While the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle are already well-known, the past couple of years have exacerbated the problem.
It was never the food that was bad and created disease. It’s a sedentary lifestyle, poor quality oils, salts, contamination of ingredients and overeating—that has given our nutritious cuisine a bad name.”
A health bulletin popup on my mobile phone one fine morning made me notice the word ‘sedentary’ and I wondered how difficult it is to be consistent in a fitness routine. Blame the desk-bound job, overuse of mobile phones, pandemic stress, or constant work from home (WFH), there’s no end to one’s thoughts of how to shed those extra kilos post-lockdown. We can leave aside the New Year’s resolution that we all make and forget.
While all this was doing the rounds in my head, a 10-minute chance meeting with a friend in a café, who lost 20 kilos in the last six months, made me realise that major lifestyle change is the need of the hour. How did she achieve it? She kept up with her two-hour workout regime (yoga and cardio) during WFH, played badminton, joined boxing, and managed her diet with intermittent fasting.
The last two years of the pandemic, and as we enter the third, have led us to an inactive lifestyle, making most of us obese and lethargic, age faster and prone to chronic diseases in the process. Dr Sanjay Verma, additional director, minimal access, bariatric and GI surgery, Fortis Escorts, Okhla, Delhi, calls this a silent epidemic.
He says, “Unhealthy lifestyle such as increased consumption of fast food and lack of physical activity has contributed to the silent epidemic. Obesity has a direct correlation with hypertension, diabetes, and heart attacks in addition to osteoarthritis and depression, and poses a significant burden to healthcare. One must undertake at least 30 minutes of exercise daily to counteract the effects of obesity.”
Watch your lifestyle
While we can go on blaming the pandemic for restricting our movement outdoors and the resultant limitations to workouts, nothing can change the fact that a sedentary lifestyle is a deterrent to good health in every way possible—whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional.
Erratic meal timings, binge-watching of shows and stretching desktop routines for endless hours made Mumbai-based Reema Singh (name changed on request) change her life goals. For Singh, health and fitness were always a priority. But the pandemic induced lockdown in 2020 and WFH made her gain an additional 15 kilos from her original 80. As a result, climbing stairs and household chores, and running around a four-year-old toddler became a strenuous task.
“I would get tired during the day. I had difficulty in breathing and incessant knee pains after my dinner walks. Waking up in the morning was an ordeal and with all this, I felt weak, saw signs of aging and wrinkles on my skin and face,” says the 30-year-old primary school teacher.
According to Luke Coutinho, a holistic lifestyle coach (integrative and lifestyle medicine), we lose what we do not use. “This holds true for the several muscles a simple workout utilises. Besides lack of sleep, high consumption of refined food, smoking and drinking, lack of exercise is one of the reasons behind accelerated ageing,” he says.
Coutinho shares how a sedentary lifestyle can lead to an increased fat percentage and loss of muscle, hardened arteries, lack of circulation to organs, increased viscosity of blood, loss of flexibility, slow reflexes, loss of balance and muscle coordination.
“Physical activity is known to turn on certain longevity genes. This is noteworthy as the process of ageing works at a genetic level. No number of anti-ageing treatments, surgical procedures, or pills can ever help if the body isn’t given the basics of life and health. The good news is that you don’t have to run a marathon or sweat buckets in the gym to reap the anti-ageing benefits of exercise. Even modest physical activities like daily walking and simple bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, or yoga are enough as long as you do them consistently,” he says.
With focus on the intake of nutrients, author and nutritionist Kavita Devgan explains how multiple fad diets or giving up specific foods, cutting off entire food groups, fasting severely or undertaking detox spas or myriad supplements do not do the one thing that is most important —a clear focus on correcting the nutritional imbalances that have become deep set in the body. “Certain nutrients are imperative to ensure that you stay at your optimum weight. Most people know about the importance of vitamin D, potassium, iron, and calcium for weight loss, it is also important to know about some crucial nutrients that play a vital role in the process. Like getting enough sunlight (20–30 minutes exposure to sun daily) as the body makes Vitamin D on its own when our skin is exposed to sunlight. Salmon, sardines, and eggs (the yolk) deliver some vitamin D,” she lists in her book The Don’t Diet Plan.
“Overweight people are usually found to be deficient in vitamin D. That’s because this vitamin works on multiple levels in the body to keep our weight in check,” she adds.
As children and adolescents became less physically active with adoption of unhealthy food habits, India saw obesity rise among the 5-19 years age group, as per the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS). The number of overweight children increased from 2.1 % in NFHS-4 to 3.4 % in this year’s NFHS-5.
Lifestyle choices for kids need special attention—excluding sugar and restricting the use of refined white flour, for instance. Lack of physical activity is another concern. Footwear brand Plaeto, with a focus on foot-health for growing kids, designs shoes to protect feet, bones, and muscles. Ravi Kallayil, founder and CEO of Plateo and former head of ideation at Nike, says as children slowly return to schools and playgrounds, there’s a need for a conducive environment to promote physical activity. “During an extensive foot morphology research in India, we found that 30% of kids were wearing the wrong shoe size as the foot was measured incorrectly. This held them back from playing freely or the much-needed playtime,” he says.
Similarly, obesity among adults increased. The percentage of overweight women rose from 20.6 % to 24 % while in men the number increased from 18.9 % to 22.9 %, according to the NFHS-5. In a recent Assocham webinar on ‘Building Immunity’, Anil Rajput, chairman of Assocham CSR Council, said building immunity has been a trending topic but the immune system requires balance and harmony to be effective.
“With India having 26.31% of its population in the age group of up to 14 years, it is imperative to inculcate a healthy way of living among children. Implementation of health education programmes for students to educate them on nutrition, hygiene and having a healthy lifestyle is the need of the hour,” he added.
The pandemic brought attention and focus to the importance of health and wellness. A joint study by Euromonitor International and PepsiCo India through its brand Quaker found that nutrition choices of urban Indian consumers in 2021 changed during Covid-19. While over 70% urban millennials felt a lack of energy, 49% urban consumers ate late breakfast and 62% ate late dinner due to increased household chores. Up to 71% urban consumers were concerned about stress/anxiety and overall health and nearly 60% millennials started yoga practice and walking/running during the Covid-19 pandemic.
An interesting insight from consumer electronics and fitness brand Fitbit revealed how people embraced new activities to manage the new normal in the last two years of the pandemic. The research revealed that across APAC countries including India, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, The Philippines and Singapore, stress-reducing activities like meditation and yoga gained popularity.
According to the IDF Diabetes Atlas 10th edition report, there is a continued global increase in diabetes prevalence, confirming chronic disease as a significant global challenge to the health and well-being of individuals. Statistics show the high prevalence of diabetes around the world in 2021—537 million adults (20-79 years) are living with the metabolic disease. This number is predicted to rise to 643 million by 2030 and 783 million by 2045. About three in four adults with diabetes live in low- and middle-income countries. Diabetes is responsible for 6.7 million deaths in 2021—one every five seconds. Diabetes caused at least $966 billion dollars in health expenditure—a 316% increase over the last 15 years.
“Sedentary life and obesity are causative factors of diabetes. It increases heart rate, kidney diseases and risk of certain cancers, high blood pressure and other body-related issues. So, one has to take care of BMI (body mass index) as the rise in body fat can increase the risk of metabolic diseases,” says Dr Altamash Shaikh, consultant endocrinologist, diabetologist and metabolic super specialist at Masina Hospital, Mumbai.
Sedentary lifestyle or physical inactivity is also associated with insufficient sleep. Proper sleep can balance metabolism and other functions of the body; improper sleep can lead to a state of distress and weakness, even weight loss and sterility. Complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and millets as well as sleep-inducing amino acids like tryptophan in foods such as hummus, brown rice, nuts, high-fat yogurt, or salmon can help.
While Indians slept the least among key APAC markets in 2019 and 2020, the lockdown and following limited restrictions resulted in Indians sleeping 18 minutes more between March and August 2020 vis-à-vis the same period in 2019.
There is a fascinating link between sleep and entrepreneurship. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is perhaps the most famous of sleep-deprived professionals, who once told The New York Times that “it is often a choice of no sleep or Ambien.” News reports suggest Walt Disney, Richard Branson, and actor Jim Carrey as among those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The University of Central Florida study also suggests that famous entrepreneurs may have always had issues sleeping. It was ADHD-like tendencies that drove them to entrepreneurial behaviour, helping them to launch their companies.“We’re not advocating depriving yourself of sleep to get ahead,” Jeff Gish, a professor of business at the University of Central Florida and co-author of the paper, said in a press release about the study, adding: “We’re saying that ADHD-like tendencies can be a benefit, rather than a hindrance in spurring ventures.”
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