‘I wish I’d got off my backside and gone to the FREE campus gym!’ laments Kathryn Knight

Written by A Guest Blogger

In my third year at university the house I shared with four of my friends backed on to the college gym.

It was, quite literally, a stone’s throw away: if I had thrown a pebble from my back window I would probably have been able to hit one of the rowing machines that were particularly popular among my exercising peers.

Basically the gym was mere footsteps away from where I lived, although I couldn’t tell you the exact distance because I never actually made the journey even though the gym was completely, utterly and gloriously free of charge.

How lazy is that? The bottom line is that I simply couldn’t be bothered, an approach I took to the wonderful smorgasbord of physical activities available at the time: rowing, women’s football and rugby, hockey. You name it: if you fancied it you could do it, and you didn’t have to pay a penny for it.

Looking back on those days now, from the vantage point of more than a quarter of a century later – and staring down the barrel of an entry level £90 a month to join my nearest gym – I am filled with astonishment , not to mention ruefulness, at my sloth, a state which was cemented during my three years at university and which it would take another near fifteen years to shake off.

I didn’t even cycle: while Oxford, where I studied, couldn’t be more of a cycling city if it tried, I barely put my foot on a pedal.

Instead, when the bike I had borrowed from a friend  – loathe to shell out for one of my own as I sensed I wouldn’t be making much use of it – was stolen two hours after I arrived I took it as a fortuitous sign that cycling wasn’t for me.

In short, my life unfolded largely within the tiny triangle of my room, my college quad, the bar and the library.  I probably walked less than a kilometre a day, occasionally boosted to 1.5km when I made the effort to go to the English faculty lecture hall a whole ten minutes walk away from my room.

Amazingly I didn’t put on any weight, despite a diet consisting largely of stodgy college fare and jacket potatoes with cheese and beans from the local kebab van.

But I paid the price elsewhere: my lack of activity back then cemented in me a nascent physical laziness that I struggled to shake off for another decade or so:  five years later, as I munched on a packet of crisps in the pub, my then (sexist) news editor told me that he recognised my type. ‘You might be gym shy now but once you hit your thirties you’ll be frantically sitting on an exercise bike trying to fight the onset of age,’ he said.

Loathsome though this prediction – and not to mention he  – was, he was right: at 34, with a wedding coming up and an ever-increasing wobble on the top of my thighs and my stomach, I joined a gym for the first time. Financial cost: £80 a month. Emotional cost: vast, as my older sense came to terms with being the sort of person who now had to spend money to exercise after a lifetime of doing nothing more energetic than walking to the crisp machine.

All this, of course, is probably unimaginable for our millennials, who never seem happier than when they are pounding the pavements.

They would be as alien a species to my eighteen year old sense as if they had indeed descended from a distant planet. If only I had known, though, that it would never be so easy – or cheap – to stay in shape. Many of my contemporaries wish they’d studied harder, or partied harder. At university. Me?  I just wish I’d got off my backside now and again.