Middle age could be the best years of your life. You only need to follow a few simple rules

If you are 30 going on 40 and a woman, there are things happening to your body at this stage that you need to stop and take note of. Spending time on herself is anathema to the average middle class, middle-aged Indian woman. She has her hands so full that she has no time to think about her body. She is not even comfortable talking about it. Any signs of winding down are ruthlessly pushed aside. Or, she decides to pop pills - multivitamins, calcium and iron or invest in a health drink that the ads say will have her feeling as good as new. Are these self-proclaimed miracle supplements necessary after one reaches the mid-30s? "Not at all," says Dr. Vani Mohan, gynaecologist, who vigorously champions the common sense approach. "If there is proper nutrition and lifestyle, there is no need for anything else. You need to supplement your nutrition with exercise and not pills," she says. She is apprehensive that not only the middle-aged woman's well being, but also the health of an entire generation of teenage girls is in jeopardy. "Society has to change. Eating a balanced diet and exercising have to become a lifestyle for those who are trying to lose weight or trying to cope with menopause," she says."The South Indian diet is deficient," says Dr. Asha Rao. She recommends every woman must take one gram of calcium per day. She is in total agreement with Dr. Vani about the exercise regimen or the lack of it in a woman's life. "Regular walks, gardening, yoga - anything, but it should be a daily habit," she says. Are you one of those calorie-conscious women? You have idlis, chutney and sambar for breakfast. You have rice and rasam for lunch and your evening meal is a couple of dosas with molaga podi. Vegetables? Well the sambar that accompanied your meals so far had some vendakkai in it, didn't it? "This is woefully inadequate," warns Dr. Asha who recommends that one should cut down on carbohydrates (idly, rice, dosa) and increase the intake of vegetables. "As you get older, your hormone levels go down and the bones take the brunt of it. One to two grams of calcium per day is a must," insists Dr. Mirudhubashini. A glass or two of milk a day does not fulfil that need. It takes a litre of milk to get the required dosage of calcium. And how many of us actually drink that much of milk?" Vitamins are unnecessary unless one's diet is deficient. Dr. Mirudhubashini disapproves the myriad health drinks being advertised for women. "Most health drinks are high in calories." If you take care of a few things, your mid-life can be the best thing that happened to you."It is shocking that only 10 per cent women in our country go for annual medical check-ups," says Dr Asha. " The Indian woman owes herself more time and care. She must have an annual check up," she says.Health watchTake vegetables and fruits in abundance. Ideally, one-fourth of the diet should be protein-rich, one-fourth must comprise vegetables, one-fourth fruits and salads and only one-fourth carbohydrates. Replace rice with ragi or daliya. Consume plenty of dals. They have naturally occurring estrogens, proteins and fibre in them. Include skimmed milk and curd. Weight training (walking with half kg weights is good for you). Stretches and yoga strengthen the bones and correct the posture. Walk for an hour at least. Doctors recommend walking on soft ground with the right shoes. Walking on a hard surface can affect the knees and ankles. An annual medical check up is a must for women over 40. Pap smear, mammogram and a check for diabetes are mandatory. A pap smear helps in early detection of cervical cancer that could remain asymptomatic for as long as 15 years. Dr. Mirudhubashini also recommends a Bone Mineral Density test (BMD). This can detect early signs of osteoporosis. PANKAJA SRINIVASAN