Every one of us has 24 hours to work with and it is said that eight good hours of sleep is required to remain healthy. Suppose on an average you spend 10 hours at work and commuting; that leaves about 6 hours for ‘leisure’. Not much, eh? Devoting 1 hour from these precious 6 to some form of exercise is too daunting for most of us.
And yet, some form of exercise is becoming more and more important in today’s age of lifestyle disorders and even faster jargon. And with everyone talking about it, from news channels and pulp magazines striving to fill up air time and print space to your next door aunty, one can end up feeling overwhelmed or repulsed! Now you might be saying, here we go again! But what we aim to do in this in this feature is present a very workable view towards exercising which can be a first step if not a revision of your routine.
Your body adjusts to the output you demand of it. Hence, marathon runners, boxers and your friendly neighborhood uncle look the way they do. Off course, it equally depends on what input you give to your body. So if you’re gorging in thousands of ill-afforded calories when all you do all day is click away on the mouse, your bound to crash. The human body is capable of a lot of things, physically and physiologically but under use and misuse can result in rusting. Hence, exercise.
How much and when?
Most people agree that a good half-an-hour a day can work wonders. How far you can take it is a matter of effort and attitude, i.e. if it is peer pressure or blood pressure or more rarely, personal resolve that takes you to the gym. With weight training, you can be on a 3-4 day routine, give or take a day. Some people swear by a brisk walk in the neighborhood park. Yoga, as claimed can be done anytime, anywhere.
Different forms of exercise: The Basics
For many of us, ‘working out’ is punishment in the gallows or what the celebrities do to look better than you. Let us take a look at what it involves. Exercise can be aerobic or anaerobic. Different exercises stimulate specific responses. Aerobic refers to the use of oxygen in producing energy. It involves long duration of moderate intensity training. Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand involves short bursts of intense energy produced in the absence of oxygen. Aerobic training reduces body fat and increases efficiency of oxygen consumption and hence, cardiovascular endurance. Weight training, which is anaerobic, is preferred for building muscle mass and strength.
This is primarily because of the different hormonal response they elicit. Weight training stimulates higher testosterone and lower cortisol levels than anaerobic training. With the right nutritional intake, it helps in building muscle mass.
In addition, smaller muscles are more aerobically efficient and hence, recruited to a greater extent during aerobic training. In fact, some muscles may actually shrink in size for greater aerobic performance. Hence, a lot of aerobic exercise in a muscle building program is not desirable. The trick is to find a right balance of both.
Apart from rhythmic stepping to really cheesy music shown on TV known as aerobics, aerobic training can consist of anything from a brisk walk outside or on the treadmill to a game of tennis. It enhances blood circulation and improves endurance. It strengthens muscles involved in respiration and also cardiac muscles. It tones muscles and can stimulate bone growth. It reduces the risk of cardiac disorders. However, from an overall fitness perspective, it does not improve upper body strength greatly.
In the form of weight resistance training increases muscle mass and strength. It may not be as efficient and burn as many calories as aerobic training but increases lean muscle mass, bone density and strength to a greater extent. Now the mental picture you might have of rippling muscles, throbbing veins and sweat might put you off, especially if the greatest exertion you have subjected your body to is in catching the 8.35 train.
But it is all through training and practice. You begin with light weights, lesser duration and work your way up. One need not go all professional. Even 3 days a week of 30 minute well planned work outs can show visible difference in a few months if not weeks. Work-out routines, techniques and nutrition have become cutting-edge sciences and touching upon its intricacies would require another feature in itself.
Weight training involves improving performance and setting goals as opposed to Yoga which involves more of pro-active realization to achieve a state of balance of outlook. Choosing a form of exercise can thus be as much a matter of personality as it is a matter of specific body needs and medical conditions.
As a form of exercise is fundamentally different from aerobic and anaerobic training. It involves asanas, pranayama and meditation. Asanas are various stretching exercises that tone and lubricate joints. It also improves neural and endocrine activity. Pranayama involves controlling breathing and internalizing it. This means being increasingly aware of respiration. The philosophy behind this is that blood supply which carries nutrients all over the body and flushes toxins out is continued by breathing. Correcting breathing should thus be the first step in anything health-related. I say correcting breath because many people actually tuck in their stomach while inhaling and relax it while exhaling! Taking this practice further to meditation requires much commitment and effort but can greatly improve synergy between all systems. Gurus claim it can cure everything from hair-fall to cancer. They have been known to be able to control autonomous activities such as body temperatures and heart rate. While this may be too profound an achievement for city dwellers, moderate yoga to improve quality of daily life is definitely worth striving for. One can join a yoga institute in the vicinity at a very nominal rate, read from a book or switch on the TV. Thought the best time to practice Yoga is early morning, whatever you can squeeze into your routine can help.
Should I start working-out?
In the miraculous event that this feature has encouraged you to start exercising or revive your exercise routine or even triggered some fleeting interest, here are a few points of caution. You may be a teenager struggling to keel up with the latest in what is cool or a middle-ager who blames gravity for his misgivings, it is almost never too late to start working out. Just be sure you are practicing in incremental fashion to your capacity. Heart attacks and even deaths have been reported in cases of exertion by people whose bodies are not used to it. This can be in the form of a wrenching half an hour in the weight room or a 15 minute brisk walk or a short burst of visceral energy in catching the last safe train to work. So know your level of fitness and work your way up. In cases of pregnancy, heart problems, diabetes etc it would be best to consult your doctor before starting on a routine and changing your diet.
At the risk of being unpopular…
No amount of exercise can help you if after leaving the gym; your first stop is the nearest fast-food joint. And the fact that exercise makes you hungry is not a good enough excuse. Exercise burns calories, rinses out toxins and sets the body in a state where lean muscle development can be effected. However, this requires the right input in the form of nutrition. While books upon books may be written on post exercise nutrition and the market may be flooded with products that promise overnight make-overs, a normal diet balanced in proteins, carbs, fats, vitamins and minerals should suffice for people undertaking moderate work-outs and just starting off. Time your meals. Ideally, no heavy meals should be had at least 1 hour pre and post work-out. Apart form the obvious reason of not wanting to puke in the middle of the work out, heavy eating should be avoided as blood supply is diverted to digesting and assimilating food and not enough can be recruited for performing muscles. If working outdoors or in a room which is not air conditioned, a re-hydration drink must be carried to keep up energy levels. Post work meals should have a mix of proteins and carbs to induce muscle growth and minimize accumulation of fats. You need not put yourself on a military regime as far as food is concerned. Regular exercise will allow you the infrequent indulgence at your favorite fast food chain but realizing how such slips undo your hard work at the gym should be motivation enough to refrain, right? I won’t get into details of what should find a place on your plate as the website has regular updates on nutrition.
If this feature has failed to convince and stand out from the multitude of sermons thrown at you everyday, you can always check back at HealthJockey; we will still be trying because that is what we do.
-Punit G. Pania