My work-out just isn't working out

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The Independent Online

I have just had a birthday, and the usual paranoia has set in. I read an article recently about men exactly my age who go to bed never to wake up in the morning.

I have just had a birthday, and the usual paranoia has set in. I read an article recently about men exactly my age who go to bed never to wake up in the morning. Some kind of electrical malfunction in the heart takes them away. It's silly, but the last few nights I have had trouble drifting off. Has my time come?

This is not a good state of mind. Since I live in Manhattan, there are only two sensible ways to proceed. Option A: find a therapist. Option B: do everything possible to improve my odds of living another year by tuning up my abused body. In other words, remind myself that I belong to a gym.

No one can be taken seriously as a Manhattanite if they don't dedicate large chunks of each day to both of these activities. So far, I have failed entirely when it comes to lying on a couch and revealing the secrets of my soul to a $100-an-hour stranger. True, it might be a good thing to do, but I just can't.

But what possible reason could I have for not belonging to a gym? Well, I will tell you. I shouldn't belong to a gym, because it costs me about $80 a month - nearly a thousand bucks a year - and I almost never go there. Think of how I could use that money. It's almost two week's supply of cigarettes.

Giving up my membership would simply be too shameful. At least now I can lie when people ask me about my workout regimen. I do have one, honestly. It was taught to me by my very own personal trainer, Miguel. I got a special deal on 10 sessions with Miguel when I signed up with the New York Sports Club.

But Miguel, from Puerto Rico, was only the start of my humiliation. First, I had to undergo a health check. The club wanted to be sure that I wouldn't keel over the minute I stepped on to the stair machine. This felt like going to the doctor - blood pressure, heart-rate test, and so on, and I instantly panicked, as I do whenever I see medical paraphernalia. I think my pulse was 150 and I wasn't even in shorts.

Given everything - the pulse and history of smoking and drinking - probably they should have called me an ambulance. But they didn't, of course. Instead, it was over to Miguel, who took me into his office and fetched some giant calliper from a drawer and proceeded to tighten it around a clump of flesh we politely call a love-handle. Apparently, he was ascertaining my body's fat content. Too high.

Then it was to work. First he ordered me to run up and down the main stairs to the workout area five times before embarking on an excruciating press-ups drill outside the door to the men's changing-room. In other words, the entire club was witness to my gasping gracelessness. Then came the bomb. Miguel said that if I kept this up, I would start to see a change in my body in six weeks or so. But that was before he asked my age. Oh, he said. Then maybe it would take a few months more. Why bother?

At least I did not suffer the fate of a certain Fred Widland, who, according to last week's tabloids, is suing Crunch Gym in New York for $1m for almost killing him on his first visit there. Crunch's advertising says that it welcomes everyone - "18-80, fat or thin, short or tall, muscular or mushy, blond or bald, or anything in between". But it seems that they don't always tailor their introductory sessions accordingly. Mr Widland is a television executive who has given up smoking and is younger than me. But he told the gym that it would have to ease him in gently. The trainer, according to the lawsuit, was merciless, however. Two days later, he was in a Manhattan hospital with chronic pains and near kidney failure. The diagnosis was "exertional rhabdomyolysis", which means that muscle fibre had been released into his blood stream, poisoning his kidneys. Safe to say, he overdid it. Or Crunch overdid him.

There are always to justify guilt-inducing behaviour. Mr Widland's story is clearly a warning that going to the gym would in fact be a life-threatening enterprise for me. And that's why I don't. All that remains to be seen is whether I can be honest enough actually to cancel my membership, and confident enough to tell people here in pecs'n'abs-crazed Manhattan that, no, actually, I do not work out.

Come on in, the water's lovely

There are forms of exercise that I enjoy, like walking. Part of the reason for living in Manhattan is that it is the most walkable metropolis in the US. I like to play squash and to swim. But because of high rents and cramped spaces, few gyms boast swimming- pools larger than a puddle, and almost none have squash courts.

Prompted by my water-baby daughter, however, I have just discovered the Asser-Levy Recreation Center. This is a city-owned facility with a small, admittedly under-equipped gym, an outdoor pool for the summer - never mind that the place sits slap beneath the always-congested FDR Drive on 23rd Street - and an indoor pool. And you pay $75 for the whole year, with no charge at all for my daughter.

The pool does not exactly glitter. It seems to be almost of the Victorian era, with thick brass railings all around, and a little balcony at one end for spectators in the event of a race. I was really quite charmed on our visit a couple of weekends ago. Whether I will return, I am not quite sure. I wish I had not noticed the large sign on the wall at one end. "No Discharge of Fecal Matter". Time to get out.