Life Begins at 50

Like 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.

Setting Goals For 2018

Untitled design (13)New year resolutions are a common practice. The turn of the calendar from 31st December to the 1st of January usually witnesses a flurry of declarations for a better life, better body, more money, greater happiness and so on. Setting a goal does not necessarily translate to achievement. Most New Year resolutions fall by the wayside by the end of a couple of months, if not earlier.

Here are some tips to ensure that your goals suit your lifestyle and are realised.

We’ve all heard the acronym set SMART goals.

Goals need to be –

  • Specific (simple, focused on something definite).
  • Measurable (something that can be evaluated).
  • Achievable (attainable).
  • Realistic (reasonable).
  • Time bound (time-based, time-sensitive).

While all the above holds true, I add that goals need to be Action based and not Result based. What does that mean?

A goal such as, ‘I intend to lose 10 pounds this year’ is result based. (Even though it is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time sensitive). The loss of ten pounds is the result of your effort.  The result is not always within your control. You may lose 10 pounds or, you may not reach your goal. On the other hand you may end up losing more.

A better approach is to focus on your effort or the action leading to that result. So for instance, your goal should not just be to ‘lose 10 pounds’ but perhaps one or more of the following:

  • I will walk for thirty minutes every day at a moderately intense pace.
  • I will stop eating sugar and desserts
  • I will consume at least five cups of vegetables a day
  • I will include two days a week of weight training
  • I will lower my intake of refined carbs and processed foods
  • I will remove alcohol from my diet.
  • I will be more mindful of what I eat

And so on……

The above actions are pretty much under your direct control. If they are adhered to, the result, the weight loss will emerge. The success of the result of course depends largely on the effort you put in. Your focus therefore needs to be on that effort that is under your control.

Many times however despite your best effort you may not achieve exactly what you were going for. While this may be the case, it is quite pointless lamenting this ‘lack of success’ as I said the result is not always under your control. Instead recall the positive spin offs from your effort (which may not have been on your agenda to begin with). Following the above goals will make significant ‘lifestyle’ changes for long term success. These changes are far more important that the mere loss of weight. You learn to incorporate regular exercise, you understand and apply the basic principles of healthy eating as a ‘lifestyle’ rather than a short-term solution with an end goal like ‘weight loss’.

Whatever your goals, focus on the action and give it your very best. The results may or may not be exactly what you expected but no matter. The effort invested is all that really matters.  


Wabi Sabi & Dichotomy of Control

Wabi Sabi is a fascinating Japanese ideology. It implies a very simple philosophy:

Nothing is perfect, Nothing is permanent and, Nothing is finished (But….. you make your peace with it.)

I think this is quite relevant to health, weight, fitness and wellness. One could of course interpret those words to imply that you simply accept the inevitable deterioration of your body or consider obesity, ill health and lifestyle disease a natural part of ageing and make peace with it. Since nothing is perfect, why bother trying to make it so? Since nothing is finished, why bother starting? And since nothing is permanent what is the point of attempting to stay fit or improve health?

I think however, it embodies something slightly different. It signifies the very essence of taking care of oneself for the right reasons and by using the right methods.

Nothing is perfect

Life situations are never perfect. You make the best of them. You may believe you don’t have the time to exercise, you may have a hectic travel schedule or sick kids to contend with. You may work long hours, be highly stressed and living under the duress of deadlines.

You don’t always have the time. You make the time. That’s just what you do when something is an important priority in your life. Even a twenty-minute workout at home (like a HIIT routine), is better than nothing at all if you can’t get to the gym. A quick run on the treadmill or a swim in the hotel pool is better than sulking in your room about your endless travel and how it impedes your fitness.

You may be obliged to (or want to) attend social lunches and dinners. This certainly influences your diet resolutions, but instead of sampling everything on the menu and living with the guilt, strategize how to eat out sensibly. Weigh your food options and make reasonable choices at every meal. Compensate for an indulgence by having a few light meals and making sure you workout. These are coping strategies that the clever people use to stay on track.

The myth of perfection – We are also confronted with another kind of perfection that often gets in the way of regular humans exercising for themselves and to improve their own health, mood and quality of life. We have been programmed into believing in perfection. More importantly, the kind of physical perfection portrayed by the media. Not everyone can look like the model on the cover of a magazine, not even the model on the cover of the magazine!! And neither should we try. Trying to look like somebody else is simply a wasteful exercise. Trying to adhere to the dictates of society to be certain size or appear a certain way will not necessarily get you a healthier body. Likely it will get you on the roller coaster ride of binge eating, starving, yo-yo-dieting, over exercising coupled with a lot of angst and frustration. Instead of watching your weight, counting calories, exercising maniacally, talking endlessly about it and worrying about not losing weight…..spend that time establishing healthy, sustainable LIFE HABITS.

Nothing is finished

The human body is a work in progress. We usually start exercising with simple goals like

  •  Lose ten kilos
  •  Get into that dress/those jeans
  • Run a marathon
  • Trek to the Himalayas
  • Control my diabetes

Once we achieve those goals, then what? Ideally,  we need to continue to include fitness into our day. Change our routine to make us better. Try new forms of exercise. Mostly, we are in a hurry to perfect and finish a process. We forget that the process itself is part of the journey and is more relevant than the end-point. The journey is the ‘now’ the destination is the ‘future’. We are in a hurry to lose weight, to reach the destination faster. We find ways to do it quickly, shabbily and with no regard for the true physiology or functioning of the human body or how to truly support its wellbeing. We fail to understand that we as humans can never be a finished product, perfect or permanent.

Fitness is a journey, not a destination – In our quest for weight loss or a better physique we tend to lose perspective. Understanding the larger picture, that losing weight is not the one and only objective of fitness, is what keeps us from falling off the wagon. If we spent half as much time focusing on our overall health, emotional wellbeing and level of fitness as much as on our physique, we would be much better off and more successful at it. Feeling defeated by a few setbacks and giving up at the first signs of difficulty is a sure way to take two steps forward and three steps back. Pick yourself up and move on!

Nothing is permanent.

Life changes. We change. Nothing is permanent.

We age. This is the normal physiological process. Yet, youth is revered. Even when we know it is never permanent, we strive to hang on to it with our teeth and the tips of our fingernails. The tremendous surge in clientele for botox, laser, face lifts, tummy tucks and so on are testimony to our infinite yearning to stay young and beautiful. This is a personal choice of course. There is no moral judgement against it. Ageing gracefully however is a science and an art. Keeping your body strong all the while growing intellectually, emotionally and spiritually is not the same as trying to hold on desperately to ones youth. Work with the flow, rather than against it. Build strength, maintain stamina improve flexibility. Understanding that nothing is permanent is what should keep us moving forward. Even good health, a great body, astounding intellect or a superior athletic capability is not permanent.  Elite athletes understand that their athletic prowess declines with age. Our bodies change in a myriad ways and we need to design new and more effective strategies of working towards bettering ourselves. We may not be able to run a marathon in our latter years (although I know many who do), but we will be able to continue to exercise, strengthen our bodies and keep ourselves free from disease (or at least manage disease better). We don’t have to succumb to obesity or ill-health resulting form poor lifestyle habits.

~ When you come to value our body for its uniqueness and for what it can do rather than simply what it looks like.

~ When we start to actually listen to it, give it what it needs not just what we thank we want.

~ When we stop punishing it for not looking the way we think it should.

~ When we use exercise as a way to celebrate and enjoy our body’s capabilities.

~ When we thrill in the aftermath of a long strenuous weight training session or a feel the joy of quivering legs after a run……….

Then Fitness has become a ‘way of life’ and not just a means to an end……… and this in itself is a gift.

On another note, Stoicism, (from ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy) talks about the ‘Dichotomy of Control’ and how one cannot completely control ones body or its deterioration as that is outside of our control. One should therefore be cognisant of this fact. This is certainly true and we’ve all heard of this ‘health freak” who dropped dead (and am sure, told ourselves ‘so what was the point?!). But we do have much under our control. How we lead our existing lives is certainly under our control and will determine the quality of life of day-to-day living  (and not just our demise). The attitude that allows a semblance of peace within us is, I think, one of coming-to-terms with a given situation. Accepting the true nature of everything and all the while staying motivated to continue to improve ones body, ones mind and ones life and the discipline and mindfulness despite this reality is one way we can make our way through this imperfect, impermanent and unfinished business of life.






Serendipity is the aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. Do you often sense the hint of serendipity with happenstance, especially when you look back at it from a distance? Like the time you randomly meet someone on an aircraft and then run into her at an opportune business meeting later making a tenable connection. Or, you rescue a lost dog only to find his owner is cute and single (ok, so that sounds like a line out of a racy romance novel, but you know what I mean!).

Serendipity has played such a large role in my life I often wonder if it’s all in my mind. Do fortuitous coincidences happen like this for everyone? Or is it because I am always watchful for them and am hyper sensitive to them? I find a reason for just about everything. Mostly in retrospect (hind sight as they say is 20/20), nevertheless there it is. Perhaps you could call it ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’; whatever it is I feel as if a gossamer web of coincidences has always encircled my life.

Like this dear friend of mine who stopped on a busy highway in Madras to play Good Samaritan to an elderly gentleman whose car had broken down. The gentleman’s daughter exchanged visiting cards with my friend and he mentioned this to me. It turns out, she is closely related to another dear friend and we ended up with a deep connection and many shared values.

On a larger scale, I live in this small town where I was born and brought up. I never intended to live her ‘when I grew up’! Circumstances made it necessary. Having lived here however has created the perfect opportunity for me to have an alternate career in Fitness as an extension of my medical practice, write three books, have a Fitness studio and follow my passion for Psychology by doing Positive Psychology to incorporate into my Lifestyle Training. All of this would certainly have not been possible had I lived in a city with a frenzied lifestyle. As it stands my semi-isolation here allows me the time to invest in the things I love like Fitness and Lifestyle, Psychology etc. besides my Obgyn practice.

Coincidences? Perhaps! Serendipitous no doubt! Perhaps I have a habit of tying things up to make sense of my life. To create meaning and purpose and to understand where I want to go with it. That’s how I function.

Look for serendipity in your own life. It’s there!