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Couch potatoes be warned: Fitness classes at work are coming and a note from mum won't get you off

By Sean O'Grady

Imagine your next staff appraisal. Do you feel you have had your training needs met? Tick. Timekeeping satisfactory? Tick. Loyal and enthusiastic team player? Tick. Sales going well? Tick. Meeting targets for squat thrusts, press-ups and exercise bike speeds? Needs improvement. Oh dear. No performance increase for you this year, then.

After the British Heart Foundation recently informed us that about a third of the population are completely physically inactive, there's been some chatter about how to get us up off the sofa and moving around a bit.

One of the more imaginative ideas being punted is the introduction of compulsory exercise at work, with, presumably, appropriate financial incentives and penalties.

I'm all in favour of this, because it would force most of us to do something we are usually inclined to ignore, and it would save lives and the Health Service money.

I argue this even though I still have grim memories of PE class at school, the last time probably any of us were made to run around in public in our knickers in the middle of winter.

Our PE teachers, I was sure, had been recruited using sophisticated psychometric vetting techniques so that only the most sadistic of applicants would succeed.

Any superficially thuggish characters who harboured soft hearts beneath their fearless carapace would be rumbled and rejected.

They were issued with the nylon tracksuit, luminous trainers and official whistle that constituted their uniform, marking them out from the other tweedy masters as an elite republican guard of physical torment.

Who needs the cane or even a torture chamber when you have a gym, playing fields and a running track at your disposal?

The men in tracksuits were wise to every possible excuse that a pupil could invent to avoid PE.

Tear-stained sick notes from parents were dismissed as obvious forgeries (which, to be fair, they usually were). Headaches or an 'upset tummy' would be cured by a couple of dozen forward rolls, sometimes with disastrous results.

Forgetting your shorts and vest seemed an invincible defence, until you discovered that it wasn't as novel as you thought, and would be met with an injunction to go and look in the 'spare kit basket'.

This innocent-sounding container was in fact a fetid tangle of unaccountably lost, abandoned, torn and invariably unwashed sports gear that looked like it was new way back in 1958.

Being of relatively small stature, it was hard to find any that fitted me, of course, so I'd have to tackle the climbing frame or attempt basketball with one hand hanging onto the waist of my over-baggy shorts.

It was that or my Y-fronts. Happy days.

That sort of thing wouldn't happen at work nowadays, would it?

I mean, how many of us have the kind of psychologically damaged boss who would willingly and routinely inflict humiliation on that scale to their staff?

And then refuse promotion or a pay rise on the back of failure to complete, say, the annual finance department cross-country 'fun run', deliberately timed for the wettest, coldest, muddiest day of the year?

Yet even if communal exercise with work colleagues was less fun than it perhaps ought to be, and certainly less enjoyable than an evening getting sloshed and gossiping in the local 'work pub', it would still be a good idea, as it is better to be fit than not, obviously.

Some people might even enjoy it, including the sadomasochistic aspects.

These endorphins I hear so much about will soon 'kick in' during your sessions after work, and you'll then associate pain with pleasure.

After all, that is basically the effect your monthly pay cheque has.

I'm up for it, starbursts and all.

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