IT was the clothes pulley that did it. When fully loaded with damp clothes, winching it back up to the ceiling is like hoisting the mainsail. After one such exertion, following which I needed treatment from a physiotherapist, I had to accept that my upper body strength is not what it could be.

As a result you’ll now find me, twice a week, in our local gym.

What a strange new world it is: a place filled with machines that wouldn’t look out of place in Torquemada’s Manual for the Inquisition.

“Don’t be afraid of this one,” the physio said, when introducing me to a 10-foot metal contraption with hooks, cables, ankle straps and assorted attachments that would light up a sadomasochist’s eye.

“What’s to be scared of?” I said, as its shadow fell upon me. At the moment I’m taking baby steps in terms of the weights I’m pulling on this beast; by Christmas, however, I expect to be sufficiently muscle-bound to yank it out of the wall and launch myself into space.

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In the meantime I work away, trying not to feel discouraged at my puny efforts. On approaching the weights room there’s often the intimidating clang of dumbbells and barbells being dropped by blokes who look as if they could lift girders in their teeth. When working out, the noises these Tarzans produce are worrying, not so much puffing and panting as the sort of yelps someone would make after a curling stone has landed on their bunion.

Earlier this week, when one of them had been using the seated row machine ahead of me, I saw the peg was slotted into the heaviest weight, the one I assumed could only be budged by oxen.

I repositioned it to the second most weakling position, which is my humble starting point. “It’s just a question of sticking at it and progressing,” the Iron Man told me kindly, although I’m pretty sure he was stronger than me by the time he was watching Postman Pat. At moments like these you are confronted with the realisation that there’s only so much your physique is capable of, even had it ever found its peak.

There’s one good thing about reaching my age, however. Self-consciousness is all but banished, along with any vestige of pride or dignity. Another revelation is that there are people far older than me in there: lifting serious weights, using complicated looking bits of equipment to work different parts of the body, or doing a shift on the treadmill, some barely at a shuffle, others pounding away.

HeraldScotland: This is not me - at least not yetThis is not me - at least not yet (Image: free)

All of us are of an age where previously you might have expected to find us at the bowling club, yet here we are, facing down advancing decrepitude in the only way we know how.

I’d like to tell you how the others are getting on, but the truth is I am too busy taking care of myself. As far as I can see, nobody pays much attention to anyone else apart from an occasional hello. If we were to meet in the supermarket there’d be no glimmer of recognition.

For that matter, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the wall mirrors I hardly recognise this creature in leggings and space-age trainers, with a tomato for a face.

It's come to this, in part thanks to a career spent hunched over a keyboard and sitting with a book in hand. Compared to previous generations, people of my vintage – and younger – are largely sedentary unless we make a conscious effort to exert ourselves.

Instead of walking, we drive; instead of taking exercise, we are glued to screens. Instead of eating well, we binge on junk and consume too much alcohol and sugary drinks. Not surprisingly, then, predictions of the tsunami of musculoskeletal problems being stored up for older age are alarming; so too issues with obesity and cardio-vascular health.

As I jog on the treadmill, rediscovering how therapeutic this mindless exercise can be, I find myself wondering why it’s easier to commit to an hour in a soulless barn of a gym, to a soundtrack of anodyne local radio, than set aside time to climb the hills.

Living in the countryside, I’ve discovered, is not always a recipe for healthy living. Whenever I’m in the city, I cover miles between one place and another without even noticing; at home, a long walk has to be scheduled.

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As a result, it’s often easier to get on with other pressing things than enjoy the outdoors which, when life is busy, can feel like an indulgence.

There’s something about the discipline of the gym that, while slightly unnerving, makes it feel like a justifiable use of time. For those like me who have never been fitness fanatics, it is not a natural environment.

As someone who loves fresh air, the idea of slogging away indoors in a space reeking of old trainers is not appealing. It would not be my ideal choice of how to get healthier and stronger. Yet how else to do this so efficiently?

These fiendish-looking machines are designed not as instruments of torture but for our benefit. Lifting bags of compost under each arm (if only!) might eventually achieve the same effect, but having a gauge by which to measure microscopic improvement – and act as an incentive – is undoubtedly useful. The hope is to see an incremental advance, month on month.

These gym hours are also a chance to concentrate wholly on getting fitter. In another age, of course, the very concept would have been alien. Life was demanding enough – long trudges to work, hard labour on the home front as well as in the fields, underheated houses and offices where calories were burned simply in the attempt to stay warm, and so on. The problem for our forebears was not improving their endurance and strength or watching their waistline but finding enough time to rest and recuperate from the daily grind.

Now we’re at the polar opposite, taking a break being the last thing we need. Yet as I gear up for my next visit, I’m under no illusions. Mine is not a Couch to Commonwealth Games challenge. I’ll be satisfied when I can hoist the clothes pulley with one hand while toying with a kettlebell in the other.