This is the last of the three articles on health and wellness. The first two articles dealt with medicine and diet and this one on exercise completes the trilogy.
During these dark days of the raging pandemic the importance of exercise is of even greater significance. Regular exercise helps to fight off the seasonal viruses like the common cold and flu while boosting our immune system which is indeed our first line of defence against the corona virus. A holistic exercise regimen reduces the risk of certain cancers and helps to overcome chronic diseases like hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. Sometime ago I remember reading an article in the Wall Street Journal which cited a study in which women being treated for breast cancer were 50 percent less likely to die of the disease if they walked for three hours a week. For men, regular exercise is one of the best preventions against prostate cancer. Physical inactivity contributes to a host of ailments like heart disease, depression, arthritis and osteoporosis.
Telomeres are an essential part of the human cell that affect how our cells age. Telomeres are the caps at the end of each DNA that protect our chromosomes from damage. As we get older, the telomeres erode. It is now being said that if we can prevent or slow down the erosion of our telomeres then our cells remain protected and we can slow down aging. In fact, although the hypothesis is still considered heterodox many scientists go as far as to say that by lengthening the telomeres our biological clock can be turned backward. It has been proven that telomeres shortening occurs due to stress, smoking, poor diet, obesity and lack of exercise. A comprehensive exercise routine can thus also help in extending our lifespan. I am disappointed that most doctors are ever ready to prescribe medicines to their patients but hardly ever emphasize on the importance of a healthy lifestyle as the first line of defence against virtually every known ailment. Exercise should be considered a prophylactic to prevent disease as well as a medication to treat disease.
The important thing is to have a comprehensive exercise plan. Many people have now started walking as a form of exercise. Undoubtedly walking is an excellent exercise. Healthy people should make sure that they walk 10,000 steps every day. This does not mean going on a 10 km walk every day. The objective is to be active and on your feet for the best part of the day. Move around instead of sitting sedentary. We are ever so dependent on household help and support staff at the offices. Why not make your own tea or walk up to another floor from where you may need a file or some stationary? Don’t work sitting on a chair. In our offices I have encouraged people to redesign their workstations so that they work standing up. Try and do all internal meetings standing. Meetings are the biggest waste of time in every organization because they are done inefficiently and they drag on unnecessarily. Standing meetings make sure that the meetings are kept as brief as possible. Sitting is one of the worst postures because it weakens the gluteal muscles which causes back problems like sciatica and spondylosis.
Unfortunately, walking by itself does not provide a complete physical fitness regimen. Walking is the essential pre requisite for ensuring good health but it has its limitations. For example, age related muscle atrophy cannot be addressed with walking. Walking will also not serve as a prevention or cure for lower back pain which affects about 65% of adults and can become chronic with advancing age. A holistic exercise regimen is needed to ensure total fitness. Broadly speaking the total fitness regimen is based on three pillars- 1.Aerobic exercise 2.Anaerobic exercise (weight or strength training) 3. Core exercise.
Aside from being a mood booster (you may have heard of the term “runner’s high”), aerobic exercise is essential for good cardio vascular health. For older people and those with some underlying health conditions, brisk walking will serve the purpose but younger and healthy middle aged people should consider jogging, swimming or a similar more rigorous exercise to get a good cardio workout about three times a week.
Most ordinary people are scared to even think of weight training. However, weight training or strength training is essential for building up muscle mass which protects us against age related diseases such as osteoporosis. As we age, we experience a natural loss of skeletal muscles. This phenomenon is called sarcopenia. Pharmaceutical companies are keen to develop the “fountain of youth” pill that may slow muscle loss but the safest way to prevent age related muscle atrophy is strength training and good nutrition. Contrary to the general perception that weight training and gyms are the domain of younger people, it is quite the opposite. Weight training boosts our muscle mass and charges up our metabolism. It helps prevent damage to our joints and vertebrae from osteoarthritis and age related disc, bone and ligament degeneration. So while the youngsters may be hitting the gym to develop their six packs, from the practical point of view, strength training is of greater importance to the middle age and older folk in order to live a healthy life free from injury and pain. In case someone is very unsure about using dumbbells and barbels or does not have access to a gym then strength training can also be done using bodyweight (buzzword-calisthenics). Simple exercises like pushups, squats, lunges and crunches will also serve the purpose as long as they are done with proper form.
Core exercises train the muscles in our pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work in harmony. This is essential for better balance and for the prevention and treatment of the common back injuries like sciatica and spondylosis. Any exercise that involves the use of abdominal and back muscles in a coordinated fashion counts as a core exercise. Yoga is an excellent way of strengthening the core and the yoga pranayama are one of the best ways to improve health by removing the toxins in our body and build up the body’s immune system.
As I have mentioned above, a well rounded comprehensive exercise regimen is essential for good health. It takes time to develop habits (the subject of my next article). For those who do not exercise, it’s important to start slowly and build up for long term results. Exercising should be thought of as a marathon and not a sprint. It is to be made into a life-long practice. Many people give up on a fitness program with lame excuses such as a “lack of time”. I am sure that if they persist then in all likelihood most people will form the habit of exercising. Here are a few basic tips that may help the budding “fitness freak”.
Listen to your body- Start gently and gradually increase the intensity of your workout. Always make sure that you are using the proper form. Over exercising and or incorrect form can result in injury. Rest days are as important as workout days.
Be consistent- In order to develop a habit, one must be consistent. Exercise three to four times a week making sure that you are covering all the three pillars of a holistic exercise regimen.
Sleep and diet- A good night sleep is essential for everyone but especially for those who are regularly exercising, the importance of good sleep is even more pronounced. Seven to eight hours of restful sleep is essential for adults. I have already covered the importance of diet in the previous article of this trilogy but needless to say that diet is like the fuel for the car engine. If you use poor quality fuel, the engine of your car will be damaged.
After reading this three article series, many people may feel overwhelmed. We all live busy lives and it is a constant struggle to find the time to do so many important things on our agenda. Following such an elaborate routine for health care may seem challenging. To put things into the right perspective, I quote the Dalai Lama- “Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health”.
When I thought of writing an article about health and wellness in my blog, I had some reservations. This is a very personal subject and though I am a health enthusiast, I am not a qualified practitioner and therefore the subject falls outside my official field of expertise. However, after due contemplation I decided to write these three articles because the greater objective of my blog is to be of benefit to those who read it. I hope that the readers will excuse my indulgence.