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’ ) – 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...


Weight Training session

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


Sleep – The Healer of all Things

imageThe body and mind require sleep to heal, repair, rejuvenate and prepare you for the next day.

Sleep is a healer of all things, even your muscles, after you workout. Ever noticed how exhausted your muscles feel, especially after a good weight-training workout? That is them telling you they now need to rest to allow sleep to do its work of healing. Weight training, (I mean serious weight training) causes small tears in the muscle fibers worked. These tears heal over time to produce stronger, larger muscles and this happens while you rest. You do not grow in the gym. That sensation of your muscles being bigger immediately after a workout is what is called ‘the pump’ in weight-training jargon. It is only your muscles increased in size temporarily with blood and fluid. This gives way for the real increase in size and strength as the muscles heal – while you sleep.

In your enthusiasm to show your undying loyalty to your fitness routine, you may disregard sleep, dragging yourself out of bed even when your body is clearly craving sleep. I know because I’ve done this! Catastrophe! You fall ill, you can injure yourself (and then set yourself back several weeks with your much loved fitness routine! Not very smart). Being sleep deprived prevents you from actually listening to your body.

Working out without rest and adequate nutrition is like trying to drive a car without fuel. It does not work! Your muscles never recover. They will feel fatigued all the time.

The worst part of being an Obgyn are the night calls. Sleep deprivation is so common amongst us Obgyns that it is almost a way of life. One of the highlights of going away on holiday or just ‘away’, even on work, is the thought as ones head hits the pillow that one does not need to anticipate hospital calls. You don’t need to fall asleep every night hoping, THAT ring tone doesn’t rudely pierce through your slumber.

I am sure many other professions, nurses, new mothers dealing with bawling babies, people who travel frequently etc also suffer various levels of sleep deprivation.

Lack of sleep can affect us in a variety of ways. The most obvious of course is the fatigue. You eyes burn, your body hurts, you are irritable and intolerable to be around and your attention span is shorter than that of gecko.

You could make dangerous, even life threatening decisions when sleep deprived. Accidents, disastrous business decisions, poor judgement, unnecessary arguments and fall outs can all result from JUST not sleeping enough.

Lack of sleep has been linked to increased levels of stress and even obesity. This of course also works vise-versa. Stress can lead to insomnia and obesity to sleep apnea, which in turn impair sleep. Hormones Ghrelin and Leptin are responsible for hunger and satiety respectively. Sleep deprivation causes an alteration in these hormones, which change your perception of hunger and satiety.

Ever noticed how you tend to eat more and/or indiscriminately when tired and sleep deprived? You may not even be hungry, just sleep deprived. However, when your body tells you that you are experiencing discomfort, (IT means, you need to rest), but YOU interpret it as – you need to satisfy hunger! What’s more, preferably with the most ill-advised food choice available. So, you reach for that mid-night snack. A recipe for disaster when trying to lose weight.

A good nights sleep is important for ones psychological health. Depression and anxiety can result from and cause poor sleep patterns. Depriving one of sleep is akin to torture. It is THAT significant!

Sleep is a healer of all things. What seemed frustrating slips into insignificance after a good nights sleep. You wake up with a new perspective, a new energy and whole new point of view.

In today’s world though, its not just work, babies or stress that keeps one awake. There is the Internet for endless surfing as it sucks you into its vortex of the virtual world. Face book, chatting, trying to connect and keep up with just about everybody in the whole world. The television, with the incessant supply of news or mindless drama. For some, it’s a can’t-put-downable book (again, guilty as charged! You suddenly look at the time and its 1am! GROAN… and there’s a 5am wake up call)!

Late nights, early mornings as one is climbing the social ladder or bettering ones career or just partying for fun and alcohol. All of this somehow take precedence over much needed sleep.

It all comes down to priorities. Sometimes you may just need to refuse a party invite, or shut down that computer/television when you know that it’s sleep you need. It is a matter of mental and physical health and well-being.

As someone said – “If you don’t sleep, you are never really awake”.

Learn form the cat. Sleep can be a healer of all things……..


–      Mental distress, obesity, and body fat distribution in middle aged men. Rosmond et al. Obesity Research, Vol 4, May 1996.

–      Inadequate sleep as a risk factor for Obesity: Analysis of NHANES. Sleep, Vol 28, 2005

–      Insomnia as a Health Risk Factor. Daniel.J et al. Behavioral Sleep Medicine/ 2003, (4), 227-247