By Candice Lingam-Willgoss
In an age when the benefit of exercise and accessibility to fitness opportunities are at an all time high, UK statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre have reported that 25% of the population are reported as being clinically obese. Data related to physical activity doesn’t make any better reading, with the British Heart Foundation’s 2012 review reporting that less than 37% of adults take part in the recommended levels of physical activity. Exercise isn’t just about losing weight its about being healthy, it opens up a whole avenue of new opportunities, friendships and challenges to people, it involves embracing a new lifestyle, something marathon and ultra runner Steve Way knows only too well.
Seven years ago he weighted 16 stone, had a 20 a day cigarette habit and high blood pressure, role forward to Sunday and Way posted a 2:15:16 time seeing him finish 10th at the age of 40 in the Commonwealth Games Marathon, backing up his 4th at the London Marathon earlier this year. This turnaround for Way came in 2006 when he decided to run the London Marathon “on a whim” and saw him finish in 3 hours 7 minutes.
What is even more impressive about Way’s performance is that he has achieved this at the age of 40 – which also made his time at Sunday’s marathon an over 40’s British record beating the 1979 record held by Ron Hill. Furthermore, as well as reinforcing the findings of much research that has reported that ‘ultra’ and ‘endurance’ runners athletic performance improves with age (Peter, Rust, Knechtle, Rosenmann and Lepers, 2014) Way’s case also illustrates that it is never too late to make a lifestyle change. Seven years ago, Way wasn’t just unfit, he was unhealthy too, “Towards the end of 2007 I could hardly sleep,’ he told The Guardian. ‘I was coughing and waking up because of the smoking and it was impacting on my wife Sarah, too, ‘At that point half our meals were takeaways and I would eat chocolate and sweets all the time. I realised I had to do something radically different to break the cycle.‘ This type of trigger that started Way on his road to running success is not uncommon when people suddenly make a decision to change their lifestyle. When viewed from a theoretical perspective Way’s case seems representative of what is proposed within Rosenstock’s Health Belief Model which was developed in the 1950’s to help explain the likelihood of an individual engaging in preventative health behaviours (such as exercise in Way’s case). This model argues that this likelihood is determined by a persons perception of the severity of the potential illness/risk to them as well as their appraisal of the cost and benefits of taking action. In the case of Way is seems this perception also included the impact his lifestyle was having on his wife. We can only hope that Way becomes an inspiration and a role model – one that shows that people of any age can make a change to their lifestyle something that is clearly desperately needed in the UK. If Way’s story inspires just a few people to make a commitment to change their lifestyle, they will be the lucky ones who discover how much the sport and fitness world has to offer.