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Updated: November 27, 2013 19:44 IST

Eat to live

PREETI ZACHARIAH
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Lifestyle makeover from Ornish. Photo: Vivek Bendre
The Hindu
Lifestyle makeover from Ornish. Photo: Vivek Bendre

Dean Ornish’s lifestyle suggestions promise youth and health

The ancient Greeks believed in the existence of Ambrosia, food of the gods which conferred agelessness to those who supped off it. The Chinese had their Peaches of Immortality, a sacred fruit that did pretty much the same thing. Closer home, we had Amrut—another elixir of life, that promised to retain youth and reverse ageing. Divine concoctions may be rare and difficult to obtain but it is possible to live a long, healthy, disease-free life and reverse ageing, if you follow the principle of Dean Ornish, Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California and Founder & President, Preventive Medicine Research Institute, a non-profit research organization that investigates the effects of diet and lifestyle choices on health and disease.

According to Ornish who was in the city to attend a conference hosted by the Soukya Foundation says, “The diet and lifestyle we suggests can reverse diabetes, prevent chronic heart disease control ageing, even slow down aging at a cellular level by lengthen telomeres.”

He suggests focussing on four basic elements of life — improving nutrition, including exercise, reducing stress and fostering love and belonging, “We suggest a low fat, plant based diet which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and soya products, all of which are low in fat and contain elements such as flavenoids, phytochemicals, lycopene etc that are good for you.”

Ornish’s plan isn’t really a diet, that one goes on and off but an absolute lifestyle makeover. In addition to nutrition he also suggests that people incorporate regular low-impact exercise. “What we recommend most people to do is to walk for 30 minutes a day. Its easy, it has minimum risk and you need no special equipment.”

Stress is a inherent part of one’s life today and Ornish believes that the best way to deal with it is to include yoga— not just hatha yoga but also, “meditation, breathing, visualization,” in one’s life. And Ornish realizes that health it is not just the physical but also the emotional, “People who are lonely and isolated are more likely to get sick than people who feel connected to a community. Reaching out to another is a primal human need and we know that support groups and having a sense of belonging goes a long way towards creating physical wellness,” he says.

He rues that the traditional Indian lifestyle is changing, “There has been a globalization of chronic disease. As more people eat like us, live like us and die like us, diseases like chronic heart disease and type 2 diabetes have become epidemic where once they were very rare not long ago. The irony of it is that the diet that can reverse all this is the largely plant based diet which is what the traditional Indian diet is about. And India is not just importing the western diet but also a disruption of the social networks that would give them a sense of connection with the community.”

Luckily the changes he suggests are guaranteed to induce better health, irrespective of the type of the person who adopts it. “It isn’t about how old or sick you are. Studies have shown that the more you followed our programme, the healthier you became. When you go on a diet, you are likely to go off it. This is a lifestyle choice. If you have eaten wrong or not exercised, you can always go back to that the next day. It’s a compassionate, sustainable thing.”

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