Choices Women Make.

(This article appeared in the Rotary News Dec 2014 as “Women There Is No magic Pill”)

After my first book, ‘Get Size Wise’, I have been doing a kind of book tour – readings and book discussions in various cities. I have spoken to hundreds of women about fitness and exercise. I am often surprised at the some of the questions I get. Mostly, pleasantly surprised. I see a thirst for honest answers and solutions to real life problems that some women seek. I see a real need for a deeper understanding of the term ‘lifestyle change’.

Many of them have been through diverse experiences with drastic weight loss, trainers, gyms, health drinks and expensive supplements to lose weight, extreme diets and so on. Most are still searching for that magic pill.

I also find that the women most open to influence and guidance are the over-forty-year-olds. By this time they have experimented with all that there is to in weight loss and finally found it notwithstanding. They have discovered that being in a raging hurry to lose weight or gain fitness is what has them in their current situation in the first place, often still overweight and unhealthy, so instead of losing more time on trial and error, they want to get serious about training.

There are many however, who are still trying to play the blame game. I have had several occasions where short of tearing my hair out in frustration, I fenced accusing questions and counter arguments about why a certain woman has not lost weight, or why she finds it so utterly difficult to do so.

Some conversations went like this –

She – I just find it impossible to lose weight doctor. I have done everything including diet, yoga and walking. I even went to an ashram and stayed for fifteen days. I lost weight but gained it all back.

Me – This is exactly what I have been trying to explain – rapid weight loss, especially with drastic diets are not sustainable. You will regain the weight.

She – So I think I am doomed to be fat.

Me – No you have not done the right thing. The right combination of exercise and diet will work, even if only slowly.

She – But I have tried everything doctor!

Me – Have you started weight training to build muscle in addition to Yoga and walking, and eating the right quantities of food to nourish your body?

She – I think all that is not possible. I don’t have time.

Me – You don’t have to spend more time on exercise, just divide the time sensibly and change your eating.

She – I don’t think that is possible doctor. I know I can’t lose weight. I have tried everything.

So, she has made her choice. A choice not to make the time. A choice not to understand the bigger picture. A choice not to lose weight sensibly.

I think the fitness industry, innumerable food options and the media are largely to blame for the current crisis in women’s inability to lose fat and keep it off successfully. Their consistent search for the unattainable.

Of course the women are to blame as well because they often believe what they like to hear. Such promises as ‘lose five kilos in a week’ (or less) are much appreciated and sought out. The industry propagates these myths for monetary gains. The media taps into our insecurities. The constant message of, ‘you are not good enough, we can make you better, buy our lipstick, silicone breasts, body shaper or what-have-you’ is sufficient to convince any young (or old) woman trying to ‘fit in’ or ‘look better’.

It is a choice we make and all choices have consequences.

 It may appear that you don’t have a choice. That you don’t have the time to actually fit in an exercise routine (one hour a day) because you are too busy working, keeping home, travelling etc. It you take an honest look at the way you spend the hours in your day however, you may find to your surprise that there are many hours in the day that are really ‘time wasters’. Hours you spend watching mindless TV or surfing the net. These hours can be put to better use such as be invested in regular exercise.

You DO have a choice

– You could continue to convince yourself that you don’t have time, or you could make the time.

– You could wait for diabetes, hypertension and heart disease to afflict you, or you could start preventing their onset now.

– You could wait for obesity to set in, knees to hurt, depression to envelop you, or you could start changing your lifestyle now.

Every choice has a consequence. If you begin making the right choices, you will eventually face the incredible consequences of a better quality life.

Dr Sheela Nambiar MD, Obgyn

Fitness & Lifestyle Consultant NAFC

Author – Get Size Wise.

Email – Sheela.nambiar@gmail.com

Exercise Guidelines For Indians

Almost 30-60% of Indians in urban India have been found to be overweight or obese or have abdominal obesity. It has also been found that Indians are at a higher risk of developing obesity related problems like Diabetes, Hypertension and Heart disease at lower cut off values for BMI (Body Mass Index) and Waist Circumference. Indians suffer inherently from a lower muscle mass or sarcopenia. This leads to several of the health problems like central or abdominal obesity that the Indian is more prone to. Our fat percentage and waist circumference is higher for a comparative body weight to our caucasian counterparts.This is one of the major causes for the higher incidence of diabetes and Coronary Heart Disease in the Indian subcontinent.

According to the Consensus statement for physical activity for Asian Indians (Misra et al JAPI vol 57 Feb 2009) – Cut off values of BMI for the Indian population :

Normal BMI = 18.0-22.9 kg/m

Overweight = 23-24.9 kg/m

Obesity = more than 25 kg/m

Consensus statement for cut off values for Waist circumference:

Women = 31.1 inches (80cm) and above should be considered obese

Men = 35.5 (90 cm) and above to be considered obese requiring intervention.

Definitions of Physical Activity Intensity Levels

1. Low-intensity physical activity elicits a slight increase in breathing rate. (e.g., slow walking less than 3 km/h on level firm ground, house work like cleaning, cooking and dusting).

2. Moderate-intensity physical activity elicits a moderate, noticeable increase in depth and rate of breathing, while still allowing for conversation (e.g., walking 3–6 km/h on level firm ground, water aerobics, moderate intensity aerobics, cycling at a speed of <16 km/h and hiking).

3. Vigorous-intensity physical activity elicits a noticeable increase in depth and rate of breathing. The individual will not be able to speak more than a few words without pausing for a breath (e.g. walking a kilometer in less than 10 minutes, jogging/running, cycling, higher intensity aerobic dancing, and jumping rope).

Exercise guidelines for healthy adults: consensus statement –

If you participate in Moderate Intensity Exercise – Aerobic activity of moderate intensity : brisk walking, stair climbing, cycling, jogging – for 30 minutes 5 days a week

Muscle strengthening exercises : resistance training, own body weight exercises, exercises, exercises using dumbells or machines – 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions targeting major muscle groups. This is to be done 2-3 times a week.

If you participate in High Intensity Exercise – Aerobic activity of higher intensity like running, high intensity aerobics, football etc for 20 minutes 3 days a week is sufficient

Muscle strengthening exercises – more than 3 sets targeting major muscle groups 2-3 days a week.

Exercise guidelines for Children and youth aged 5–17 years consensus statement –

Children who are sedentary and obese should start with at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity everyday. This volume of exercise should increase gradually to obtain at least 60 minutes of aerobic activity daily. – Those children who are already quite active and not obese require at least 60 minutes of vigourous exercise, which could be in the form of sports everyday. – In addition they will require muscle strengthening exercises for a minimum of 20-30 minutes 2-3 times a week. Exercises like jumping, squats, push-ups, situps, lunges etc using own body weight may be performed.

Television and computer time involving sedentary activity should be restricted to less than 2 hours a week.

Exercise guidelines for pregnant women consensus statement –

All pregnant women should get a clearance from their Obstetrician before starting or continuing to exercise during their pregnancy. – There are certain contraindications to exercise in pregnancy such conditions as threatened pre-term labour or bleeding and this needs to be discussed with the Obstetrician. – Healthy pregnant women, with no other contraindications can continue to exercise as per the recommendations for the Healthy Adult – A minimum of 30-60 minutes of Aerobic activity per day.

– The aerobic activity should be low impact. Avoid high impact activities like running or high impact aerobics or contact sports.

– Resistance training should be performed to strengthen the specific muscles about 2-3 times a week. – One exercise per body part can be chosen – 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions of each exercise using light weights may be done.

– Stretching to be done for a few minutes everyday.

– Pelvic floor strengthening exercises may be continued throughout the pregnancy.

As the pregnancy advances the woman may be unable to exercise at the same intensity as during the first two trimesters. She may continue to do a low intensity aerobic workout, stretches and relaxation everyday.

There are some do’s and dont’s while exercising in pregnancy –

– Avoid very high intensity exercise. Avoid exercising in the heat. Drink enough water. Avoid high impact exercise or contact sports. Stop if you feel faint or dizzy. Avoid exercise if there is a history of pre-term labour, hypertension or bleeding. Avoid any exercise that requires you to lie on your back after the first four months of pregnancy. Exercise with perfect form to avoid injury.

After a normal delivery she may start exercising once she feels comfortable which may be in a week to ten days. After a caeserean she can start exercising after six weeks.

Exercise guidelines for the elderly consensus statement –

All adults over the age of 40 need a medical clearance from their physician before commencing an exercise routine for the first time. If one has been exercising throughout their life, they may continue to do so with some decrease in intensity levels if so required. The focus of exercise in the elderly is more on building strength and muscle mass than on weight loss. Increasing muscle mass and strength is beneficial in allowing the older individual to continue to live as normal a life as possible without being dependent on others.

– Recommended doses of aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening exercises for men and women over 65 years of age are similar to those for healthy adult population. That is aerobic activity for about 30-45 minutes a day at a moderate intensity.

– Resistance training to improve strength and muscle mass needs to be incorporated on at least 2-3 days/week which should involve all the major muscle groups, one exercise per body part, 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions is recommended. The benefits of resistance training include preservation of muscle mass and prevention of age-related sarcopenia.

– Greater muscle strength and power enable the maintenance of function and prevention of disability, including a lower risk of falling. Balance training, along with activities to strengthen the muscles of the legs, back and core muscles is the best strategy to reduce falls and complications from falls. This also increases the chances of the elderly person staying independent throught his/her life which is essential for morale. – Daily “activities” that involve moving around, climbing stairs, lifting, carrying, pushing, gardening, cleaning etc should be maintained as long as possible because they can also benefit muscle and bone health.

– In sedentary individuals, gradual escalation of physical activity is recommended, after pre-activity medical evaluation especially in those with chronic diseases, particularly CHD. All decisions regarding the initiation of exercise programs for the elderly should be taken in consultation with a physician.

– Sudden commencement of physical activity, especially wihtout medical clearance should be avoided in the elderly.

Exercises for persons with disabilities cannot be generalised. The exercise routine needs to be designed according to the disability encountered.

Dr Sheela Nambiar MD Obgyn, Fitness & Lifestyle Consultant NAFC (USA)

This article was originally written for Sports Authority Of Tamil Nadu. http://www.sdat.tn.gov.in/index.php/fitness/daily-fitness-regime

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!!

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.

Fitness trends and follies

 In a world of a multitude of choices for every thing from the flavor of pasta sauce to face cream, it is only natural that we come up with a mind numbing number of options for exercise as well. Whatever happened to good old walking and running? It seems to me a new “Exercise Fad” is born every week. Don’t get me wrong. I think it is exciting. As someone who loves exercise and fitness and loves to experiment, it is wonderful to have choices. 

When I started out teaching fitness in the year 2000, there was basically only Stepper, Floor aerobics, Dancercise and Jazzercise. Then came Tae-Bo and kickboxing with Billy Blanks and his high-energy routines. Aqua Aerobics, Zumba, Bollyrobics and the numerous take offs on Yoga have grown in the recent past to accommodate the ever-increasing need for variety. There are ‘Fitness Trend’ forecasts by industry experts that predict which form of exercise is likely to be the most popular for the year. There are clothes and shoes made ‘just for Zumba or Yoga’ for instance. It is a huge industry that is not necessarily only about fitness. 

 What does an average person do? How does she choose which kind of routine to follow? With advertisements that claim, “get a flat stomach and slim waist doing Zumba”, it is easy to see how people can fall prey. 

 One should firstly understand ones basic requirement. The four pillars of Fitness (Ref my book ‘Get Size Wise’http://www.flipkart.com/get-size-wise-training-life-indian-woman/p/itmdjz4mtx5v2vf4?pid=9788129123978&otracker=from-search&srno=t_1&query=get+size+wise&ref=a0eec19c-ae97-48ae-801e-8974a982a007 ) – Stamina, Strength, Flexibility and Muscle Endurance. You then decide what you want to do to improve each of these four pillars. You could for instance take a Step class or Zumba twice a week and add a run twice a week to accommodate your cardio. Do Yoga twice a week for your flexibility and train with weights at least twice a week for your strength and muscle gains. 

Floor Aerobics, Zumba, Bollywood dance, Jazzercise, walking, running, cycling swimming fall under the category of the first pillar or fitness or Stamina/Cardio. 

 Traditional weight training is focused on increasing strength and muscle mass. Forms like Boot Camp, Body pump, P30 X, Crossfit are strength-training sessions in various formats which also kick up ones cardio to a very high intensity by the way the exercises are performed.

 Simple stretches and Yoga work to fundamentally increase flexibility with Yoga also increasing balance and core strength.

 Muscle endurance is improved by adding to your routine low intensity, long duration exercise in the form of long walks, treks or cycle rides, mostly recreational.

 Weight Training of the traditional kind to increase muscle mass and strength by going through several sets and reps of specific exercises to address single muscles or groups of muscles is important to build a strong foundation of Strength and Muscle mass. This is particularly important for someone of Indian origin as we are inherently endowed with less muscle mass at birth (called Sarcopenia). Learning the exercises with precise form is important for prevention of injury. 

 Thereafter, having built that foundation of strength, experimenting with Boot Camp, Body Pump and other spawns is justifiable as by then you have understood the nuances of Strength Training with external weights or with using ones own body weight. If you have established that strong foundation of strength, the chances of injury are minimized. When you then attempt to attend a class where there are several students, with the trainer’s attention diverted as he screams out instructions and tries to keep an eye on everyone, you will be able to take care yourself. You will be mindful of how you perform each exercise, however difficult. You will recognize if something does not “feel” right for your body irrespective of what the trainer may say. 

 Traditional weight training to build strength and muscle also helps prevent injury from other forms of Cardio like Step Aerobics, Zumba, Bollywood Dancing etc. Some of the moves encouraged in these classes are not always kind on the knees or hip joints. If you inherently “know” how to move properly and have the necessary muscle Strength and Body intelligence to protect your joints then the chances injury with these forms is minimal. If however you go in blindly with no clear understanding of body mechanics you could twist a knee or injure the back trying to mimic your instructor.

 Some of these forms of exercise claim to include ‘weight training’ or ‘toning’ within their routine by adding 0.5-1 kg dumbbells (which I call baby rattles) , which are then moved to music. One cannot build a respectable amount of muscle mass OR strength with these light weights so frankly, I think that is a waste of time. You would much rather go through a traditional Strength Routine in a Gym or Boot Camp and use your Zumba, Jazzercise, Stepper, Floor Aerobics as a form of cardio. 

 Yoga improves flexibility. There is no question. Strength increments and building muscle from Yoga is limited by the fact that the contractions are isometric and your own body weight is the ceiling. Proponents of yoga would argue that it not to be used a form of ‘exercise’ and is a whole lot more holistic than physical exercise as it focuses on the Pranayamas, Kriyas and a lifestyle change. 

 Yoga in my opinion, is a very important aspect of fitness. Those who train with weights will do well to do Yoga contrary to the commonly held belief that those who do Yoga should do nothing else! Especially not, weight training! I think the two are complementary.

 Here’s why –

Training with weights involves addressing one muscle group or a single muscle strengthening it, increasing mass and improving the quality of the muscle. I would think one of the great spin offs of having stronger shoulders; chest, arms and core would be to be able to hold a pose like “The Crane” for instance. 

 Both forms of exercise focus on breathing. You really cannot train with weights or do yoga without knowing how to breathe. Doing both, somehow brings home the concept and importance of ‘breath’. 

 Yoga greatly increases flexibility which is beneficial in preventing injury while training with weights. At the same time, strengthening the various muscles of the body, helps one perform Yogic poses with better muscle control, preventing injury, using those very muscles and challenging them in different ways.

 Yoga helps you understand how to use your body as an entire unit and brings about a kinesthetic appreciation and sense of balance without the help of the mirrors in the gym! Weight training, improves and creates even more body awareness as you focus your mind on individual or groups of muscles, ‘feel the burn’, and go beyond yourself to strengthen. 

 They complement each other very well. Bring about a kind of balance of spirit between the calm introspection Yoga demands and the driven power Weight Training produces. Doing both, I think produces an endless loop of benefits that feed off each other. Love them both!

 The wide variety of ‘fitness forms’ to choose from is to accommodate this society of ours which suffers increasingly from ADD. We search for something different because we are easily bored. We want everything quickly so the latest fad that promises to be the easiest way to quick weight loss naturally attracts us. 

 Here’s the thing – practice makes perfect. You will have to concentrate on one thing long enough (10,000 hours if you are really looking for. perfection!) if you want to do it well. When you excel you enjoy it more. It is that simple. Flitting from one thing to another too often only sets the stage for injury. 

 It is good to cross train and challenge your body in different ways. Not all of us can though. (Ref chapter– ‘What is your Fitness Personality?’- Get Size Wise). Some prefer the simple act of running or walking for cardio while others enjoy music, dance and choreography. To each his own. 

  • Include the four Pillars of fitness 
  • Lay a strong foundation in strength
  • Learn to work with your required level of intensity whichever form of cardio you choose. This means you need to know the routines and moves well enough to get your heart rate up to the required level. 
  • Choose your instructor wisely. The exercise form is only as good as your instructor is. 
  • Maintain perspective and a sense of humor! Fitness is supposed to be fun as well. Enjoy the journey.

TFL Fitness Retreat Oct 2013

A Fitness Retreat is something I have wanted to organize for the longest time….. and it finally happened in October 2013 in Ooty through – TFL ~ Training For Life.

The purpose of the retreat? To enlighten people about Fitness, the various aspects of it, the fun factor, to motivate, inspire and have them take away from the retreat –

~ A Weight Training Routine (that they can even use at home).
~ A ‘Total Body Stretch’ to improve flexibility.
~ An understanding of Cardio intensities and quantities. (most people don’t quite understand this even though they have been “walking” for years :))
~ An understanding of the principles of diet, food ….needless to say…a pandoras box opens here!!!

The purpose of the Retreat ~ is also to help people understand their bodies better. To EMPOWER them to take control over their health, bodies, fitness, weight and………. so much more.

Those who registered had a great time… am happy to say. The following pictures tell only part of the story…..

After a morning walk, demonstrating and experimenting with “intensity” of cardio.

After a morning walk, demonstrating and experimenting with “intensity” of cardio.

Still smiling.....

Still smiling…..

Food is so exciting. Even when you are supposedly “dieting”. The purpose of this demo was to show how food can be interesting, tasty AND healthy. Using GOOD QUALITY PRODUCTS is the key.

Food is so exciting. Even when you are supposedly “dieting”. The purpose of this demo was to show how food can be interesting, tasty AND healthy. Using GOOD QUALITY PRODUCTS is the key.

Early morning walk to the Grasslands. A beautiful, misty morning...

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Weight Training session

“Poinsettia" ~ The guest house where the guests were accomodated

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Book launch in Chennai

“Get Size Wise” was published about two months ago. It has already gone into reprint, the publishers are thrilled and of course so am I. We had the official launch at Chennai on the 19th of July 2013. Mrs Nirmala Lakshman, Director, The Hindu, released the book as Chief Guest and Dr Gita Arjun was the guest of honour.

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The audience was very interactive….

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My favourite clients from my Studio – An older couple who are so sincere with their workout, they put me to shame!

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Meeting with dear friends at the launch

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Get Size Wise….. my book is finally published!

 

GET SIZE WISEAfter a three-year wait my book “Get Size Wise” is finally out It published by Rupa Publishers, India. It took me about a year to write it and two years to get it published. Finally it is done and am hoping it is widely read.

So, this book is basically for the Indian woman (because I work primarily with Indian women), but the basic principles would apply to women anywhere. It gives her an idea of how exactly to go about her fitness routine. What she needs to include, what to be wary of, setbacks to anticipate and so on. No, it does not supply any magic tricks to “lose weight”, “get slim” and more such crap.

This book is more about Fitness than Weight alone.

However, eventually, as the book explains, when done right – Fitness and Diet, the weight will fall in place. That is my premise in the book.

I have seen too many women fall prey to clever marketing, advertising promising perfect bodies ……. if only they subscribe to a dubious product, procedure and so on. Of course, the women concerned are to blame too. They WANT the easy way out. They DO NOT WANT to be questioning these claims that promise miracles. They are constantly making excuses for themselves. They play the VICTIM ROLE very well, leaving their health and bodies to sheer chance and circumstances and under other peoples control.

As is very clear I am totally against women relegating control of their bodies to others or to society. I think they need to sit up and take notice of themselves. Prepare to be shocked or pleasantly surprised with what they see in themselves and then, make the necessary changes to progress not regress!! This seems to be extremely hard to do for many. It is much easier to go to, lets say a dietician or trainer and have her draw up meal plans or exercise routines for drastic results. Have her take responsibility for the success or failure of the person concerned in ‘losing weight’. If there is no weight loss, then the dietician/ trainer is to blame. They are uninterested in the ‘why’, unacceptable of their own responsibility and unwilling to question what is being recommended. They are not concerned with the long-term effects as long as there are short-term results. They choose to believe what suits them rather than try to sieve the wheat from the chaff. So for instance, if someone recommends ‘drink lemon and honey first thing in the morning’ to ‘burn’ fat, they would much rather believe that than – ‘exercise first thing in the morning’!

I believe women need to be more proactive with their choices about their bodies. They need to be more discerning about their long-term health and not just short-term cosmetic results. They should not fall prey to societal pressure to look a certain way. It is not always possible to get to a ‘certain size’. A lot depends on genetics and environment especially lifestyle, stress, work and so on. Comparing one with other women who one perceives to be ‘beautiful’ or ‘slim’ is a futile exercise.

Every woman is beautiful in her own way. She can also be the best possible version of herself physically by applying some basic principles of diet, exercise and healthy living. By challenging herself intellectually and creatively, she then can proceed to live a fuller more fruitful life.

Women are more likely than men to allow emotional challenges to affect their eating, weight and health. Crisis in relationships or work can set one to start abusing food and ultimately their bodies. Binge eating, anorexia, bulimia are all psychological disorders with a basis in ones lack of self-esteem and a troubled consciousness. Women are also more concerned about how society views their physical appearance. This would translate as them trying all means possible to ‘look’ a certain way. This self-defeating attitude can be highly corrosive to ones self-esteem.

You should ultimately want to look a certain way for yourself and not for society. No doubt, that societal influence is great even while making that choice. For instance, in the early 16th century a more voluptuous figure was considered beautiful. Today in the 21st century, such a body would be considered ‘fat’. The point is, should you try to attain a certain ‘look’ because it is expected of you? More importantly, what happens when you cannot achieve that look? Does it make you a worse person? Not at all.

Women have to understand that they are truly more than their weight on the scale. They cannot evaluate their life by a mere number. Yes there are a several reasons (not just cosmetic) why being overweight is not recommended, and why losing fat is advised. The reason to lose weight therefore should be more focused on health than mere looks.

Certainly, if you believe that just losing weight will make you feel better about yourself, you may be in for a surprise! You may feel ecstatic initially after losing the weight. This is because of the sense of achievement, the admiration and applause from others and what you see in the mirror. After a while however when this palls and when the complements fade, you still need to find a reason to continue to exercise and eat healthy for yourself. You still need the self-motivation to keep going with your fitness routine. You need to find those resources from within yourself and if you are lucky, from encouraging friends. This is what makes for a success story and for the difference between short-term weight loss and long-term achievements.

One has to understand that Fitness is a Journey, not a Destination. Being Fit is not just about being a certain Size, but an improved level of Performance of the Body and a Superior Quality Life.

This is the only way to persist with a fitness routine and healthy eating, day after day, week after week. Sometimes, even when you don’t want to. Sometimes, when you are lazy. Sometimes, when you just don’t see any reason to! It is the understanding of this journey that keeps you experimenting, progressing and enjoying the process enough to persist with it for as long as you possibly can.

It becomes a way of life. It becomes so much a part of your day that it is no more an ordeal to exercise. It is your way of saluting your body. Of respecting it. Rewarding it for being there for you!

These are the ideas that I hope will permeate the lives of those who read my book, “Get Size Wise”. I hope to make them love their bodies more. Be thrilled, amazed and appreciative of it. I also hope to make them stop abusing it with food or lack of exercise. I hope to help them understand that they ARE already beautiful but can become even better versions of themselves if they only try.

Warmly

Sheela

 

 

Training For Life ~ It’s not only about physical appearance…..

“For physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body; it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. The relationship between the soundness of the body and the activities of the mind is subtle and complex. Much is not yet understood. But we do know what the Greeks knew: that intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong; that hardy spirits and tough minds usually inhabit sound bodies”.

John F Kennedy – The Soft American. Dec 1960

Perhaps no other civilization has held fitness in such high regard as ancient Greece. The idealism of physical perfection was one that embodied ancient Greek civilization. The appreciation for beauty of the body and importance of health and fitness throughout society is one that is unparalleled in history. The Greeks believed development of the body was as important as development of the mind. Physical well-being was necessary for mental well-being, with the need for a strong, healthy body to harbor a sound mind. Many founding medical practitioners facilitated the growth of fitness throughout ancient Greece, including Herodicus, Hippocrates, and Galen.

Historically the human race has always admired physical beauty. We have tried to achieve it in many ways. Besides improving ones physique, beauty treatments, implants, cosmetic surgery, make up….. You name it and we are always coming up with newer ways to “look” better.

It is quite natural therefore to want to improve ones appearance, or at least, make the best of ones appearance. Look better, take better care of ones skin, hair and body. However, I am not sure focusing on physical beauty alone will take one very far in any aspect of life including the happiness quotient. It fact it can be quite stressful to be a prisoner to ones looks, whether it is trying to build your body in a gym or doing makeovers in a parlor.

The question is, ARE WE REALLY BETTER? Does improving ones looks and body actually make for a better quality person? It may improve ones confidence levels which in turn creates a happier or more productive person. It may improve career prospects. It has even been found (unfair as it seems) that other people respond more favorable to good looking people thereby making for a more positive life experience.

The physical aspect should be just ONE aspect of the whole picture. (There are exceptions of course for professionals whose careers hinge on their physical appearance. Their approach to it would certainly require more focus on the physical in order to sustain a career).

There is no doubt that most people dream of physical perfection or at least what they perceive as perfection and beauty. This is more prevalent today with media attention on physical beauty.  One has to however use ones intelligence even while attempting to improve ones physical appearance. Indulging in procedures and practices that could eventually only harm ones health is a myopic approach to looking better.

Most people who start exercising do so with a single goal in mind – To lose weight. Fair enough. You have been told that weight matters and warned repeatedly about the ill hazards of being over weight   More importantly, I suspect it is the search for the achievement of physical beauty that one sees as the end result of losing weight that drives one to exercise.

However, here’s the thing, firstly, there is no guarantee that losing weight alone will make you beautiful and secondly, we know that weight loss by dubious means (starvation diets being the most common) certainly don’t leave behind a pretty picture. You wind up looking gaunt and unhealthy; your skin, hair and nails suffer, you feel irritable and unhappy while on extreme calorie restricted diets, you don’t function well and certainly cannot be productive. You could develop nutritional deficiencies while on extreme calorie restricted diets. A deficiency of vitamin B 12 for instance (found most commonly in meats, whole milk and fermented food), could be disastrous to the brain and nervous system causing depression, fatigue even mania and psychosis. A deficiency of Iron (found in red meat, green leafy vegetables, soya beans, seeds nuts, pulses) which is required for the oxygenation of the muscles and important organs, can cause extreme fatigue, depression, sleepiness, breathlessness an inability to exercise and so on.

The next relevant problem you might face while trying to lose weight rapidly with some bizarre diet is how long can you sustain it? What happens when you stop? Eating unrealistic restricted diets is not only foolish, but also counterproductive for your health. Eating a balanced but moderately restricted diet with all the necessary nutrients however IS sustainable and in the long term, shows better (however slower) results.

‘Dieting’ therefore has to be done with care and cleverness. In fact the word ‘dieting’ itself needs to be reviewed as that brings up images of starvation and struggle! It certainly does not have to be. Training your body to eat the right foods in the right quantities is central to success. It is however not something one achieves overnight. It takes time and effort. Making small changes slowly makes the changes more sustainable. For instance – the simple act of cutting out the butter from your bread every morning (2 teaspoons for 2 slices of bread) will save you approximately 75 calories a day. This may seem like nothing, but in the long haul, it is a big deal. Consuming more fruit everyday keeps you sated and increases intake of important micronutrients. Drinking more water keeps you well hydrated and avoids the common mistake of confusing thirst with hunger. Cutting your alcohol intake can save you many, many unnecessary calories.

Aspire to improve your appearance by all means. Train to get a better body, visit the parlor to get that cutting edge haircut, wear the right clothes to look great and feel good…… It’s all up to you.

Stimulating the mind, nurturing a relationship, caring for friendships, growing a career, harboring and exploring a passion, indulging in a hobby, traveling, learning a new skill, going beyond your comfort zone interacting with people from different walks of life to gain an understanding of the  bigger picture than your own circle of existence…… these are also important stimulants that add meaning to life…….Spend some valuable time on improving one’s SELF along the way. There is so much the world has to offer.

Physical fitness can certainly help us experience and participate in life more fully in order to enrich us. Let it then be a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Respecting our body, treating it well, nourishing it and exercising it in the right amounts has its own dividends besides just a more beautiful body. It instills discipline. Creates a body awareness, improves body intelligence, self-confidence. It helps you value yourself more and therefore live more thoughtfully and graciously.

 

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Multi-tasking moms need ‘me’ time too

Marvellous at multi-tasking, but miserly with ‘me’ time? That sounds like a mom. Everyone knows moms are past masters at micro-managing their homes, family and work. But the same women need and deserve to employ a little bit of their considerable time and management skills–on themselves. Here’s why.

1: Being a mom is one of the toughest jobs/roles in the world–a 24X7, 365-day one. You plunge into it headlong from the moment your newborn is placed in your arms. Yes, there are how-to books, innumerable websites and various experts–moms, mom-in-laws, grandmoms, extended family, interested observers, nosy neighbours–with advice, helpful or otherwise. But ultimately, motherhood is a strictly DIY and learn-as-you-go ride.

2: Moms need to be strong–mentally, physically and emotionally. After all, a new mom survives on four or fewer, hours of sleep every night till their newborns settle into a routine. Sleep deprivation, by itself, leaves you feeling disoriented, snappy and irritable. But no sleep coupled with a colicky, fussy baby or horrors, one who is a poor feeder–makes things that much harder to bear.

3: Many news moms often end up going back to work after three months. If your employer offers flexi-time options, take it. Even better if you can opt to work from home, or work part-time for the first year. Doing so will reduce the stress on you, keep you and baby happy. What’s more, having baby’s grandparents around is a blessing, but remember your parents are growing old too. They deserve to spend time and play with the baby. They do not, however, deserve to be made into unpaid nannies. If you can afford childcare, take the time and effort to hire a nanny you can trust your baby with.

4: New moms who go back to work tend to be better at their jobs and more productive, all round. Okay, that’s anecdotal evidence talking, but it’s true. I am a journalist and the mother of a very active four-year-old active little boy (touch wood). I have a cook and a maid. It’s expensive but worth it, for me. I do my writing assignments/interviews when he is away at playschool or while he is napping in the afternoons. And I get more work done now, than I used to while I worked ful-time (before I had my son). Pushpalee, a good friend of mine, works full-time. She agrees with me. She logs into work from home, before her daughter wakes up. She goes to office after the little girl is off to pre-school. “I don’t waste time gossiping, or surfing the net. I focus on what I need to do.” She is back home before 6 every evening so she can take her daughter to a park near their home. My friend has her mother-in-law living upstairs but she has a maid-cum-nanny for her daughter. Mom-in-law can either supervise or simply enjoy being with her granddaughter. And my friend knows her child is safe and secure. Everyone’s happy.

5: As moms, we are generally so busy taking care of the child, the home, the extended family, and our work, that we forget to take care of ourselves. Let’s admit it, doing all this is seriously stressful. And being stressed out can lead to weight gain, depression, irritability, and a host of associated problems. So why not make a little time for fitness? A support system–a helpful spouse, the afore-mentioned nanny etc– is essential for this. For starters, why not just meet up with other moms at the local park, like Pushpalee does. Then take turns to keep an eye on the children, so all the moms get to jog, power-walk or whatever.

6: Make it a point to tell your family that one hour every day is “your time”. Every evening, I have 45 minutes to an hour for my powerwalk. For added benefits, I carry 1 kg or 0.5 kg weights with me and swing my arms. My family knows I need this time for myself. And they respect that. Another friend, Veda, a mother-of-two, goes for a yoga class couple of times a week. “It calms me down and I feel stronger, inside and out,” she says.

7: If you’re working, it’s very tough to make time for yourself. So live smarter–cut television time at night, read to the children before putting them to bed. Then go for a stroll with your spouse after dinner. If fitness is important to you, get up a little bit earlier, start with simply doing surya namaskar every morning (there are Youtube videos you can watch and learn from). And if you can manage it, once a month or so, meet your girl pals over the weekend. Have Saturday lunch together, or share a cuppa one evening. It’s amazing how good you’ll feel to simply giggle and gossip with the girls!

Trust me, making the effort to bring in some ‘me-time’, makes a difference. You’ll be happier and healthier. And so will your family.