As human beings, we are endowed with the ability to think, imagine and plan for the long term. Our massive ego is the other quality that sets us apart from animals. This is the reason we consider ourselves superior in the animal kingdom. We believe ourselves to be the chosen ones to rule the earth and its resources. Why, we're even setting out to prevent natural disasters due to global warming!
Doesn't all this sound a little hollow considering that we want to save the world when we don't even have control over our own bodies? If we did have control, we would be eating more responsibly, squeezing in some exercise, handling stress better, deciding on a close-out time for our work every day and not be tied to our electronic leashes. This is commonsense and we already know it, yet we jeopardize our health anyway.
Today, our bodies belong to our employers and crazy work schedules, junk food outlets and over-processed food, doctors and the pharmaceutical industry. We maintain our cars better than we do, our bodies.
If you want to start getting healthier, first, get a medical check-up done. Most companies fund these as part of the medical allowance. If you're not suffering from any major ailments, wresting your health back into your hands fundamentally requires you to change your attitude first.
- All attempts towards good health begin with the person taking a deep breath and a decision – "Starting now, I take the decisions on my health. This body belongs to me. It will listen when I do something in its favour and I will listen when it tries to signal a problem."
- Stop being a perfectionist and a procrastinator. "I won't start going for a walk because I can't sustain it." "I can't go to the gym because I don't have fancy gym-wear or the latest shoes." "I'll start eating healthier after this holiday when the temptations are gone." There is no better time to start than NOW.
- There will always be this voice inside your head saying that an extra slice of pizza won't kill you. Eating one less won't kill you either. Most of our trouble with sticking to healthier choices is because of that voice of temptation. It's the same voice that whispers that you won't be able to go for a walk because of that twinge in your foot. How will you know until you try it?
- Don't link self-pity to diet and lifestyle. If you're in a job you don't enjoy, that's no reason to eat four gulab jamuns at one go. De-link your emotions from your body. In situations with high stress and depression, we are too embarrassed to go to a psychotherapist for a long term solution, but instead expect comfort food to do the job of a psychotherapist. You can't fill an emotional void with something as physical as a burger!
- Recognise that you will make mistakes and give in to temptations. Don't be a mercenary who kills himself for his army's defeat. Be a warrior who rises every time he falls. Just get back on the bandwagon immediately.
- Most importantly, start with yourself. Don't expect the world to understand. Be graceful about this and don't evangelize anything until you've made it a habit that has worked for you. Accept that one's spouse and children will not adapt immediately. It may take years of observing you before they reluctantly evince an interest.
- Walk the talk. As the old adage says, Actions speak louder than words.
- Take up yoga, meditation or breathing exercises. These are taught almost in every neighbourhood and there are also video CD demonstrations of the techniques.
- Start a family tradition by going for a walk together in a park or along the beach on weekends.
- If you want to get fit more intensively, walk, jog, run, swim, hit the gym.
- At a macro level, you could consider discussing corporate gym-memberships with your HR department. If you already have a gym at your workplace, schedule sessions three days a week to begin with and work closely with the trainer.
- Overkill does indeed kill. A sedentary individual, who is suddenly inspired to exercise, will overdo it, thereby laying a self-made trap to jeopardize the attempt. Walking for twenty minutes six times a week is better than doing two hours at one go once a week. Consistency is key.
- Do sip water if you feel like it, when you exercise. Many of the cramps that newbie exercisers experience are because of dehydration.
- The day you don't feel like exercising without reason – that's the day you need exercise the most. Challenge yourself.
- Set yourself a goal. Participate in a half-marathon, for instance. Take the help of someone who has done it. Running a half-marathon requires consistent training over many months. The goal will keep you motivated even while you're grappling with minor sprains. Or take a dancing class. It'll keep you moving and help develop that sense of rhythm. Walk to a place of worship. Time yourself climbing a particularly steep gradient near home, then challenge the time.
- Play a sport. Join a cricket team that plays on Sundays. If you have access, play tennis, badminton, squash, basketball, throw-ball etc.
Pointers in the area of diet and lifestyle changes will be covered in our July 2007 newsletter.
(Article written for Best of Crest, 2007)