The thought that I might be an exercise fiend hit me as I was walking along the promenade that skirts the Dead Sea and then continues, quite scenically, along the road to the hotels there. The route has been planted with shrubs, bushes and palm trees, with benches at strategic points so that one can rest and contemplate the serene scene. While taking a few days off from our hectic retirement schedule, hubby and I took ourselves off to one of the hotels along the Dead Sea for a few days of pampering and over-eating. So at least a couple of hours of exercise each day were called for to ease the conscience.

However, when I’m at home I exercise regularly for about an hour almost every morning in my basement, where we have a treadmill and various items of exercise equipment, and of course a TV to alleviate the concomitant boredom.

If only Miss Lawrence, my former gym teacher at Brondesbury and Kilburn High School for Girls, could see me now, I sometimes think. I was her least favourite pupil, whom she regarded (with some justification) as a habitual shirker. To hear her enunciate my name with the attendant consummate sense of dissatisfaction, would invariable send shivers down my teenage spine. Short in stature, I was inept at getting the netball into the net or performing one or another of the exercises that were customarily inflicted on teenage girls in those far-off days, and perhaps still are.

The solution to my seemingly unending antipathy for sports and gym at school was to claim that I had forgotten to bring my gym-clothes to school that day. This was an excellent ploy on days when we girls marched in twos, crocodile-style, to the nearby games field where my classmates happily jumped and ran to put the ball in the net or bash their hockey-stick against one another’s. No team sport ever appealed to me, and the failure to have brought my gym-gear along meant that I was ‘condemned’ to walk around the sports field for the hour or two while the others jumped and ran in the cold London air. Luckily for me, my friend Diana was of the same inclination as I, and so we spent many happy hours talking and walking around the playing field while the others got all hot and sweaty on the netball court.

But somehow when I reached my forties (was it my mid-life crisis?) I began to exercise, having spent most of my first forty years sitting with a book or at a desk to read, write or type. I started off at a class run by a charismatic trainer who tailored the exercises he gave us to his assessment of our capabilities. Attending his private gym once a week was all I could manage at first. But then I started going there twice a week, before setting off for work. Later I was able to exercise in the gym that was established at my place of work. After retiring I decided to continue going there, but gradually found myself preferring to exercise at home. I’m happy to report that I’ve been able to keep it up, and now go downstairs to my private ‘gym’ six days a week.

From talking with friends I realize that I’m not alone in this concern (I don’t want to call it an obsession, though it may well be). One friend is very involved with her yoga classes (three times a week) and regales me with the wonders of headstands and other similar contortions. Another is an ardent devotee of water aerobics (three times a week), while yet another swears by the ancient oriental practice of Chi-Kong, whatever that may be. Yet another swears by Zumba, the noisiest, sweatiest form of exercise I have ever encountered. There’s no accounting for tastes.

But you get the picture, don’t you? Here is a random cross-section of middle-aged (or even older) ladies who are all displaying admirable concern about their bodies. All those I’m thinking of are well over sixty (seventy, even in some cases), look good, are not overweight and seem to have all – or most – of their mental faculties intact.

When I think about the elderly aunts and acquaintances of my childhood my mental picture is of stout ladies whose appearance was less than appealing. Their faces were lined and tired, and this was definitely not from overwork, as most were from relatively comfortable backgrounds, though many of them had been widowed at a relatively early age.

These days we are inundated with data and information about how to stay healthy, what to eat, how important it is to exercise regularly and to take care of our bodies. I suppose all that propaganda must have got through to me, as it apparently has to others of my generation. And so, unlike our mothers and grandmothers, we are almost as concerned about our physical health and appearance as we were when we were teenagers, and are even prepared now to do something about it.