Happier & healthier living
To lead a healthy life is the most basic desire that drives and motivates all humans – the misleading narrative of health propagated by the profit-driven health industry only makes this desire seem elusive. Health and fitness is compounding, simple steps go a long way in improving and maintaining your health. Let the new decade be all about simple and sustainable solutions to health
A new year and a new decade are upon us. With each new year, many of us get on fitness plans which are unsustainable and leave us with the guilt of failures. This new year, let us attempt to do something different and enter 2020 with holistic health goals. It cannot be denied that all aspects of health – mental, physical and emotional are intertwined, not only in their experiences but also as manifestations on human health. Thus, it only makes sense to follow a sustainable and easy to follow health regime that guarantees lifelong commitment to all spheres of health. I present to you 10 key areas that will keep your health sprint going this entire year and beyond, bestowing you with improvement in all spheres of your life.
Don't Focus on Weight loss
Your weight is not a measure of your health. The weighing scale reduces you to a number, a number that tells you nothing about your fitness levels. The act of weighing yourself has a detrimental impact not just on your metabolic parameters but also on mental and emotional wellbeing. Our body comprises of the fat mass and fat-free mass. The fat-free mass is a measure of our bone density, muscle mass, organ weight, skin, hair, nails, body fluids, while the fat mass is just what is states- fat. Now has your weighing scale ever shown you the weight of your fat mass to you? When you make drastic dietary modifications in your attempt to chase a number on the scale, you end up losing your health, not fat! I would take the liberty of going to the extent of stating that when you focus on your health, you automatically lose fat. The act of taking care of yourself helps the body overcome its insecurities and in turn, it lets go off the fat it was holding on to.
Health goals vs making resolutions
Now once you are keen on health, set health-based goals instead of new year resolutions. Unlike resolutions, goals are specific and measurable. We all know how resolutions don't last beyond January! When you set goals, make sure they are realistic and not over-ambitious. Set specific goals for different areas of your life. Some examples of this are:
At work: Get up, stretch and walk around for 2-3 mins for every 30 mins of being seated/ take phone calls standing or walking;
Workout: Engage in 150 mins of workout every week;
Water Intake: Drink 12-15 glass of water daily;
Sleep: Gadget curfew 30 mins before bedtime;
Family Time: Spend time outdoors with family over the weekends;
Me time: Make efforts to learn something new.
Don't follow a SPECIFIC diet
Keto, Paleo, Atkins, Zone, South Beach and Raw Food diets are all such examples. Such diets have a reductionist view of food groups, be it reducing fat or carbohydrates. These are not sustainable in the long run and the main reason for people to falter with their fitness commitments. Follow a balanced diet, that includes food that you have grown up eating and that your mother and grandmother can identify as food.
The USFDA, in their 2015-2020 dietary guidelines recommend that we must eat traditional foods that are a part of our culture. Stick to the seasonal variations. Such a diet ensures long term adherence which is reflected as enhanced immunity, improved energy levels, better digestive system, balanced hormones and good quality sleep. Its never about eating less but eating right. Focus on eating wholesome meals and food that is local to your geographical location. This ensures a variety of nutrients, lesser carbon footprint, fresher produce and is easy on the pocket too. Eating traditional food as a way of life is finding many takers worldwide. This is seen in the rising support for farmers' markets and community initiatives. Locavorism (embracing the local produce) will not only contribute to better health at the individual level and reduce the burden of malnutrition worldwide but also contribute towards preventing climate change.
Currently, we are witnessing a revival of millets like jowar, bajra and ragi. Each region in India has local varieties of rice, dals and seasonal produce. This is our cultural heritage. Following regional recipes will ensure they are passed from previous generations to the next ones just like precious family jewels.
Eat out of your kitchen more often
Your kitchen is your first pharmacy. Cooking your food gives you the much-needed control as compared to putting your health in someone else's hands. Eating ghar ka khana ensures freshness, taste and a complete nutrient profile. All this simply means that whatever you eat is better digested, assimilated and absorbed by your body.
Our body functions on nutrients, which come from real food we make from scratch at home as against ultra-processed food products that are sold to us in the name of convenience. These packaged food products are loaded with chemicals like food additives, colorants, preservatives and more that contribute towards toxic load in our body. Many of these are also the reason for hormonal imbalance and NCDs like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, etc.
Make Mindful Eating a Habit
Practice eating in silence. When you eat this way, you manage to engage all your senses in the act of eating, thereby, enriching the whole meal experience. It is in this state that your parasympathetic nervous system is activated and the food is digested and utilised better. Every time you eat with distractions of phone, TV, negative conversations or stress, your body releases cortisol, the stress hormone. In such situations, not only do we end up eating more but at a deeper level, this has an impact on your insulin levels, pancreatic juices, digestive enzyme and leads to indigestion, bloating, acidity and fat around your tummy. Chewing well and eating mindfully also helps you to assess your satiety signals that usually go missing with distractions around. So, develop a discipline of eating without distractions.
Sit less, move more
Our bodies are built for motion, not for stillness. More and more research is showing that it's not good for your health to be sitting or lying down for long periods during waking hours. Researchers call this 'sedentary behavior'. Sitting is the new smoking. Aim towards reducing the time you spend sitting every day and break up sitting time to help improve your health.
At work: Get up and stretch, walk for 2-3 minutes, visit your colleague at his/her workstation than call, walk to the water/coffee machine.
At home: Attend the doorbell, get up during commercials, take calls standing or walking, keep your plate in the kitchen after finishing meals.
Stretch: Stand up every 30 minutes to stretch your chest and extend your spine to reverse the hunched sitting position.
Exercise is any physical activity that increases your heart rate above resting levels and maintains it for a period of 30-40 minutes. Many people confuse exercise with activity and vice-versa. But the key difference lies in the fact that an exercise is a planned and structured activity that keeps your heart rate elevated. Aim to engage in 150 minutes of planned exercise every week. Include exercises that improve your stamina (heart health), strength and flexibility. With age, there is a decrease in muscle mass and bone density. While strengthening exercises help combat weakness and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, flexibility improves mobility, posture, muscle coordination and reduces the risk of injuries.
Focus on quality sleep
Sleep is often one of the last things people tend to think about when it comes to setting fitness goals but a night of good quality sleep is imperative for your diet and exercise goals to manifest. Without deep restorative sleep, neither does your body recover from your workout nor do your hunger hormones stay sensitised. Sugar or junk cravings, increased blood pressure, hormonal imbalance, belly fat, muscle soreness, delayed healing, obesity are some of the many side effects of lack of sleep. Setting a regular bed and wake up time and eating an early dinner are some ways to assist the body to sleep at ease. Practicing a few cycles of deep breathing also helps the body enter the restorative sleep cycle.
Gadgets and other electronic devices, stimulate our brain and hinder the body's natural circadian rhythm. The blue light emitted by devices like phones, laptops, TVs, tablets, Kindles, etc., suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin and delays your bedtime, only to make you groggy next morning. Put your gadgets away at least 30 minutes before you sleep, to ensure that you have a sound sleep!
This last point brings all that's discussed so far together, literally. Consistency is the key to health. No matter how gradual the change, done at a consistent pace will reap results than starting with a bang and fizzling out without a whisper.
It is a proven fact that people who lose weight fast also gain it all back if not more and are at a higher risk of metabolic disorders with this yo-yo pattern. Slow and consistent efforts make for a healthy lifestyle. All of us desire wealth, success, love and peace but it is health alone that can spin the silver thread and make all our desires come true. This year let's embrace lifelong health with consistent efforts towards the four pillars of lifestyle – food, workout, activity and sleep.
(The author is a nutritionist & certified diabetes educator)