MIDDLE age is a funny beast. In my twenties, if I woke up in pain, chances are it was a hangover. Through my thirties, it could usually be put down to the aching muscles of a good workout.

Now, in my forties, as my eyes ping open on the average morning, I run through a basic checklist, moving from head to toe, slowly sizing up what today's gripe will be: Wisdom tooth twinge. A stiff shoulder. Heartburn. Sore hip. Louping ankle. Perhaps some new and inexplicable complaint?

Typically, this can stem from a plethora of factors. Cold, heat, too much caffeine, not enough caffeine, undersleeping, oversleeping, dodgy bedsprings, birdsong at 4am, hunger, dehydration, telly binges, doomscrolling, any form of exercise, the lingering effects of last night's curry.

Or, in other words, the general malaise of getting older.

In my twenties, I could sleep anywhere: bolt upright in a plane seat, on a pile of coats at a party, atop a rapidly deflating air mattress. Now? A slightly wrinkled pillowcase is sufficient to give me a crick in my neck that lasts a week, like an absurd homage to The Princess and the Pea.

Except, in this case, it is more akin to The Princess and the Pee as I can no longer slumber for more than six or seven hours without needing to get up to go to the loo. I remember as a teenager regularly dozing for 12 hours straight. Chance would be a fine thing these days.

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My nemesis, though, is trying to lose weight and get fitter. I used to be relatively sporty. The Herald archive is filled with photographs of a Lycra-clad me variously cycling, running, playing netball, sailing, weightlifting or on roller skates as if I am auditioning for a 1990s Tampax advert.

I look at the woman in those pictures and marvel at her energy. When I first wrote about losing weight and getting fit more than a decade ago, I didn't imagine finding myself back here. Even heavier. Older and with a slower metabolism. Pah.

I often ruminate about how much of my aches and pains are self-inflicted. The fruit of procrastination. So, between writing this paragraph and the next one, I will stand up from my desk and do 20 squats and three lunges (best not push it).

There is no time like the present – or so the adage goes – and it does feel as if this present is laden with opportunity.

Pandemic life is a bit like sitting in front of a board game and in one sweeping stroke, brushing all the pieces onto the floor. The pieces you pick up and return to the board are those you intend to play with going forward.

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I find myself thinking more carefully about my choices. The changes in all our lifestyles have (hopefully) meant shedding much of what's superfluous, not least many of the things we once said yes to out of a misplaced sense of obligation. This can only be a good thing.

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