Hitting the forties need not mean frequent visits to the doctor seeking relief from lifestyle diseases. Hema Vijay tells us how to stay healthy in our middle age

Sure, our bodies begin to rebel against our will as we enter our forties. We no longer manage to digest the calories that we easily burnt a few years ago; it is no longer easy to sprint and catch a train, or burn the midnight oil to get through pending office work. But there are some big pluses. Middle age brings with it a freedom that younger people can’t conceive of. Material success and personal popularity don’t seem to matter as much as it did, and now begins a period of looking inwards.

So yes, the good life does begin when we move into our forties — if we make health and fitness our ally, rather than our adversary. In our youth, most of us prioritise on education, office work or social activities, compromising on food, sleep and exercise. We can’t afford to do this after we enter our forties.

Yoga shows the way

In yoga literature, middle age is referred to as the ‘Rakshana’ or ‘Maintenance’ period. In middle age, our energy and immunity start depleting, and this paves the way for cardiac, neurological, muscular, orthopaedic, digestive, hormonal and psychological and other degenerative diseases that old age brings with it. Following a fitness programme and healthy lifestyle in the forties can slow down, or even ward off many of these illnesses, and ensure that we are self-reliant and lead an active life well into old age. And yes, it can help us remain youthful too.

“Though the body might be harbouring risk factors for various diseases, any disease is triggered off by stress at the cellular, physical, physiological and mental levels. A 10-minute session of specific de-stressing yogasanas, breathing exercises, chanting and meditation can release the stress built-up every day, and reverse the degeneration; it will also calm us down and ensure that we enjoy good sleep. Yoga prescribes a session of strengthening exercises in the morning before breakfast, to activate our intellectual, emotional, physiological, physical and social functions. This will empower us to perform the day’s tasks with confidence, energy and enthusiasm,” says N. Chandrasekaran, yoga therapist, teacher and founder, Viniyoga Healing Foundation of India.

Some yogasana and pranayama techniques activate our body and mind, while others calm them down. So, it is best to learn from a trained yoga teacher/therapist who can tailor a programme to suit individual health problems and needs, as well s recommend the time required to practise it.

Modifying food habits

The forties call for a re-think on food. Obviously, we need to leave out junk food and go for less spicy food. “Further, we should consumer smaller meals, and the meal-between-meal concept that includes fresh, nutritious food such as fruits, multigrain kanji, salads, corn flakes, etc, or at least low-fat, low-sugar and high-fibre biscuits. Protein-rich food is required in our older years and sundal made with different grams and pulses are ideal. If pulses are soaked in water overnight and then cooked well, they will not create flatulence,” mentions V. R. Seshadri, veteran ayurvedic teacher and practitioner.

“Avoid curd, at least at dinner time, as it increases cholesterol, kapha and heat in the body; switch to buttermilk,” he suggests. And the right way to make buttermilk is by boiling low fat milk on a low flame, and removing the cream that is formed. Whip this with lots of water, remove the fat that swims on the surface, and add sautéd pepper, asafoetida, jeera, curry leaf powder and coriander. “This reduces obesity and enhances digestion,” he recommends.

“Eat on time, stick to home-cooked food, and remember, it is not necessary to adopt a western diet. Recent research shows that the traditional south Indian diet is extremely healthy”, says Sunitha Maithreya, general physician and Chief Knight-India, International order of the Round Table.