Am I happy??

This makes me happy!!!

This makes me happy!!!

Is happiness overrated? Of course it is. Reading the most popular writing or browsing the internet one always finds clichéd articles about “How to be happy”, “What makes you happy”, “How to stay happy”, “10 ways to happiness” and so on. We are programmed with fairy tales with ‘happily ever after’ endings from a very early age creating this dellusion that, that’s how things are supposed to pan out!

One starts to feel terribly inadequate if one is anything but deliriously happy all the time. But honestly, what is happiness? The feeling of excitement when you make holiday plans?The outpouring of love when your pet or kid throws himself at you? The satisfaction of meeting a deadline? Going for a solo walk? All the above – check.

They are all isolated incidences. Call me a cynic if you like but I think the word happiness is highly over rated, abused and forced upon people. Making us believe that we must be happy at every turn of life. Of course that’s not possible. Happiness and joy are emotions that are felt simply becasue of certain chemical reactions in the brain. The brain is the only organ that can ‘feel’ any emotion. Certain hormones and neurotransmitters are released and circulate within the brain stimulating certain parts of the brain that are responsible for the feeling that we call happiness. These hormones and neurotransmitters are released for various reasons. Did you know some of these chemicals are released while exercising? So basically just moving your body, working up a sweat can release these hormones and neurotransmitters. Imagine that!! Similar results obtained from receiving a diamond ring, getting a raise, buying a house and a run around the lake!! Well, maybe not quite but you get my drift! And yet, there will be profuse writings from agony aunts in the most popular magazines to advice from famous TV personalities on how to procure that diamond ring, how to nail the man of your dreams, how to land the job, how to make your next million like those are the only achievements worth aspiring for.

What I am trying to say is, happiness as is seen in the most common light is a fleeting feeling which cannot be sustained indefinitely simple because the neurotransmitters/hormones creating that feeling cannot be released indefinitely.  Produced continuously they can cause more harm that good. They run out, the situation leading to the release comes to an end.

So is the objective we seek a continuous supply of these neurotransmitters bathing our brain cells causing us to feel joy? Seems a bit childish and simplistic.

Interspersed with the reality of life, will be life-events like marriage, falling in love (in whichever order you like), having children, adopting pets, getting a raise, buying a house, nailing the job, driving down a beautiful coastline, becoming the chief of the department, having an affair, climbing the Himalayas, buying that beautiful pair of shoes you coveted and so on…. All of which produce a spurt of chemicals like endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin or dopamine which create joy, thrill, excitement and happiness.

I think we can feel satisfied doing other things which don’t necessarily produce a severe rush of such chemicals, but which create that hum that resonates with just……….. Life. Simple things, like reading a book or getting to work, completing a task. Even the act of giving and helping for no particular reason produces similar feeling of contentment.

What we need is purpose. A feeling of necessity. We don’t really need to feel thrilled or happy in such situations but we can feel functional, engaged and relevant. That I think is what keeps us going. The relevance of our existence.

What one needs is not permanent bliss but relevance. The happy moments come and go. Many life events create such moments, but that’s what they are – moments or extended moments. The fillers are ‘real life’ situations, which change and evolve but don’t necessarily create feverish happiness. Live through them we must knowing that they too are precious, that life is precious irrespective of whether it is producing happiness relayed hormones or not.

Life cannot be controlled. These moments cannot be orchestrated.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons I exercise. That is somehow within my control. I am actually able to release some ‘feel good’ hormones at will. It takes me through daily life in a positive frame of mind, (not deliriously ‘happy’, but definitely positive) to be able to enjoy those special moments when they do arrive!!

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My second book…..

A long hiatus after my last post. I had almost forgotten that I blogged!
Been so busy with my day job as an Obgyn besides numerous other things like travel, talking about my book – “Get Size Wise” at various book readings and discussions, teaching fitness classes and lately, scrambling to finish my second book. The manuscript submission date has long gone by. My publishers have been very accommodating. I have spent the last two months wringing my hands in frustration after having lost a ton of data (my first several chapters, research references and so on) from my crashed computer. And no….. I hadn’t backed it up! Thank you for asking! Fortunately, I have managed to recover it through a Data Recovery Lab in Chennai. Taught me a profound lesson – don’t take your computer for granted! But…… Life happens and you roll win it.

More importantly, the lost data gave me an opportunity to rethink what I was writing. Re-write some parts, analyse more deeply and hopefully put together something better.

The premise of my second book is that gaining and/or maintaining muscle mass is the only way to prevent and aid fat loss. This seems particularly true of Indian women who seem to have very low lean body mass (muscle). The the urban woman who rarely does anything physical during the natural course of her day. As a result, she ends up gaining fat and losing muscle with age as she becomes less and less physical (except perhaps for the hour of obligatory cardio she puts into her day). Cardio mostly helps burn calories, and improve the heart, lungs and circulatory system but rarely builds muscle. In fact too much of it can deplete muscle. The weight gain is interestingly often limited to the abdominal area widening the waistline and endangering heart health.

So, it seems that the only way to circumvent this is to actually train with weights to build muscle. Not very popular with most women I see. Those who do train, do so sporadically and usually restrict themselves to light weights. Why? Because they think they will become “masculine” if they train with weights.

So here’s the thing – ‘masculinity’ (the deep voice, facial hair, sterotypical male body type) is not determined by the weight one lifts but by the presence of the hormone Testosterone which males have infinitely more of circulating in their system. Just lifting weights does not increase testosterone. Women who train for body building as a sport and profession and gain a fair amount of muscle, keeping body fat percentage to the minimum, look the way they do because they train the way they do (several hours of intense training). I don’t see that happening with recreational training. One can of course progress to more serious training if inspired to, or, one can maintain moderate training to gain modest amounts of muscle and look toned.

Physically of course one becomes stronger, firmer, more balanced in muscle mass/strength and distribution. Due to our modern lifestyle which encourages sitting for hours, typing, bending over, staring at the computer screen or TV, alcohol, rich food and sedentary life we develop certain muscle imbalances and bad posture which eventually results in pain. To correct some of these problems, weight training to strengthen the weaker muscles and stretching to improve flexibility of tighter muscles will create a more balanced, functional body. Gaining muscle also increases our Basal Metabolic Rate causing us to burn (however marginally) more calories even at rest which goes a lon way in preventing fat gain with age.

Increasing muscle mass is also beneficial in various other situations. For instance, it has been found that type 2 diabetics have better control of blood sugar and may even be able to reduce medication by increasing muscle mass with weight training. Cardio and diet are not the only lifestyle changes the diabetic needs to make. Recovery from prolonged illness or surgery is hampered with poor muscle mass. Osteoporosis and osteopenia can be prevented and treated using strength training protocols. Physical aging is more profound when one has low lean body mass.

Building muscle therefore is enormously important. Weight training is an art and science. It has so many benefits besides just the aesthetic that it truly should be a part of ones fitness routine. There is something so very zen about lifting that barbell and putting it down. Such a simple action with such a profound impact on ones body, mind and health.

Ref –

– Len Kravitz – Yes Resistance Training Can Reverse The Aging Process.
– Jan Sundell. Resistance Trainign Is An effective Tool Against Metabolic and Fraility Syndromes. Adv in Prev Med. 2011
– Len Kravitz – Resistance Training: Adaptations and Health Implications.
– Hurley et al – Does Strength Training Imporve Health Status. Jour Strength & Conditioning. 1994
– P J O’Connor- Mental Benefits of Strength Training In Adults. Am jour Of Lifestyle Med. Sept 3010.
– S B Going – Osteoporosis and Strength Training. Am Jour of Lifestyle Med. Aug 2009.