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Updated: October 15, 2011 17:02 IST

Take a healthy stride

DR. SHEELA NAMBIAR
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It's never too late: Women shoudl put aside some 'my' time. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt
The Hindu It's never too late: Women shoudl put aside some 'my' time. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Most women find reasons for not working out. But, you can start at any age; so there really is no excuse.

Being a gynaecologist, I'm partial to women. Their contribution to society in general, and their family in particular, is unparalleled. Women, I believe, need to pay more heed to their health and wellness. Neglecting your own fitness and state of health is sure to lead to unnecessary ramifications. Steady weight gain over the years is only one of the problems.

As we age we gain1 lb of fat and lose 1/2 lb of muscle for every year after the age of 35 (earlier if you are completely sedentary). Extrapolate these numbers and you will have a vague idea of the “quality of content” (amount of fat versus the amount of muscle) of your body by the age of 60. Understanding what losing muscle and gaining fat can do to your body in terms of functionality, not just appearance may help you sit up and pay attention.

Strain on joints

The function of muscles is locomotion or movement. Daily tasks cannot be performed if muscle mass and strength deteriorate. Accumulation of fat is not just ungainly and inconvenient but hinders simple tasks and the added weight places a strain on the joints and spine, as they are not supported by strong muscle structure.

Excess weight also stresses the heart and lungs, which is why over-weight unfit individuals find themselves quite breathless while climbing the stairs or performing any action that requires the heart and lungs to work harder. Unable to cope with the excess weight and getting no help from the poorly conditioned muscles, the heart beats rapidly, sometimes even irregularly.

The breathlessness is a result of the respiratory system trying to cope with the excess demand for oxygen by the working muscles. Poor oxygenation of muscles leads to early fatigue and cramping as they try to work without adequate nutrition; in this case oxygen.

Having painted this rather dismal picture of an unfit individual's state of affairs, when one is negligent of one's fitness, I go on to state that this is not an irreparable situation. There is hope of restoration, in even the most extreme cases. The extraordinary ability of the human body to rehabilitate is what makes it so special. The earlier one starts the rectification process, however, the easier it will be and the better the results. But it is never too late to start a fitness programme. Studies have shown that even starting to train with weights to improve strength and introducing some amount of cardiovascular exercise even as late as 90 years of age has beneficial spin offs for the individual.

Muscles respond to external stress or ‘resistance' as it is called (as in weight training) provided the stress is applied in the right direction and is of the right intensity. This is important to emphasise as otherwise one might as well advise a 70-year-old woman to start training by shifting the furniture in her house.

Weight training

Ideally all women need to train with weights in order to improve strength and increase muscle mass. This becomes even more important after the age of 30 when muscle mass starts to deplete and the woman's bones have a tendency towards osteoporosis. Weight training prevents both osteoporosis and the depletion of muscle.

When one discusses weight training with women, one is often met with mild horror, if not outright shock and indignation. Truth is; it need not be as frightening as it sounds. One can start slow, with lighter weights and then grow to challenge one's muscles. As one builds in strength and confidence, one begins to enjoy the sensation of sheer power that accompanies physical strength. Simple acts of climbing stairs, squatting, rising from sitting on the floor or even just sitting on the floor get easier. This sense of accomplishment incites one to stay on course and progress to levels one never thought oneself capable of.

Thomas Alva Edison once said, “If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.” This is true of our fitness levels too. As long as one is not afraid of failure and gets the right professional guidance, one can always look at progress in the three main aspects of fitness - stamina, strength and flexibility, at any age. Weight loss, or even maintenance of one's weight, is a by-product of regular exercise, not the sole benefit.

Women tend to neglect their fitness/wellness. There is always something else that seems to require their attention that is more important than their own health and fitness: family, career, social work ...

Sometimes, I suspect, this becomes an easy escape strategy to remain where they are, over weight with various degenerative illnesses that plague them. It is even taken as acceptable that one develops diabetes, hypertension and all the ‘lifestyle diseases' that perhaps their own mother suffered from. With age, decreased mobility, activity, strength and stamina, and increased weight, girth and susceptibility to diseases seem quite the norm. This is far from normal and should not be acceptable.

Quality of life

You will find that once you start exercising, you are in a better mood, able to deal with the mundane day-to-day activities or a stressful career without feeling overwhelmed or stressed more than necessary. It is all about ‘quality of life', not just increased longevity.

Quick tips

Take a stand, your health and wellness are important

You can make a change, at any age

Introducing fitness creates so much positive energy that it seeps into every other aspect of your life

Set aside at least an hour, even half an hour a day exclusively for yourself

Start small and grow within yourself, improving your health both physical and emotional

Dr Sheela Nambiar MD is an Obstetrician-Gynaecologist, a fitness and lifestyle consultant NAFC, Director – TFL Fitness Studio Chennai. E-mail: drsheela@tfl-inc.com

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