The NHS will be 74 on July 5.

A doctor, who was around at the time, tells me that, back then, many people wondered what its purpose would be once it had cured everyone! Well that never happened, and now the health service is straining at every seam – not least because these days there are far more ways of keeping us alive.

Last week, Dr Phil Hammond posted on Twitter that the NHS will only survive if we all take more responsibility for our own health and fitness. He maintains that “changes in lifestyle are more powerful than any drug we have to offer”.

Eastern Daily Press: Weight loss is one of the best ways to reduce reliance on the NHSWeight loss is one of the best ways to reduce reliance on the NHS (Image: PA)

The truth is that vast numbers of us need to get fitter if we want to live long and well, and lessen the burden on the NHS. For most, the best way would be to decrease weight and increase exercise.

Unfortunately, it seems to be in our nature to wait until we get bad health news before we embark on mending our ways. But today I’m hoping to inspire you before the worst happens by telling you about two friends, both in their mid-60s, who have transformed their health and lives in recent months.

Laura Marcus, a highly-respected freelance journalist, was spurred into action by Covid-19.

“I was completely freaked out when I heard that if you were obese you only had a 50/50 chance of surviving Covid if you had to be intubated,” she told me.

Eastern Daily Press: Campaigners hope to see smoking banned from outdoor public spaces in NorwichCampaigners hope to see smoking banned from outdoor public spaces in Norwich (Image: Archant)

“This was long before we had the vaccine, and I wanted to live! Being obese or even just overweight puts you at risk of many life-limiting illnesses. I want another 20 years of good quality living, if possible. And one way to try to achieve it is to lose weight and keep it off."

Once she had made the decision to change her diet, she looked at her levels of physical activity and found herself wanting. Opting for common sense tactics, she started slowly by walking instead of driving to the local shops, getting off buses a stop or two early and taking stairs rather than lifts or escalators. Next, she made time to go for a walk every day.

But, as she has learned for herself, she warns: “Exercise doesn’t make that much difference to your weight. The only way to lose it is to eat less than you did to get overweight in the first place! Stick to three meals a day - don’t ever skip a meal. Psychologically you’ll feel entitled to make up for it and you’ll likely over-compensate. Try not to nibble between meals. But have some treats and don’t be too strict, especially true if you’ve got a lot of weight to lose. And don’t give up when the weight stops coming off so easily. That’s inevitable. Stick with it!”

Eastern Daily Press: The UK has one of Europe's highest obesity ratesThe UK has one of Europe's highest obesity rates (Image: PA)

And stick with it, she has. She has also documented her progress in a series of over 40 newsletters at These are fascinating and full of doable, enlightening advice. Laura has lost excess weight she has carried for decades, donated her size 20 clothes to charity shops and achieved a normal BMI. You can do this too.

Anne Williams, meanwhile, is a book reviewer with an award-winning blog (

Initially, it was the shock of a type 2 diabetes diagnosis that propelled her into a fitness-drive, and she was so determined that she reverted to normal blood sugar levels in two months. But that was not enough for her, and she began to do some serious thinking.

“I realised that over the long years of family problems followed by caring for my dying mum (and rather wallowing in grief after her loss), I'd completely lost sight of the fact that I was important too; and that, rather than slip further downhill into increasing ill-health and miserable and lonely old age, I had the power to do something about it. Improving my diet came first, then a slow return to exercise.”

Eastern Daily Press: Getting fit through walking is a great way to reduce reliance on the NHSGetting fit through walking is a great way to reduce reliance on the NHS (Image: Archant)

Before long, she was walking daily and enjoying the countryside as well as re-connecting with friends.

“As the pounds fell off, followed by the stones,” she says, “the thing that surprised me most was the mental improvement. I really felt ten years younger, full of energy, all the little health niggles I'd been living with were gone, and I was waking up every morning filled with joy and looking forward to the day ahead.”

Now, Anne has lost more than five stone and has a normal BMI for the first time since her 20s.

“I've never been active like this before,” she admits. "My idea of a perfect afternoon was always a comfy chair in the shade, reading a book from cover to cover before picking up the next. I now walk three or four miles every day and go on walking holidays too. I never knew they'd bring so much pleasure.”

These two women are stunning examples of what any one of us can achieve if we make up our mind to change. They’re amazing – and hopefully won’t be troubling the NHS for years.

As Joan Baez said: “You don’t get to decide how you’re going to die, or when. But you can decide how you’re going to live now.”