More Than Just Weight Loss

This article was first published in The Hindu on 15th June 2013.

Instead of starving yourself to lose weight, nourish your body and mind with an understanding of nutritious food and exercise.

Most people want the easy way out when it comes to losing weight; perhaps with a couple of sessions in an expensive spa that promises miraculous results. If it were that easy, we would not be at the edge of an obesity epidemic. There would be innumerable slim bodies walking around.

It is this ability to convince ourselves when we desperately want something to be true that drives people to believe empty promises. We tell ourselves that skipping carbs for a month is the solution to our widening waistline; that we can manage to survive without regular exercise; that we can somehow escape the repercussions of an unhealthy lifestyle. We suffer from what is called the ‘confirmation bias’. We will find every single piece of information possible to confirm what we believe (and want) to be true. So going for a walk for 45 minutes a day is not as appealing as say drinking apple cider vinegar, having a body wrap, wallowing in a mud bath or following the latest diet.

We are thrilled to read research that finds exercise does not really help with weight loss. What we forget to do is to read between the lines. It is true that exercise alone is not sufficient for weight loss because the number of calories burnt during one session is minimal compared to what is required to lose weight on a scale. It is also true that cutting down on calories creates a faster calorie deficit leading to quicker weight loss.

Nutritious foodHowever, in the long-term, it is the combination of regular exercise and a well-balanced diet which will help you continue to lose weight, however slowly. One cannot go too low on calorie intake. This defeats the whole purpose of trying to get fit. With an abnormally low-calorie intake, one cannot function normally or be productive. It also sets the stage for muscle loss as the body tries to cope. It makes you ill-tempered, hungry, depressed and just plain unhealthy.

Ask yourself how long you can persist with such a diet. When you do go back to eating normally, you will find that the weight comes right back (with interest) and all those agonizing days of dieting are futile. Your body has acclimatised to a lower calorie intake by lowering its Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This highly resilient machine can alter its inner functioning to accommodate your behavior (however bizarre), to a large extent.

Serial dieters, who swear that they lose weight with one diet after another, fail to realize that they put back all the weight after every cycle. Their energy could have been effectively redirected instead to understanding food and learning to eat healthy, along with including exercise into their routine. This would have produced longer-lasting results If persisted with and, yes, it can be persisted with provided the intake of food and nourishment is adequate.

Including regular exercise into your day has several benefits besides burning calories. First, it improves your mood. Increased levels of endorphins in the brain create a sense of well-being. This is in direct contrast to how one feels when one is on a starvation diet; frustrated, anxious, irritable and low on energy.

WeightsSecond, besides burning calories, regular exercise — especially weight training — helps manage blood sugar, bone density, muscle mass and improves muscle structure and strength. It elevates the BMR and helps burn more calories even while at rest. Regular cardiovascular exercises have been proven to have other benefits like lowering cholesterol, managing high blood pressure, preventing and treating depression, menopausal symptoms and premenstrual syndrome, even managing migraine and anxiety.

Third, and most important, exercising regularly brings about body intelligence and awareness, which helps you eat better. You become more conscious about how you nourish your body. You are more discerning with your food choices. You develop a greater respect for your body.

All the above spin-offs become apparent when one persists with an exercise routine. A couple of random sessions are not enough to give you a realistic idea of the benefits of exercise. I know people who work out for a week or a month and then decide it’s not worth it because they don’t see “results.” The results they seek — drastic weight loss, for instance — may not be realistic to begin with. They veer off course to more intriguing options like ‘weight loss parlours’ and ‘health farms’ in the hope of achieving their goals more quickly. This endless loop — trying to lose weight, losing some and putting it back again — goes on, exhausting the body, not to mention the spirit.

Weighing ScaleSet several goals other that ‘weigh on the scale’. Weight on the scale is not necessarily an indicator of health. Stamina, strength, flexibility, endurance, balance, coordination, reflexes are all integral parts of fitness and can only be improved if worked on using a well-designed fitness routine.

My advice is to stop focusing on weight loss alone and focus instead on improving overall fitness. Over a period of time, the weight will come off. You will get fitter, stronger and tangibly healthier. Your body will function better and you will enjoy a better quality of life.

My Fitness Journey at TFL – By Dr. Shoba Krishnamoorthi

Dr Shoba

This is me now!

Training under Dr.Sheela Nambiar is not like attending any other fitness program. The schedule is structured, supervised and tailor made for each individual. The one aspect of fitness that has influenced me the most is weight training.My body has become stronger and more toned. It has helped me lose weight and sustain it over 8 years.

Dr Shoba

My Early Days 

Rather than just completing a set of exercises Dr.Nambiar always insists on a proper
“Form” of each repetition of exercise, so chances of injury are minimal. After a few one-on-one sessions with Dr.Nambiar, I Was able to concentrate on my problem areas – my knees and low back, and strengthen the concerned muscles. Thus I am able to enjoy the Step and Floor Aerobic classes better. With the Power Stretch & Yoga classes my flexibility and balance have improved. Now I am doing activities that I missed out in childhood, like trekking and cycling.
The various workshops we have had on diet, mindful eating, self esteem & self awareness  have helped me focus on my inner wellbeing as well. Worries and stresses have only increased with advancing age, but I have learnt to deal with them better. Relationships with family and friends have improved, and my blood pressure is well controlled.

TFL

After a long trek with the TFL group!

This is the true meaning of “Holistic Fitness” Dr.Nambiar always stresses, it is not enough to be just physically fit.

Training in a group at TFL, we motivate each other. The source of inspiration for all of us is Dr. Nambiar. Her dedication towards fitness  and her passion to empower women to take control over their bodies and minds is truly awe inspiring!

Dr Shoba

With my daughter & 2 sons

I am deeply grateful to Dr. Sheela for being a true saviour in my life and for giving us TFL in a small town like Ooty.
– Dr Shoba Krishnamoorthi MRCP
Paediatrician

Click here for more TFL client testimonials.

 

 

Stretch for Better Flexibility

This article was first published in The Hindu on 2nd October 2010.

unnamedI see people completing their workout routines and rushing through a few cursory stretches; mainly to appease the trainer, mind elsewhere, in a hurry to get going. Their flexibility does not get any better; they can still barely bend forward to reach for their thighs leave alone their toes, but they see no reason to waste time toiling with “stretches’. They have more important things to do, their cardio, so they can burn an indecent number of calories, push as much weight as they can to gain that well sculpted physique. Flexibility? Yes, well, let’s be done with it as quickly as possible!

One couldn’t be more mistaken. An inflexible muscle is more prone to injury and cannot perform as well as it should. Good quality muscle is supple, strong AND flexible.

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Flexibility is the corner stone of fitness along with Cardio and Strength. For some reason however, it has always been treated with some disdain, considered an annoying waste of time. “I am just NOT flexible” is the lament that is often heard. Of course not, you have delegated flexibility to a disrespectable distance in the far recesses of your armoire of fitness. Perhaps because it somehow seems a redundant activity that doesn’t appear to really DO anything. The effects of improved flexibility however are subtle and enviable. Better posture, greater and more fluid mobility, grace of movement, symmetry and aesthetics.

Muscle imbalance

The management of muscle imbalances has to take into account the inflexibility of certain muscles and excess tightness of antagonists. For instance the tight, obstinate chest muscles in conjunction with the over stretched and weak upper back muscles lead to the ungainly slouch of the upper back – the ‘head and neck forward syndrome’. The internal rotators of the shoulders may be tighter than the eternal rotators, drawing in the shoulders causing one to appear stooped (and lacking in confidence). The simple act of stretching the chest muscles, strengthening the back and the Abductors, while stretching the Adductors of the shoulders enhances one’s appearance and bearing beyond belief.

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Runners suffer from tight hamstrings, hip flexors and deep muscles of the pelvis known as the pyriformis. These have to be consciously and meticulously worked on over a period of time using a series of stretches thereby improving their run. Hamstring injury is also common when the muscle is tight as it often is, and of course this sets one back months before one can get back to training again.

If you are accustomed to repeating a particular kind of activity all the time, a step class, incline walking, or Kick boxing for instance, you can be sure of developing muscle imbalances unless checked early with extensive balanced stretching and strengthening routines. So what do you do?

Don’t relegate flexibility to the back burner and promise yourself you will stretch over the weekend. It has to be done everyday. Allot a couple of days a week to a longer, more extensive stretch routine. Over a period of time your flexibility will improve. You will be consciously better balanced and have more elegant posture. On the rest of the days a few minutes of stretching after a warm up and after the cool down will help keep the muscles flexible.

Don’t stretch cold muscles. Perform some dynamic stretches after a warm up. Avoid bouncing (ballistic) movements while stretching. A dynamic stretch on the other hand is a smooth flowing move taken to the completion of the stretch and repeated several times keeping the muscles warm and heart rate slightly elevated. Proceed with the rest of the workout and follow up with extensive static stretches after your workout.

Each muscle can be stretched using a specific movement. Learn these moves and ensure that they are done properly once again to avoid injury with ‘over stretching’. A stretch has to be carried out to a point of the sensation of the stretch and not pain. More is not always better.

Assisted stretches with a trainer or partner need to be performed with caution as sometimes the partner has no way of determining how much is too much and may injure the muscle. Assisted stretching is helpful however so if you have a friend or knowledgeable trainer, he/she can help you with your stretches.

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Aging muscle

One of the most important benefits of regular stretching is the capacity to remain flexible with age. Certain muscles like the hamstrings and low back muscles tend to become tight and may lead to back ache and discomfort that so commonly plagues older people. As one ages, muscles become less elastic. This inflexibility can lead to difficulty in performing simple tasks like turning around, reaching up for something on high shelf and so on. Continuing to stretch daily will prevent this unfortunate turn of events, keeping you independent, self-confident and agile.

Most of us rush through a frenzied workout after a comparably stressful day. There is no time to stretch. You jump off the treadmill, hit the ground running, go through the motions of a weight routine and then rush home to attend to dinner. Anyone who has done a good stretch workout will tell you just how good it feels. The tensions release, a sense of lightness and warmth prevail, a deep sense of calm envelops you. One can even fall asleep after a stretch, relaxation and breathing routine.