Working Out is Fun

This article was first published in The Hindu in June 2012.

Can’t enjoy exercise? Learn how to like it.

Working Out is Fun

It comes from the joy you feel in the freedom of movement. The understanding of your own body. From watching your body grow from strength to strength, the changing posture, shape and tone. The improved stamina and flexibility. The incredible power you acquire over your body. The energy. The calming of the mind.

Sounds too good to be true? How can anyone actually enjoy exercise? Well, I admit not everyone can. But you can try and get there.

Find the right programme

It is important to find the right programme. Don’t imagine that you will fall in love with the weight room or the TRX like your best friend did. You may not be able to get up and run out of the door first thing in the morning. You have your own personality and preferences. It’s possible that you may like cross training and boot camp. Or you may prefer to include a few days of yoga with your strength routines.

Speak to a fitness professional to first identify and understand your unique needs. More importantly understand your strengths and weaknesses.

If you have really poor coordination and are tone deaf, you could still go to a zumba class for the fun of it but chances are — by the time you get your head around those steps, the choreography and the music — you may not be able to sustain the required level of intensity to benefit your cardiovascular endurance. Or worse still, you could injure yourself trying to keep up. Perhaps you should run to maintain the intensity of your cardio and improve your stamina.

On the other hand if you love to dance and move to music, a walk on the treadmill will probably bore you to death. You should then use an aerobic class with lots of music and dance moves as your mainstay of fitness and use the treadmill once or twice a week to get a quick workout when time permits nothing else.

I know women who have invested in expensive exercise equipment thanks to a savvy sales person or because a friend has one. You don’t have to buy a cross trainer just because you can afford to or because everyone else is doing it. However attractive it may sound to have the option of being able to “exercise any time you want”, just buying a machine will not make you do so. Exercising on your own at home requires an immense amount of self-motivation. Some people need the encouragement of a trainer or group exercise. Others can do it alone.

Women, particularly, thrive in group classes. It seems to appeal to their social nature. You have to determine what kind of group class will appeal to your senses and which one is good for you. Someone with an unstable knee joint, for instance, should stay away from a step class and high impact activities unless they strengthen their knees with strength training and isolation exercises for their leg muscles.

The lucky ones

Very few can do just about anything, love it and, more importantly, be good at it! Take them to a dance aerobic class and they are in their element, able to master the choreography and move flawlessly to the music. Ask them to a cross-country run and they are quite comfortable running through the undergrowth. In the gym, they love to train with serious body builders! These are the annoyingly lucky ones. They can adapt and avoid boredom just by the sheer variety of activities available.

However even such people need to be aware. It’s one thing to enjoy something but is that what your body needs? Are you benefiting from that particular form of exercise? Since time is precious, you need to use it wisely for the activity that benefits you the most.

Mostly, you have to find your niche and develop a discipline to participate in the form of exercise that you require for your specific body type. Do it often enough and you will get better at it. This makes you more confident and proud of yourself. After a while it becomes a habit. An enjoyable one at that!

Yes you can learn to enjoy your fitness routine. It can become a part of your daily life. There is something out there for you. All you have to do is find it! Feel younger, stronger, more cheerful, energetic, optimistic and driven by including the right exercise routine into your day.

Quick tips

Go through a fitness assessment to determine your body requirements.

Include strength, flexiblity and cardio into your routine. Doing just cardio day after day is not only boring but also detrimental.

Add strength training and flexibility to correct muscle imbalances. A runner, for instance, suffers from tight hamstrings and hip flexors. Unless she goes through a routine specifically designed to stretch these muscles, her run will suffer and eventually culminate in injury.

Setting goals and working towards them is another way of staying with a programme. Achieving success is motivation enough to go further.

Don’t wait for injury or a pronouncement of disease to start exercising. You can prevent injury and degenerative disease with exercise.

How to Improve Your Body Image?

This article was first published in The Rotary News in November 2016.


Body image is not quite literally what we see in the mirror. It is really the interpretation and our own analysis of what we see. All of us with decent eyesight are able to see that perhaps we are a bit overweight, we may like the look of our legs, we may appreciate our arms, love our hair but concede, that the waistline could do with some work. Most of us tend to make judgment calls about what we see in that mirror. How these judgment calls affect us emotionally and what we then proceed to do as a result of these emotions is the real relevance of body image.

Take for instance a teenage girl who looks at herself and sees a plump young woman. How she responds to seeing that image will depend largely on what she really feels about her body. This feeling often comes from subconscious information she has gathered about her body and herself as a whole since childhood.

A teenager who, as a child, was loved and nurtured, and praised for what she did rather than what she looked like is more likely to see her image, register that she is a little plump and perhaps should do something about it, such as exercise or cut out the sweetened soda.

On the other hand, a woman who had a mother who was critical about her complexion or weight, a father who commented on her looks, peers/siblings who teased her about her size, would relate to the image of herself differently. She has already imbibed some distaste for her body. The pain she experienced at comments or the judgment of family and close friends will remain with her, as a negative body image.

How does body image translate in real life?

Having seen that image and interpreted it, what we then proceed to do about it is important.

People with poor body image

  • may continue to dislike, even hate their bodies
  • may continue to gain weight, overeat, eat indiscriminately or develop addictions
  • may turn to extreme measures to lose weight or alter their complexion
  • may develop eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating
  • may succumb to the surgeon’s knife and other procedures in an attempt to make themselves ‘look’ better.

Improving body image is possible. Preventing poor body image to begin with is also possible. 
Here are some pointers for parents, caregivers, instructors and yourself.

Parental pressure plays a crucial role. A child’s self-esteem rests with how she is viewed by her loved ones and is important to her wellbeing. Being critical about a child’s appearance only lays the foundation for future angst and poor self-esteem. The emphasis should be on health and wellnessrather than size or appearance.

The focus should also be on what the child does rather than what she/he looks like. Praising a child for herself, her accomplishments and hobbies, rather than praising her looks, keeps the perspective on what is truly important for emotional wellbeing.

Lead by example. Parents who practise healthy behaviour such as regular exercise and healthy balanced eating are more likely to communicate that to their children. If the parent himself or herself has issues with body image, is overly self-critical or self-abusive, the child is likely to absorb it. This becomes relevant to how they then grow up to view and feel about themselves.

Avoid stereotypes. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Thin is not always better or more beautiful. Focus on fitness rather than thinness. Most cultures have their own stereotypes of beauty and tend to idolise it. Not everyone fits into that mould and don’t need to either. Fairness creams are a typical example of how people are made to believe that being fair is a great thing.

Avoid comparisons of any kind. Comparing your own body to that of your best friend or that glamorous film star is simply setting yourself up. Your friend is genetically different, so her body is different. The film star has an entourage of beauticians, dieticians, trainers and hairdressers, not to mention the photo-shopped, airbrushed magazine images.

Parents comparing their children to siblings or friends will only injure their self-esteem, setting the stage for poor body image and a host of other psychological problems.

ev-625717-unsplashFocus on health and fitness rather than just appearance when you (or your child) start to exercise. This has been found to improve persistence with an exercise programme. Weight loss takes time. An obsession with the mirror or the weighing scale will prove counterproductive. Persistence with exercise and healthy, balanced eating on the other hand will sustain weight loss and fitness. The endorphins released with regular exercise make you feel good about yourself, increasing self-esteem and improving body image.

Instructor’s body image. Instructors and trainers should identify and deal with their own body image issues in order to be able to guide clients properly. Some instructors are overly critical about their own bodies. This can transfer to or be imposed on the clients. A thin instructor is not always better than a slightly overweight one.

Emphasise “form” of exercise. While exercising, rather than focusing on burning calories, emphasise on performing the exercise correctly, improved coordination and balance. This relieves the pressure from appearance to actual performance. It also develops a healthier relationship with exercise and one’s own body.

Beware of communication in training areas. Instructors and trainers need to beware of what they communicate with a client. Judging the client’s body is not the trainer’s prerogative. The role of a trainer is simply to guide and encourage, not to ridicule or criticise.

jasmin-schreiber-703327-unsplashBalanced eating. Focus on healthy eating and don’t obsess over micronutrients and calories. This obsession could very well lead to an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. This is nothing but an endorsement of poor body image.

Overcome emotional baggage. Understand that sometimes, looking better, does not always translate into feeling better if the entrenched thoughts about one’s self is deeply negative. Changing that feeling takes more than the surgeon’s knife, weight loss or even exercise. It takes the understanding that feeling good has to start from within and will take work. It may require prolonged therapy for some, especially if they develop eating disorders, addictions and so on.

Finally, body image is a perception. Poor body image is preventable. It can be changed into a positive body image with the right tools. Good body image is important for good self esteem which is greatly important for emotional well-being.

Wellness in the Workplace


This article was first published in The Rotary News in July 2018.

Good health is not merely the absence of disease.

Wellness in the Workplace

When you are a working person you often feel short-changed for time. Wellness, however, is not time-bound or reserved for the supermodel, athlete or body-builder; the yogi who has renounced humanity, or the decadent narcissist who seems to have all the time in the world to spend in the gym, obsessed with his fitness and appearance. It is necessary for everyone, particularly the overworked corporate or professional.

Wellness for a working person is not just about exercise and gyms. It should involve everything from how to plan and execute a fitness routine, eat the right kind of food, improve self-confidence and efficiency and most importantly, manage stress, depression and anxiety. Prevention of lifestyle-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and coronary heart disease, using fitness, the right food and lifestyle change should be a priority for anyone who intends to be productive or successful.

Time is probably the most scarce commodity while you are climbing the corporate ladder. You may believe that spending an hour exercising would cut into your work time which you would rather spend crunching numbers, dealing with clients/patients or closing a deal. But to be effective in your work, it is necessary you are at the top of your game physically, mentally and emotionally. Clarity of thought, efficiency, productivity, positivity, and the ability to manage stress are critical for doing great work and for career growth.

There are several aspects to healthy living at an optimal body weight.

The diet

Healthy eating is a communal and social issue. Some companies provide food for the employees from an on-campus cafeteria. In such cases, the company must make healthy options available. These are not difficult to implement in a canteen… serving adequate quantities of vegetables, fruits and whole grains and avoiding deep-fried snacks, processed food or sweets is possible when those at the top make decisions to make employee health a priority.

You may believe that spending an hour exercising would cut into your work time which you would rather spend crunching numbers, dealing with clients/patients or closing a deal.

If these options are unavailable, home-packed meal is still the best. A modified wrap, made of whole wheat and soy rotis filled with veggies, paneer/tofu or beans/legumes, keep fruits or nuts to snack on, choose whole wheat sandwiches with chicken/tuna, hummus/tofu over a greasy pastry at a company outing, or opt for a bowl of clear soup, avoiding snacking on chips, sweet tea and coffee. The flourishing fast food and home/office delivery system encourages one to eat high-calorie, low-nutrient-density food if one is ignorant of how to make the right food choices. For this, the individual must understand the basic fundamentals of healthy eating and the innumerable options that are available even while away from home.

Physical fitness

Incorporating an appropriate fitness routine into one’s life helps improve concentration, energy levels and work efficiency; helps combat insomnia, depression, chronic fatigue, obesity and various other disorders.

Onsite fitness facilities are available in several large corporate houses in India too. It has become apparent, after the studies done at various organisations that the rate of absenteeism is lower among employees who participate regularly in fitness activities; healthcare costs are lower and productivity and quality of work improve as a direct result of better sleep and stress management. Several Indian companies — Infosys, at Bangaluru, which boasts a 10,000-sq ft gym, Hyundai Motor India, LG factory in Delhi to name a few — have also incorporated convenient health centres within their framework.

Access to a fitness centre is one of the fringe benefits some corporates include for their employees. Isn’t this even better than medical insurance or health screening as it extrapolates into a form of preventive care? Some companies have found it to be so. Prevention from degenerative diseases, obesity, coronary heart disease, deep vein thrombosis, especially for those at sedentary jobs, is possible when employees include a fitness routine into their day.

Access to a fitness centre alone is not sufficient, appropriate guidance and motivation are also essential. Establishing a full-fledged gym, sauna, and pool or tennis court is only part of the equation. Ensuring that the proper science of fitness is applied and practised is also important. Having a qualified trainer in-house, or conducting regular fitness classes on campus are ways of motivating employees to participate in fitness.

Companies can make it mandatory that employees participate in regular exercise programme, and the time be made available for them to do so. Working a 16-hour shift may not be most conducive to include exercise into an already crammed day.

When higher level employees, CEOs and directors are as passionate about improving wellness for themselves as they are for their employees, enthusiasm filters down to the rest of the company. Leading by example is a sure way of improving compliance.

Emotional/psychological wellness: Loving your job is key to a happier workspace. But work is stressful with all the challenges it poses. Sometimes it can be just plain boring.

When work stress is debilitating, learning how to de-stress effectively can be taught. Regular yoga classes, short breathing and relaxation routines, progressive muscle relaxation, mindful meditation, and workshops on stress management will help employees stay psychologically healthy.

The economic benefits of offering such facilities to the workforce are indisputable. An unhealthy employee is a liability rather than an asset to the company. Understanding this reality and working towards preventing it is beneficial to every company. While offering health insurance for the employees, it might make sense to also thwart those very diseases with the necessary preventive measures. This is not only economically advantageous, but also makes for a more dynamic and contented workforce.

Make small changes in the work place

–       Encourage healthy living from senior-level management

–       Provide the time to fit in a wellness programme, within the working day

–       Provide access to a well-equipped fitness centre

–       Organise group classes a couple of days a week

–       Provide healthy menu in the cafeteria

–       Organise talks on physical fitness, wellness, food and psychological wellbeing

–       Take regular breaks from sitting. Get up and move every 20 minutes when you have a sedentary job

–       Do a few stretches at your desk every couple of hours

–       Have walking meeting (instead of sitting meetings)

–       Hook up with a fellow worker to go to the gym regularly and motivate each other

–       Fun challenges and incentives within the company, for example, number of steps walked or number of pounds lost, can be motivating for employees

–       Organise group activities that involve physical movement like games, treks, walks.

The final decision and responsibility to improve one’s health and wellness of course remains with the individual himself. Having professional guidance and a supportive environment at work that encourages such a lifestyle is only an added benefit. If you are fortunate enough to work in such a company, consider it a bonus. Let us remember the British Statesman Edward Stanley’s quote: “Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”