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Case Analysis: Common Sins And Fitness

A sensible 360-degree schedule is critical to easing back into physical activity after a gap, writes Rahul S. Verghese

Photo Credit : Sanjay Sakaria

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Pradeep Carvalho’s fitness issues are not uncommon. We recall what we used to do in college with ease, and sometimes get carried away by misplaced enthusiasm or peer pressure. We do not realise that our ‘engine’ has not been serviced and used in a long while and needs some tuning, and in some cases, an overhaul. We need to resume by driving around in the lanes at slow speeds before hitting the expressway.

As we age, we seek safer financial investments with measured monthly SIPs. When we resume a fitness regimen when we are a bit older, we need to do the same, ensure low risks, understand our body, keep engaged with all essential parameters, ease into it gradually, and stay the course.

It is important to be inspired by someone like yourself, to enable you to believe that you too can do the same and get back to playing a sport you used to, in college, and getting fit. That for many of us is a necessary condition to get us off the couch, BUT we need to:

* Assess both our current physical and medical issues
* Check out plans available to resume more rigorous physical activity
* Assess the risk associated with it, go for a complete health check-up
* Research scientific facilities, plans and trainers
* Follow the plan diligently always ensuring communication of ALL issues to the coach, and establish your baseline
* Maintain a log; see how things are shaping up as we listen to our body
* Join a group engaged in similar activities; celebrate each milestone as a win
* Become our own best coach over time. But never start off that way!

We also must stay aware of: Like Pradeep, many of us have not played our college sport or exercised for several years. Many of us who have started exercising say, ‘We are too busy to do so as regularly as required,” and yet become a weekend ‘professional’ sportsperson and wonder why we end up with injury. Worse still, some of us wear the injury as a badge of honour, or pop painkillers and soldier on in the activity, then through the rest of the week at work, and then, return to the same intensity of activity the following weekend. And we wonder why the pain has intensified. Being macho as an adult is not ‘in’; it’s outright stupid!

I started running at the age of 40 and got to a 5 km distance after four months and trained for a marathon six months later, following a schedule like the Bible. I have since run around 53 full marathons but am still a bit nervous and respectful of the distance before each marathon, and ensure I do the basic training in line with my expected outcome and listen to my body. To become a better runner, one has to focus on flexibility, warming up, cooling down, playing other sport or engaging in other activities like swimming and cycling to ensure holistic body fitness; go to the gym for some basic weight training, and while running train for speed, distance and run cross country for balance and coordination. Do these activities in the morning and ensure a sound, deep and restful sleep at night, eat and drink sensibly, and so on; all of this is just to become a better runner.

Running is addictive, and it also becomes your fuel for getting regular and better. The good thing is that it has been researched over the decades over large sample sizes and significant positive data has emerged. No short cuts to getting fitter.

Luckily, in my 15 years of long-distance running, I have had no major injury. I often engage with half and full marathon runners in various marathons and I have come across one or two folks who say: “I have not been able to train much because of my work schedule, but I am keen to run my 1st marathon (42 km) tomorrow — what is the one piece of advice you could give me in 30 seconds.” My response in less than five seconds is: “Don’t run the marathon tomorrow.”

Peer pressure sometimes takes over common sense and, at times, leads to tragic outcomes. Today, we are also armed with enough medical “googledge” to dangerously self medicate, suppress seemingly minor issues, and neither change behaviour nor get checked up once in a while. We treat our cars well; why not our bodies!

Physical activity is very critical for the working adult, as it is a great de-stressor; and all sports, and running in particular, are great de-stressers.

An overall fitness regimen should include something physical with components of flexibility, strength training and the training schedule of the sport or activity, with a warming up and cooling down regime, and then getting proper nourishment and fluids in right quantities — breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper; at the right time: dinner a good three hours before sleep. Eat sensibly and on time. Drink adequate water. No prizes for eating junk or making a habit of eating at odd times.

Rest is the third critical component. A sound deep dreamless sleep is the reward for all above!

People feel they are invincible and life will go on, and the incidence of going for a medical check-up is still very low, and following a training schedule even less, and then looking for a proper qualified trainer, depending on the level of proficiency sought, is even less.

Having been in the corporate world for 25 years in different company cultures and continents, and now organising runs across India and meeting with several villagers, corporates and diplomats and others, I find a huge population in their mid-30s who start running because of ‘health reasons’. Companies also encourage this with group participation in corporate events like an annual run.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Physical activity should be used as a broader preventive drug by companies, and the engagement made as everyday as possible.

We should get into a regular activity, like running, for wellness and fitness and as a preventive for most lifestyle ailments. Stress, heart, blood sugar, asthma, bones, joints, digestion, restful sleep, focus on better nourishment and hydration, flexibility, strength, and overall wellness of mind, body and soul all move in the right direction with something as simple as running. This does not mean running marathons, but running 150 minutes per week or 30 minutes, five days a week; breaking into a sweat, building up your heart rate and giving your lungs a suitable workout.

This is an activity you can do anywhere, anytime of day or year, and requires minimal gear and infrastructure. It’s an activity that can be done by anyone, no matter how old or whatever his or her ‘unfitness’ level.

We should all start gradually, follow a simple training schedule — there are some programmes for walkers and beginner runners at www.runningandliving.com — and start getting to listen to our body. Chart your own progress over time, and get inspired by what you see, and celebrate your wins. Once in a while, set yourself a stretch goal and work hard towards it. See what works for you to get you committed. Run with a friend or a neighbour, run with music, run on a treadmill, or out in nature, run alone, or sign up for an event, run in a group. Different strokes for different folks.

In some US and European companies, privacy policies do not allow the team leader, for instance, to coach his team (member) on a specific issue they may have. Else it would be good to have wellness goals also. But there as anywhere else, it may be good to have frequent employee activities like picnics which include a run or biking with mass participation as opposed to a mass spectating activity. This encourages more people to be physically active on a regular basis in a fun way.

Companies can arrange for a chat with employees by a yoga practitioner, and those pursuing different sports and outdoor activities. It helps light that old fire. Equally important, companies must focus on posture and office ergonomics, basics of the spine and bones. It is important to get up and walk often (5-6 times a day) between work, whether it is for a glass of water or to chat with a colleague down the corridor. It helps stretch the back. Make a point of recognising employees who have achieved a big change via a physical activity — perhaps lost weight, perhaps dropped cholesterol levels dramatically, or overcome diabetes, or are just less stressed out on a daily basis. These serve as more relevant role models and inspiration.

And then build into 2-3 mass participative runs over the year so that fitness and wellness becomes ingrained into life rather than be yet another corporate initiative that has to be followed once in a while.

Just spread the common sense and take rocket science out of the equation, for a happy and enduring team of individuals that stays engaged and healthy and consequently highly charged.

Read Case Study 'Common Sins And Fitness'

Read Case Analysis by Dr Raju K. Parasher


The writer is founder and CEO, Running and Living, and got into skiing and long distance running in his 40s. He switched gears from a 25-year corporate career to inspire others to run and build running into an engaging consumer connect


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