How Old Are You Really?

This article was first published in Rotary News on April 2018.

There are two aspects to ageing. Your chronological age is the calculated number of years you have lived. Your biological or “real” age  refers to the current condition of your physiological body at its very basic cellular level. These two are not necessarily one and the same. An individual may be chronologically 30,  but might have the body and mind of a 55-year-old. He could be overweight, lethargic, with poorly conditioned muscles, poor memory, productivity and low stamina. He may be stressed, depressed, with a laundry list of medical conditions and pills to manage them.

On the contrary, someone could be 50 years old chronologically but have an actual age of a 35-year-old in terms of energy, stamina, strength, and pure joi de vivre. 

Factors that ascertain your Real or Biological age

These are blood pressure, heart rate and other metabolic parameters such as  blood sugar and cholesterol, eyesight, lungs, heart, vocal cords, skin turgor, energy levels, physical appearance, condition and tone of your muscles, mental acuity, memory, level of independence, fat percentage, lean body mass and fitness levels (cardio vascular endurance, flexibility, strength, agility, reflexes, balance, coordination and so on).

Your ‘real’ or biological age

Of course genes set the stage for a good or poor quality body. But lifestyle choices are the ultimate predictors of the ageing process. However good your genes, if you subject your body to stressors such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs, poor lifestyle choices on a daily basis like unhealthy food and lack of proper exercise, rapid ageing is imperative. It is said that your genes load the gun but your lifestyle pulls the trigger.

Here are some lifestyle measures that can arrest and even reverse the ageing process:

  • Eat right – Eat food rich in anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins and fibre. Fruits, vegetables, berries, nuts, seeds and pulses provide protein and good quality fats. Avoid processed and refined food, tobacco and excessive alcohol.
  • Exercise the right way – A well designed fitness routine should include cardio vascular activity such as running, speed walking, cycling or aerobic sessions. It should be balanced with a strength training routine to build muscle and a stretch routine to maintain flexibility of the muscles. Muscles being critical for movement need to be worked against resistance (either an external weight or one’s own body weight) to be maintained at an optimum or improved. They also need to be stretched to maintain elasticity.

Muscle atrophy (decrease) and frailty with age and disuse is the primary cause for lack of mobility. It affects performing even the most rudimentary tasks. Modalities like yoga and total body stretches keep the body limber, prevent pain and addresses poor posture due to muscle imbalance.

Exercise is most definitely the closest we have ever come to an anti-ageing pill. Expensive skin creams that promise wrinkle-free skin, cosmetic surgery, laser ablation, Botox etc. are only solutions to the superficial signs of ageing. They cannot come close to the benefits obtained from a regular heart pumping, well-planned exercise routine.

  • Maintain your body weight – Weight gain with age is not inevitable. With the right nutrition and exercise, it is possible to maintain your body weight and in fact even improve the quality of your body.
  • Manage stress – Stress is very much a part our everyday lives. Eliminating it altogether is of course too much to expect. Managing stress effectively however is possible with meditation, relaxing techniques, time management and training the mind to handle situations and stress differently.
  • Nurture a hobby/passion – Simple things like developing a hobby or even working on something you love and are passionate about can change one’s perspective to ageing.
  • Maintain strong relationships – Strong ties with family or close friends can be enormously rewarding experiences that add meaning to life.
  • Sleep well – Sleep is not only restive but also restorative. Long-term sleep deprivation has been known to be associated with an increase in Type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, depression and even memory and attention problems. Work related sleep dysfunction (such as in shift workers, doctors and nurses), poor sleep hygiene, stress, obesity, overeating near bedtime, can all lead to poor sleep. Good quality sleep is closely related to a good quality, productive life.

To evaluate your Real age, ask the following questions 

  • Do you enjoy life? Do you look forward to the new day?
  • Do you have strong, nurturing relationships?
  • Do you enjoy the work you do?
  • Do you exercise regularly, sleep well and eat healthy?
  • Are you excited to get out of bed in the morning? (Granted that sometimes some of us are too fatigued to register excitement and just wish for a few more moments of blissful sleep, but that is a different discussion altogether!)
  • Do you feel you have purpose and meaning in life or are you drifting along wondering what to do?
  • Are you passionate about some cause or hobby?

Evaluate your fitness 

  • Can you run or even walk up a flight of stairs and not feel like you are dying at the end (or middle) of it?
  • Can you touch the floor standing up without bending your knees?
  • How fast can you walk a mile and how quickly do you recover from the exertion? (Called the One Mile Walk test, this can be evaluated in a gym setting).
  • What is your weight, fat percentage and your waist circumference?
  • How many proper pushups and squats can you do?
  • How much medication, besides basic supplements, sit on your table waiting to be consumed every day?

Ageing is the most natural process of the human body and certainly cannot be arrested altogether. It can however be done gracefully with every attempt made to remain independent and productive, even if only to oneself.  

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Connecting the Dots……

This is why I teach Fitness & Wellness

This is why I teach fitness and wellnessOn returning from my post-graduation to work at my family-run hospital in Ooty, in
1994, I believed, if there was a condition where one may slowly and silently perish from isolation and a suppression of creative energy… this was it! I lived within the four walls of my home and hospital, working endlessly. That was all I did.

Of course, I felt plenty of self-pity for my ‘hard-working’ self. Felt very self-righteous actually! I thought, ‘Life is unfair. I am meant do bigger things!’.

From this came an opportunity to create something powerful and rewarding in ‘small town Ooty’ over and beyond my Obstetric practice. I nurtured my passion for fitness and
certified as a Fitness & Lifestyle Consultant to support my medical career, propagating fitness to women as a form of ‘Preventive Medicine’. I started ‘TFL’ (Training for Life’) in
Ooty in 2000 and in Chennai in 2007. It became an extension of my medical practice. One that I believe to be very relevant to women’s health and wellness and also enriched patients, clients and women across the board, from all walks of life.

Today, I am appreciative that I am able to translate my passion for fitness to touch and change women’s lives. Am ecstatic to see my alternate career lead to a metamorphosis in
several women who have benefitted from TFL, leading to an incredible improvement in their ‘Quality Of Life’. 

‘Connecting the dots’, I believe this is what I was meant to do……….change lives.

Bhutan

On a recent visit to Bhutan with two dear friends, I was witness to the most amazing architecture and natural beauty. The Tiger’s Nest monastery was particularly stunning. Built in the 17th century on the edge of a precipice, one cannot even fathom how such a feat could have been accomplished! It appears to teeter on the cliff, surrounded by the most staggeringly raw landscape. It is said to have been burnt down completely in 1998 (from one of the ‘butter lamps’ tipping over, no doubt). It was then restored to its original glory.

IMG_0878The climb to the monastery is no easy feat. Although the actual climb is only about 700 meters, it is steep and narrow almost all the way. Having rained the previous night, it was also frighteningly slippery in parts. A fellow tourist cheerfully told us that since we were wearing fluorescent bright jackets, there would be absolutely no problem finding us if we do fall off the edge! Not very reassuring,

IMG_0845The enormous number of beautiful wild dogs on the way up was another amazing sight. They looked like huskies, a little shy but happy to share your breakfast with you.

The dense forest surrounding the monastery comprised of the most incredible trees. On these trees grew beautiful strands of moss that hung down like gossamer curtains creating a surreal appearance.

IMG_0862Breathless much of the way, but exhilarated and awe struck it occurred to me just how many people would not be able to climb to such places solely on account of their lack of fitness. Fitness to many (such as me) is often a means to this very end – to be able to really enjoy life’s recreational activities without feeling uncertain about ones ability to
last out or follow through. No, its not the same thing to see these places on Tv or in photographs. The smells, sights, the travel with friends or family, the food, all make up for the entire experience. It is these experiences that also mould us in ways we don’t often recognise. These very experiences that add a different dimension and richness to
our days.

Getting fit therefore should have other objectives than losing weight. A more holistic approach keeps one motivated to continue to exercise and improve our fitness levels. After a while it stops being just about ‘weight’ and ‘size’, but also about how much we can do while enjoying it. These are little things that make all the difference.

 

Life Begins at 50

IMG-20180515-WA0101Like all women in Indian society, I put my husband and family first and took the back seat where my own wellness was concerned. I got my wake-up call one day in 2013, when I got on to the scales and was completely shocked! I was horrendously overweight, had swollen ankles, and was waddling around like a duck. I realised that I desperately
needed to turn my life around.I had heard about TFL, but… was apprehensive and embarrassed about starting exercise at this ‘late stage’ of my life. I wondered whether it would be possible to lose the weight I had gained. I met with Dr. Sheela Nambiar, got a physical and joined TFL. The first few months were really tough. The pain was excruciating in my back and in my legs. Muscles I had never used had woken up and were protesting! But, I was determined! The other ladies in TFL were also terribly encouraging. Now, after nearly two years, I have become healthier, my aches and pains have almost disappeared and I have lost a lot of weight.

Once we hit 50, we tend to throw in our gloves, wait for menopause and lifestyle diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure to pounce on us. Yes, this could be the case if we don’t exercise and don’t eat appropriately. But….who says that as you get older, life has to be a never-ending cycle of aches and sickness? Why should life stop or decline after 50? We are lucky to have Dr. Sheela as our guide/instructor who, despite her busy schedule, takes a personal interest in each one of us. TFL has built up my confidence, helped me to make new friends, has improved my health and changed my view of life. For me, life began at 50 and I’m going to make the rest of my life the best of my life.

By Rekha Peter

How to Begin Strength Training

This article was first published in The Hindu on March 12, 2018.

12mpsheelaARTGAQ3IFB1H3jpgjpgMyths debunked, questions answered and doubts cleared, here

Strength, like stamina and flexibility, is one of the primary pillars of fitness. It helps retain and build muscle mass, increase strength and even aid fat loss.

Know the means

There are two ways of increasing strength and muscle mass. You could perform exercises using your own body weight (pushups, squats, lunges), or you could use external weights like dumbbells, barbells or machines. I recommend that a beginner start with using lightweights with dumbbells or machines, and gradually build strength in order to be able to handle their own body weight. Once you build enough strength by using external weights, you could move on to using your own body weight to challenge your muscles further, and proceed to do a combination of own-body-weight exercises and those with external weights. All the exercises need to be learnt from a professional so that risk of injury is minimised. Before starting a strength-training programme, do get a clearance from your physician.

Begin right

A couple of pairs of dumbbells (about 2-4 kg each), a mat, weight training gloves, water and proper (fitted) attire is all that is required. How much weight you lift for each exercise will vary. Typically, the larger muscles of the body like the chest, back, shoulders and glutes will be able to lift a heavier weight than the smaller peripheral muscles like the arms and calves.

Know the terminology

A routine typically consists of a series of exercises addressing different muscles or groups of muscles.

Each exercise is repeated several times (repetitions or reps) until the muscle tires. After a short period of rest, the next set is attempted and the exercise is repeated again until the muscle tires once more. Ideally, for muscle growth, you should not be able to perform more than 6-10 repetitions of the given exercise in one set. This means that after about eight reps, your muscle begins to protest, and by rep 10, it is so fatigued that you cannot push for more reps. Only you can decide what weight to use for each exercise. The weight you use will also differ from exercise to exercise. In time, you need to be able to push yourself gradually to increase the weight you use for each.

Performing each exercise with perfect ‘form’ is important if you want to prevent injury. Each exercise has dos and don’ts. These need to be adhered to meticulously. Understanding and remembering all the instructions for each and every exercise, (such as breathe in as you lower, breathe out as you lift, keep the back flat, keep the core engaged, keep the head lifted, spine aligned and so on), takes time and effort. While the exercise may appear simple, many get injured, especially as weight increases. This is one of the reasons why it is always preferable to have a trainer guide you to correct mistakes during the first few months of your initiation into weight training. Make sure the same muscle is not worked within 48 hours. So for instance, if you perform all the upper body exercises on a Monday, you should rest those body parts and aim to work them again only on a Thursday. You could then perform all the lower body exercises on a Tuesday and a Friday.