Sunday, May 06, 2007

Article - Fitness - Too much of a good thing!

Too much of a good thing!

Food-haters are few. Varied tastes and preferences aside, food as a rule, is welcome any time. Herein lies the crux of the matter. A food-lover is ready for food even when not hungry and is a ‘sitting duck’ for a vice like over-eating.

Let me expand (pun intended) on that …

“Foodies”, generally, like eating out and sampling cuisines from around the world. A self-proclaimed connoisseur of food, I have discovered the dark side to this expertise the hard way – giving in to excesses. It is “all in the mind”. Fellow-“foodies” beware of this at restaurants: Perusing the menu card when you have hunger pangs! You then order too much, eat too much and end up coming away with a heavy heart and stomach! Moreover, when that hungry, every action seems justifiable.

Beginning the meal with a soup is the right way to start. Delicious, deep-fried starters are not for weight-watchers but are tough for the ‘average’ food-lover to bypass! Still, the healthier choices of the likes of steamed dumplings are always there. The main course is not as challenging -- Avoid butter, cream, ghee or gravy-based dishes and you are OK! Then, avoiding sinful desserts is doable as long as you slowly and enjoyably expend with the main meal. The brain can then signal the red flag effectively enough! However, if you have a formidable sweet tooth, it is best to remember that moderation is the only option left. You may as well ‘have the cake and eat it too’ by sharing your dessert with your co-diner(s) to simplify matters and avoid a guilt trip!

“Eat to live” as the foregoing suggests, is not my motto. Glum realization: I used to “live to eat”. However, since my Herculean efforts to ‘be active’ and lose weight began last year, I am glad to proclaim that my “excesses”– both physical (weight), as well as mental (craving) have gradually decreased. These days, whenever the urge to over-eat threatens to overcome me, I remind myself of other benefits of exercise…A major boost in confidence level, a lot less moodiness (and consequently) more amiability, better-fitting wardrobe, more discipline, greater scope for positive thinking, etc. I consider these interesting benefits albeit a bit frivolous compared to “good health” and “fitness”!

A stray instance of over-eating does still occur but such instances are far fewer now and less intense than before, thanks to a basic awareness brought on by physical activity. There we have it. It always comes back to this. Exercise. For a food-lover, eating without working out is lethal. Regular exercise gives greater inclination to eat right. Without physical activity, a food-lover’s life can become heavily (!) gloomy…and there is always a jumpy feeling that one day all will be lost. By “all”, I mean any semblance even, of self-control.

All said and done, occasional devil-may-care moments lead to setbacks. Perhaps a Chinese celebration, a Tandoori temptation or sheer Pizza pleasure, even. Damage done…but life is all about give and take. Keep the sanity by giving the body a lot of exercise and taking some treats (more for the mind!) from time to time. An obsession for food is as important an issue as smoking, drinking or drug-abuse. I have refrained from using a strong phrase like “food-abuse” although it best defines over-eating! Exercise is the safety net. If I slip up and eat wrong today, I know I can and must make things right by sweating it out tomorrow.

Abuse or no, energy-giving food is a need. Like most other needs, there is a constant danger of it becoming a want and/or an obsession. Exercising self-control is also more difficult when a “foodie” has a lot of time on hand…it is a necessity to keep oneself busy and mentally stimulated with other things like taking up a challenging job or pursuing pet interests.

When it comes to food, a universal phrase is applicable and should become a mantra: “everything in moderation”. That is what the Gurus prescribe!

Sujata Tarakesan.

Article - Fitness - Peer Pleasure

Peer Pleasure

Exercising has its side effects. Unlike medication-related side effects, these are excellent. A happy side effect that’s fitness center-related is…making friends. Since joining the gym and group aerobics classes at Fitness One, my network of friends has grown by leaps and bounds. To single out, my experience in the group aerobics classes saw the development of a special bonhomie that blossomed into a real, enjoyable friendship over a series of night-outs and casual get-togethers. It was from this ‘clique’ that eight of us, all women -- embarked on the enviable task of planning a four-day get-away to Thailand.

This was an unconventional vacation, without husbands or children and it was a super duper extension of our local ‘gal pal’ jaunts. A short-and-sweet holiday in Thailand -- two days each in Pattaya and Bangkok. The plan provided for fun and relaxation in Pattaya and for extensive (!) shopping in Bangkok.

Excited chatting filled the air on the flight and after landing in Bangkok, the good-natured ribbing continued all through the car ride to Pattaya. Chilling out was paramount on the priority list. No sooner did we arrive at our beachside resort than we proceeded to explore the sleepy morning town of Pattaya, which, in fact, is famous for its snazzy nightlife. After immensely enjoying Thai massages at a health club there (even the foot massage was superb), we roamed around the town some more before taking a leisurely swim at the hotel’s opulent pool. Without even planning it and without risking our fun (!), we managed to rope in a spot of gentle exercise –swimming. So much for missing workouts during vacation time!

The next day, we outdid everybody we knew with our enterprising planning that ensured complete merriment! A late morning was followed by a terrific, activity-filled day on the beach. The banana boat ride that five of us took had us whooping with pleasure and apprehension in spite of lifejackets, since we were dumped unceremoniously into the water more than once during that 30-minute roller-coaster water-ride. Day O! I daresay that we were fit enough to handle it all…and more. Moreover, we had other thrills and amusement coming our way as we indulged in a spot of parasailing. This popular adventure-sport has you donning a life jacket, being clasped to a Parachute, while a long rope connects you to a speedboat on the water. You then take a running jump off the parasailing platform and find yourself flying high above the water as the boat far below powers your flight. We each took turns to be on top of the world for a few minutes! The parasailing team on the ground expertly handled the landing, which was a bit tricky. We threw in a couple of high-speed motorboat rides and our ‘beach day‘ was made!

The next two days at Bangkok saw us ‘walk the talk’ with the mantra “shop till you drop”. The calories we burned while walking around and shopping, were only matched by the money spent there, as Bangkok is famous for its reasonably priced bags, footwear, trendy clothes, etc.

One thing we have to say for ourselves on this vacation … No over-indulgence in food or dessert. While we certainly did not deny ourselves any goodies, we did find that it was actually easy to be conscious of our food intake and avoid succumbing to the sweet tooth, as we were a good mix of fitness freaks, dieters and ‘normal souls’. We influenced each other by the sheer strength of our individual presence. This was peer pressure of the best kind!

To meet at a common place like a gym, to workout together everyday, to meet socially now and then and to go abroad on a holiday with a truly decent, likeable lot…it was pure, unadulterated fun indeed -- Call it Group Therapy if you like!


Sujata Tarakesan.

Article - Fitness - Prime Time

Prime Time

TRING!! Alarm clock goes off -- Open your bleary eyes and stare at the ceiling. Inhale and reconcile yourself to another working day. Exhale. SIGH! Good Morning!

Stumble out of bed, enter wash area and stare at self in mirror. Note woebegone expression, “curvier” curves and telltale bulges. Nothing a little workout can’t repair. “But how am I going to find the time to exercise?” you ask yourself.

Time. Is there enough of it to go around? All of us are time-bound. Finding time to exercise and stay fit seems an absurdly Herculean task in today’s steely, corporate world. Whom do you blame for your poor fitness levels? Your boss? Aha… an all-time favourite – the blameworthy employer! You could also blame the endless office hours, “family pressures” and lure of heavier pay packets. The bottom line is “I can’t find time to exercise”.

If we stopped to think about it, almost every successful executive or industrialist we might have ever heard of or known, has the kind of daily schedule that could never include time for exercise. Yet ignoring fitness and self-grooming is one thing you could never accuse them of. They do not find time to exercise. They make the time to keep fit and healthy. What could be the use of power and money if you cannot enjoy it? Subconsciously, I bet they have asked themselves this question, which is why we never find them in danger of bursting from their suits!

At the risk of bordering on morbid, a phrase comes to mind – “Death is a great leveler”. Well, so is time. All of us get the same amount of time … 24 hours everyday. Nobody gets more, nobody gets less. Obvious and interesting. Speaking of levels, even those who run countries set aside time for exercise. Surely, we “lesser mortals” can turn our backs on everything else and mosey on to a gym close by for a quick 30- minute workout? We could if we wanted to. Nobody is actually going to miss us for such a brief period!

If you are an early bird, you get the worm…er, I mean exercise, out of the way early in the morning. However, being an avid (!) late riser, I used to think that if you cannot exercise before 7 a.m., you could not exercise at all. After 7 a.m., I would blame the “pressures of life” for coming in the way of exercise. That attitude together with regular, ingenious excuses for late-nights-leading-to-late-mornings was a convenient state of being until the weighing machine showed alarming figures. It actually hurt my eyes to read the figures on display between my toes.

That is when I learned that exercising everyday is important, period. That was the end of my rambling excuses. If I wanted to, I would exercise – late or early or midday even.

Here’s another reason to find time off your busy schedule to ‘shake a leg’: In a world made of steel and stone, impressions mean everything. Intellect is paramount and so are your personality, posture and gait, which exude your confidence and force of impression. While ‘all brawns and no brains’ cannot make headway, it is always impressive to behold someone who is fit and toned (unbidden, the show ”Baywatch” comes to mind!) and so my inference is that an intellectual mind sitting atop a fit body is everybody’s dream.

We would n’t say that it is necessary to have bulging muscles and a concave belly, but we would say that if you exercise your body at least one tenth as much as your brain, you have got it made!

Sujata Tarakesan.

Article - Fitness - Teen Preen


In your teens, feeling good means looking good. The great news is that nature does a lot of it for you. Your body is developing, and your mind is on the "soak-it-all-in" mode. It is blossoming-time. You can tweak your teen-time health in the right direction and reap the benefits forever. However, in these formative years, it is so easy to pick up the bad stuff and gloss over the "what's-good-for-you" stuff. Sure, there are too many things happening when you are in your teens – hangouts, late-nights, parties, phone calls, erratic sleeping and eating habits. So how can you get into the "shape of your life" unless you burn all those calories?

Get into the groove of exercising. Exercise is for everyone and is even more "cool" than you think. In today's world of automobiles, escalators, elevators and other mechanisms by which one moves about, it is not easy to keep fit "naturally". Avid walkers are lucky. Regular gym-goers have it made too.

Then, there is another easy option that is available.

A group aerobics class: highly enjoyable. Many people just walk in and join an aerobics class impromptu - they simply go with the flow. Still, nothing like knowing what you are getting into.

What group aerobics classes do for you:
q You are not alone – Misery Loves Company!
q You move to music – It’s like dancing only better, as you are sure to lose calories in the "proper" way.
q There is an instructor hand-holding you throughout.
q It is usually for an hour - Surprisingly, you don't keep watching that clock like a hawk!
q It is usually conducted in a structured manner - Stretches, warm-up, low-impact / high-impact moves, toning exercises, cool-down…it's all in there, ready-made!
q It's a total body workout.
q A variety in aerobic routines keeps boredom away.
q It improves mind-body co-ordination.
q It is very suitable for beginners (first-time "exercisers") as it eases you into the general body movements associated with increasing flexibility, toning and weight loss.
q The whole experience is like a dose of adrenalin for the rest of the day.

A few words of caution, though.

Before joining an aerobics class, check your weight. If you have not exercised in over 3 months or have never exercised at all, there are chances of "acquiring" an injury. Age has nothing to do with this. Sprained muscles, strained hamstrings, sore calf muscles…are just some of the problems that can come your way. To top it all, being overweight and not having exercised before, or in a long time, is a terrible combo!

As for the step-aerobics classes, this may not be for everyone although it is a blast when you are young and have no creaky joints or nagging aches! Now… the prospect of continuously stepping up and down on the double-step platform for 40 minutes can be intimidating to some. However, you can burn at least up to 450+ calories in an hour (high-intensity). As for those non-teens but would-be-preens, please just bear in mind that, anyone with a knee problem or other discomforts should be more careful. It might be safer to experiment with a single step rather than straightaway on the double step that is usually used. Nevertheless, do try it. Those steps can be a lot of fun!

Fun aside, go in a few minutes earlier to chat with the instructor about yourself and get familiar with some basic moves – grapevine, shuffle, heel-dig, touch-out, etc. and learn the low-impact versions as well. Better still: watch a class before you take the plunge. It really is motivating if you like your instructor's body language and style.

A typical aerobics class concentrates on the various parts of the body. You will notice an improvement in your general posture, flexibility and body tone in a few weeks.
To maximize the benefit you get out of aerobics, you need to perform every move with the right posture and technique to avoid injury. For example, flexing, pointing, holding the stomach in, taking conscious, regular breaths and so on.

Aerobics is quite refreshing and wholesome! Soak in the good stuff now!

Sujata Tarakesan.