Thank you, Doctor

To date, no celebrity’s death has affected me on any level beyond “oh, that’s a shame”. Throughout my life, I have watched with curiosity and at times bewilderment while others claim to be “deeply affected” by the passing of someone they have never met; if I’m honest, I thought I was largely immune to the phenomenon. But during the last week I found myself checking and re-checking online, simply frantic to hear news of Michael Mosley, who went missing on the Greek island of Symi last Wednesday. As the days passed and the chance that there would be reports of him found safe and well became more and more unlikely, it was nevertheless still so distressing to finally read the confirmation that his body had been found. My heart goes out to his wife and his four children.

Dr. Michael Mosley was a scientist with an innate likeability that seems to have endeared him to everyone he encountered. His warm, empathetic style gave him an instant rapport with his audience and his passion for his subject was palpable. Mosley made it his mission to make the science of good health and longevity comprehensible to all and he practised what I would describe as comprehensibility without compromise: he never dumbed things down, he simply made them intelligible to the layperson of average intelligence. I have seen some of his TV work but for me, it was his BBC podcast called Just One Thing that made him feel like a part of my life. There is something about the way we listen to podcasts, having someone’s voice deep inside our ears while we go about our daily business of taking a walk or doing the shopping, that makes for a kind of intimacy never achieved through the television. Nodding along to Mosley’s warm-hearted, practical advice had become an important staple for me, so his sudden and untimely passing feels like a genuine loss, for which my life will be the lesser.

Mosley’s own health journey was, we are told, inspired in part by watching his father deteriorate in old age. Mosley’s father died aged 74 and, according to Mosley, was very inactive in his final years. Both Mosley and his father developed Type 2 diabetes in later life but while his father’s health deteriorated and was exacerbated by inactivity, Mosley himself managed to put his condition into longterm remission through diet and exercise, a phenomenon that is well-recognised by medics as possible for many patients. Mosley is perhaps most famous for his advice on diet, but it is not this side of his work that held interest for me. Due to genetic good fortune, I have never struggled with my weight. Furthermore, Mosley’s research took him down the route of recommending diets that include bouts of fasting and no scientist on earth could convince me to give that a go, however much I respected their advice. Fasting is emphatically not for me: it makes me feel truly awful. The last time I tried it was when instructed to fast prior to a blood test. Already feeling ghastly as a result, I was then kept waiting for some considerable time at the surgery. By the time I did get to actually see the Doctor I was the colour of parchment, shaking uncontrollably, covered in a film of cold sweat and dry-retching into a tissue. The somewhat bemused Doctor then of course proceeded to quiz me on my family history of Type 1 diabetes. There isn’t one! This is simply the way that fasting makes me feel and it always has done. I have absolutely no intention of trying it as a lifestyle choice. Sorry, Dr. Mosley.

Yet Mosley’s recommendations went way beyond diet and it was his advice on exercise that had me hooked. He more than anyone first convinced me to try weight and resistance training in later life, a journey which I embarked upon around 6 months ago and first wrote about here. Something about Mosley’s no-nonsense approach combined with the fact that he was not your typical lycra-wearing gym fanatic convinced me to do some further research and reading which – of course, although somewhat to my irritation – proved that he was 100% right about the importance of such work. I finally started down that pathway in November, have never wavered from it and now see resistance training as a permanent, non-negotiable part of life. Mosley was open about the fact that he loathed environments such as the gym and could never see himself going to one, yet he talked enthusiastically about doing push-ups, planks and squats in his 60s, about the enormous importance of developing muscle strength and bone-density to mitigate against the ageing process and to promote independence in later life. He talked and I listened.

It says a great deal about the society in which we live that much was made by some of the fact that Mosley left his mobile phone back at the place where he and his wife were staying before embarking on his ill-fated walk. Yet those of us who have listened to him over the years know that he also advocated for doing exactly this: for leaving your digital attachments to the world behind and striding off alone, to listen to the birds, the waves, the crickets, whatever nature may provide as the soundtrack to your adventure. Mosley’s wife confirmed in her response to his passing that his fierce independence and sense of adventure were part of what defined him and it speaks volumes about how ridiculously addicted so many people are to their hand-held communication devices that they are puzzled by the very idea that a man could leave his smart phone behind to go striding off into the hills.

I for one shall remember this vibrant yet gentle man with great affection and will continue to take his advice throughout what remains of my life. I am monumentally grateful for the contribution that he has made to our world and to my own health in particular. Whether we make it to a ripe old age or leave this world far too soon like Mosley himself, few of us will make such an impact and be remembered as such a compassionate, unassuming force for good. I shall miss his wisdom greatly.

Image source: BBC