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About A Week: Fat And Fit After Christmas

After an abundance of Christmas feasting Peter Hinchliffe contemplates the year ahead.

Mince pies are a fading memory and the last slice of Christmas cake has just been eaten. All that remains is a plate strewn with icing sugar and tasty crumbs.

There are still a few sweets at the bottom of the Quality Street tin. The golden-wrapped toffees which are everyone's last choice. Then there's the tin of specially-selected biscuits which Aunt Elsie gave you. That hasn't been opened yet. Before the month-end though every last sweet treat will have been gobbled up.

So generous are family and friends these days that feasting and wassailing stretches beyond the twelfth day of Christmas well into January. Eating up every chocolate and biscuit, draining the whisky bottle to the last drop isn't mere self-indulgence. It's a duty. A display of appreciation. A way of saying thank you.

As you munch into a chocolate-topped custard cream think of how sad Aunt Elsie would have been to discover that you'd given away her biscuits or put them in the dustbin. Let waist-lines bulge and buttons strain as we accept the responsibility of showing appreciation to our gift-givers.

But then comes the reckoning. January is a guilt-filled month. In modern bean-pole Britain it is a crime to be fat. Drastic action ensues. Clouds of steam rise from sweating bodies in crowded gyms. Crash-dieters dream of food while surviving on two apples and a slice of toast a day.

Time then to share with you some words of comfort. I've collected a few newspaper reports which make for happy reading in the middle of this harsh month.

Researchers at an institute in Dallas found that unfit lean men are more likely to die before their time than fit fat ones. During an eight-year study a team from the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research checked up on 22,000 men. Surprisingly they found that the fit fat ones had a marginally better survival rate than the fit lean ones. ''We should focus on improving fitness by increasing physical activity rather than relying only on diet for weight control," said an institute spokesman. "Worshipping thinness, hammering away at diet, telling fat people they are going to die it's not working. "Let's throw away all the scales. Let's stop talking about weight."

Another research team suggests that dieting reduces brain power as well as shed ding pounds. Unilever researchers found that people who diet to lose weight also diminish their memory power. Reaction time and attention span also decreased. Apparently when the brain is preoccupied with body shape and diet it displays some of the symptoms of those suffering from anxiety and depression, which also reduce mental performance.

Japan's National Institute of Longevity says that drinking wine in moderation improves the IQ and boosts mental agility in older people.

Another team working at the Institute of Psychiatry in London reached a similar inclusion.

"Moderate alcohol intake could protect against cognitive deterioration in later life," said the leader of the London research team.

Scientists think that moderate imbibing can also lead to lower blood pressure. This improves the health of the heart, enabling it to deliver good, oxygen-rich flows of blood to the brain.

So eat up the last of Aunt Elsie's biscuits. Pour yourself a glass of Shiraz. Then tomorrow go for a brisk walk. Or maybe a swim.

Alternatively, buy yourself a stepper board. No working parts. Just you, with your muscles and resolve. You can get a board for less than 20. Use it for 20 or 30 minutes a day. Keep yourself fit to enjoy the sweet things in life.

The other day I got a clean pair of jeans out of the wardrobe. Then began a two-minute nightmare as I struggled to get into them. I couldn't get the wretched things past my knees, let alone fasten the button at the waist.

"'Oh no," thought I in the midst of the wrestling match. "No more cake. No more biscuits. No more eating for a week." Then I noticed the label on the jeans. They were my wife's. She'd hung them in my wardrobe by mistake.

Everyone should be lucky enough to find a smaller person's jeans in their wardrobe after Christmas feasting. The relief at discovering they belong to someone else makes up for having gained an inch around the waist.

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