Even though the most significant contribution to turning around my health was changing the food I put in myself, I set myself two very tiny exercise targets. Five thousand steps a day may seem a small number for many, but it was a hard target and physically taxing for me. I rigidly applied a rule to walk up every staircase rather than take the lift. The first time I climbed the steps to reach the Commons committee corridors I thought I’d need oxygen halfway up!
Within weeks I’d upped the steps target to 10,000 a day and took a few tiny journeys on a second-hand hybrid bike. I rewarded myself with a new kit for the bike every time I hit a weight target. I put a basket on the handlebars, which led to me using the bike on trips to the shops. I began to feel more energetic and took a few walking meetings with my team’s younger members in parliament. Outside the hours of planned exercise, I was more active. I just did more tiny things, like tidying up the flat or walking into work if the sun was shining.
I plucked up the courage to sign up with a personal trainer. Clayton, a quietly spoken but thoughtful trainer, took me through my paces in Kennington Park each week. On our first meeting, I couldn’t complete a single press-up. Within weeks he had me boxing and skipping, much to the amusement of the Labour party members of Lambeth who spotted me as they walked their dogs and took their kids to school.
Now that I’m on maintenance, I don’t have weight targets. My goal is an active life. I’m part of a group of friends who hold each other accountable for being more active. We call ourselves the PoP Club – Persons of Positivity. One of the challenges we set ourselves last November was to walk, run or ride 5k a day. I think I managed 26 days of running. Yet the rules are loose. For some, just getting out of the house to walk is a feat of will and organisation. Our only group rule is that we look after each other.
This year’s resolutions are all about leading an active life. I want to learn to ski. I’m hoping to take part in an organised bike ride and raise some money for charity. I want to join a running club or sign up to parkrun. I’ve still got a 12,000 daily steps target, which is quite hard to complete within the lockdowns but helps maintain my focus.
Covid has given us all time to reflect on the essential things in life – personal health being top of the list.
If I have one political mission left in me, it’s to work with the 3.5 million people in the UK who have type 2 diabetes. Research suggests that with a change of nutrition and exercise, at least two million of them can completely reverse their condition. That really would be a game-changer to achieve.
Downsizing: How I Lost 8 Stone, Reversed my Diabetes and Regained my Health by Tom Watson is published by Kyle Books. To order your copy, call 0844 851 1514 or visit the Telegraph Bookshop