feel the strain on the core muscles. Balancing is good for you.

As I drove away from Thorpe Bay, the sky turned a brilliant mixture of oranges, reds and yellows, as the sun dipped out of view. Of course it was only about 4.30pm, but as darkness descended, the hoards of runners and cyclists continued to burn calories along Southend seafront, although from what I could make out, the paddle boarders had called it a day.

I also wonder how many will return to the gym? Maybe they’ll just stick to the great outdoors.

Whether we’re running, cycling, or even, dare I say it, paddle boarding, I’m sure we’re all hoping for a smoother 2021.

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