Saturday, January 26, 2008

Thin = Fit ??? Or is it?

I can bet that 90% of the people have always thought that being thin is the ultimate road to fitness…Being thin is considered as being fit.
While having a thinner body frame is definitely a plus point healthwise, but being Fit demands a lot more!!!

Fitness is a mixture of basically 5 components which in simple terms are –

Muscular strength – strength of different skeletal muscles in the body
Muscular endurance – ability of a muscle to prolong an activity repeatedly
Cardiovascular endurance – ability of the heart to respond to a stress applied over a period of time
Flexibility -- elasticity of different muscles
Body composition – distribution of fat mass and muscle mass in the body

Thin people are usually seen to possess lesser muscle mass, which implies lesser muscle strength. This, however cannot be assumed as a general rule! Muscle strength is an essential component in all daily activities, like lifting your office suitcase, daily grocery, even putting your bike on main stand!!
I have also personally seen many thin people getting breathless after climbing 2 floors!!!! The cardiovascular endurance component is the key here.

While all these components can be developed optimally through a proper exercise regime, individual differences exist, which sometimes hamper with the desired results.

Which brings us to the remaining 10% of us, like me, who have had the jaw-dropping experience of knowing and working with not very “thin”, but extremely fit people, who can jog for an hour – NON -STOP !!!
The are many factors at play while considering the above fact. However, the basic point is that any exercise regime should aim at making the person more fit and not more thin……

So what is the Moral of the Story : Being fit is more than being thin or fitting into a size 24 pair of jeans!
Or may be, “Its all in the mind” !!

Which reminds me that according to one of my friends (who wants to live beyond 120 yrs), logically speaking, since all major complications have a common solution – losing weight, “thinness’ can be equated with “immortality”!
While I call that the heights of exaggeration, if this thought is enough to motivate him to hit the gym at 6.00am sharp, well……

Posture Perfect

“Sit straight”, my school teacher would shout!!! “Walk erect “ my father would shout !!! Haven’t we been hearing this since ages???
So was there any substance behind their commands? The answer is yes.

What is good posture and why is it so important? Posture is defined as the body's alignment and positioning with respect to the ever-present force of gravity. Good posture entails distributing the force of gravity throughout our body so as not to overstress any one particular joint, muscle or structure.

Posture is affected by muscle imbalances, congenital factors and most importantly – lifestyle.
A well proportioned posture optimizes breathing, circulation of bodily fluids, range of motion at joints, and helps relieve stress.
A bad posture overstresses one particular area of the body and inturn creates an overall imbalance in the body leading to aches and pains.

In simple words, imbalances arise when one part of the body is more tight or tense than the other. Most common example would be the imbalance in the mid-section of the body. Due to excessive fat distribution in the abdominal area, the gravity tends to pull the body anteriorly. To counteract this pull, and keep the body erect, the muscles of the back tense up !! Over a period of time, the back muscles get tight thereby affecting the adjacent muscles, which then develops to “lower back pain” .

The spine – most important contributor in our body to a good posture – has an S curved appearance starting from the neck to the tailbone. Any muscle imbalance affects these curves and results in musculo-skeletal problems.

6 steps to ensure good posture –
Chin up and pointing ahead
Keep shoulders relaxed (most of the times, unknowingly, shoulders get tensed especially while driving, typing , cooking etc.)
Pull your abdominal muscles in
Keep your knees soft (avoid locking your knees)
Keep feet shoulder width apart
While sitting, align your head and hips in a straight line

Generally, strengthening the weaker muscles and stretching the tighter muscles is used to minimize imbalances and other problems. However, there can be many underlying reasons for these imbalances too.
Hence , Dosage: As recommended by the exercise doctor !!!!

Body Mass Index ……..What is all the fuss about?

Did you come across the story carried by the newspapers sometime back about models with BMIs less than 18 being banned from modelling ? So what was all the fuss about?

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple numeric measure of a person's "fatness" or "thinness", based on his weight and height.

The mathematical formula is, BMI = (Weight in Kg) / (Height in metres x Height in metres).
Note that generally height is measured in feet or centimetres.

For a layman, it defines categories which say BMI ( 18.5 to 24.5) = Normal Category
BMI ( 25 to 29.5) = Overweight
BMI (30 and above) = Obese ( Grades 1,2,3)
BMI ( < 18.5) = Underweight

Infact a BMI < 17.5 is a sign of Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia,as is becoming increasingly common, especially among the teenaged girls!!!!!
BMI can be used to give a rough idea about the health risks for any person.

Although a very useful tool for health professionals to discuss weight problems more objectively with their patients, it is prone to few misgivings as well.
BMI does not give any idea about the distribution of fat across the body, which is more important to predict health risks. Like for example, higher fat deposits around the waist are a greater health risk than those around the hip, especially in case of ladies.
With the increasing “Gym-Culture”, the emphasis is on fat loss or increasing the muscle mass, which leads to an increase in body wieght. However, although this is a desirable increase in weight, it may increase the BMI value to overweight or even obese categories!!!!!
It does not give any idea about the percentage of fat in our body. Its perfectly possible for a person with a normal BMI to have a very high fat percentage.

However, use it as a general yardstick to motivate yourself in this New Year, to get enrolled in your neighbourhood gym / jogging park / yoga class, or whatever it is that you enjoy among the loads of options available……

Variety is the Spice of Life

You go shopping for clothes, u look for variety. You go to a sweet shop, you savour the variety. The list goes on…. Well, Variety is the name of the game.
So why should it be any different when it comes to health and your choice of exercises to keep fit?

Try these simple options
Increase the speed of walking – You must reach at least half a kilometer ahead than the usual distance in the same time.
Carry a water bottle in your hand (slightly contra-indicated incase you suffer from hypertension)
Invest in a pair of ankle weights (available in 0.5 kg to 3kg range), and tie it around your ankles (permitted for all including those with hypertension)
Wear a jacket with pockets and add heavy objects into its pockets.
If walking on a treadmill, all options can be used, including increasing the incline level of the machine.

For those who prefer Cycling
Invest in a pair of ankle weights (available in 0.5 kg to 3kg range), and tie it around your ankles (permitted for all including those with hypertension).
Chose a climb instead of a flat road.
Most of the exercises, especially those you find prescribed in a Fitness Club setting have Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced options.
For example, take the example of one of the best and most common but very poorly understood exercises – Squats (baithak).
Beginner option would be a simple squat ( lowering your hips towards the floor, till your thighs are parallel to the floor), Intermediate option would entail using dumbbells placed on your shoulder while squatting, while one of the many Advanced options could be to squat with a barbell attached with weight plates.

Pushups / Zor / Dand can also be intensified by performing it keeping your body in an inclined position ( legs resting on a surface above the normal ground level), or adding weights on you.

However, in all cases, caution is the watchword. Don’t try stunts at home.
Research yourself or consult an expert. Try to squeeze in some variety, and find yourself looking forward to your workout !
The 3 Golden principles to get FIT!!!!!!
Excellent results in the first one month of beginning an exercise routine, and diminishing results thereafter…….. Sounds familiar ?
Or exercise freak since years, but with little or no results? So what could be missing ?

You just have 3 simple principles to remember – Overload, Adaptation, Progression !!

It states that to improve any aspect of physical fitness, the intensity of an exercise must be high enough “above the normal” routine for physiological adaptation to occur.
In other words, any exercise should stress your body a little above the usual comfort level. A brisk walk should be just that (and make you feel slightly breathless), not a stroll in the garden!!!!
It is only then, that the body responds positively to overcome the stress, by making it stronger and fitter.
For example, to increase muscle endurance, muscles must work for a longer period of time than they are used to. If this stress is removed or decreased there will be a decrease in that particular component of fitness.

The human body is amazing. The body adapts to any stimulus within 6-10 weeks! So whatever stress you put on your body according to the overload principle is overcome within this time!!!!
Once the body has adapted, you are said to have reached a “Plateau”, whereby the results obtained from your exercise are constant.
Then a different stimulus is required to continue the change and give results.
A classic example is when you begin a walking programme. Initially, weight loss is noticeable, but becomes stagnant after a month or two, despite you being regular and disciplined.
By performing any activity repetitively, the body adapts to the stress and it becomes easier to perform. This explains why exercisers are often sore after starting a new routine, but not so after doing the same exercise for weeks.

This is when the 3rd and most important principle –Progression comes into picture.
Simply put, it means gradually increasing the stress / overload in a calculated, and disciplined manner .

This is the key to get stronger, fitter and healthier and keep getting results out of your workout !!!!So how does one go about it?
Any activity is defined by 3 main parameters – Frequency, Intensity & Time (FIT).

Frequency is the number of times you do the specific activity in a given time period, say a week.
If you are just starting out on a walk, then even 3 days/week will show good results. However, as you get used to this, this number can increase up to 5-6 days/ week.

Intensity can be defined as the amount of work done, or how intense you felt your workout was. There are different ranges and methods to measure this- for example it can be expressed as a percentage of your maximum heart rate (MHR), where MHR = 220 – your actual Age.

Time, as the word suggests is the duration of your workout.
This can range from 20 min to 1 hour. More than an hour of exercise at a stretch is not really advisable.
Infact, recent research shows that a person must get at least 30 min of physical activity daily for general fitness.

Half knowledge is dangerous!!!!!!!! Although FIT is the name of the game, but only one variable or parameter must be changed at a time.
Also gradual and not drastic changes is the advice. Spice up your routine but when in doubt, consult a knowledgeable exercise specialist!!!!!!!!!
Remember the basics, and get fitter!!!!

Warm Up Well In Winters

I’m sure we all know what 5 degree Celsius means!!!!!!
And hats off to all of you, who still get out of the cozy confines of your bed for your early morning walk!!!!!
While, exercising in the morning is a great way to kickstart your day, a few considerations will help a great deal to make the most out of your routine.

Never skip a good warm up.
The side effects of skipping a warmup become evident only at later stages in life, in the form of joint problems, muscle tightness, inflammation etc.
Early morning, your muscles are cold, and sudden movements may cause them to strain.
Moreover, it is very essential to prepare your cardio vascular & cardio-respiratory system (heart & lungs) for the activity soon to be followed.

A good warm up –
Gradually increases your heart rate to atleast 100 beats per minute (bpm) from the Resting Heart Rate (RHR) of 60-80 bpm.
Increases the core body temperature.
Diverts most of the blood circulation to the most active muscles of your body.
Enhances the efficiency of natural lubricants at the joints in our body, in order to prevent sprains and injuries.
Makes the muscles warm and flexible.
Enhances neuro-muscular co-ordination and makes you more alert and receptive.

Proper clothing to ensure proper thermo-regulation :
Dress in layers and wear loose-fitting cotton clothes.
Cover your head (almost 40% of your body heat can escape through the top of your head)
Protect your hands and feet, especially your fingers and toes

Drink plenty of water!!!
The dry winter air has a dehydrating effect on your body. So drink plenty of fluids like water, lemon juice, etc.
Caffeine and tea further cause de-hydration, so avoid too much of it.

Tips for a good warmup-
Generally a good warm up lasts 5-10 min, causing you to sweat lightly by the end of it. However, in winters you may have to extend the warm-up to 10-15 min also.
It should incorporate dynamic movements i.e. lots of movement.
If you plan to jog, start by walking slowly for at least 5-10 min, moving your arms and hands freely and frequently.
Another interesting option is to climb the stairs of your building/house (atleast 4 floors) three or four times before finally getting out.
Other options: Stand straight & lift your knee up or kick your legs up, one at a time, in front and side, Push ups / Zor /Ashtang dand, Skipping etc.

So people, get set, warm up, and then go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!