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 Diet & Nutrition

May 2010
Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be Bad
Prof Adrian Kennedy
It is well known that in order to remain healthy, one needs to eat the right foods in the right quantities, do some daily exercises, and manage stress and tensions. But as the adage goes, too much of a good thing, can be bad.

The major problem in relation to food in our present times is overabundance, especially in prosperous countries and certainly in urban towns and cities. The result is obesity. Even while being defined as a disease in itself, obesity also is the cause of a whole host of ailments including hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, heart problems, cancers, depression and so on.

Since the cause of obesity is excess food intake, the primary solution is to obviously diet and reduce calorie intake. Additional solutions include utilising excess calories by exercising.

The logic is perfect, only if we stick with the basics. Reduce calorie intake (by say, in a general way, not eating dinner and therefore reducing one meal and thereby reducing 500 calories intake per day). Add to that, exercising one hour daily (thereby burning 500 calories of energy). This basic formula ensures a loss of 1000 calories a day. Since 7000 calories make one kg of fat, our weight loss per month is a guaranteed two to three kgs!

But no, we rarely stick to the basics! Our dieticians have gotten commercialised and now dieting is a Rs. 1000 crore industry of dubious dieting methods. We have the Atkins’ High Protein diet, the High Glycemic Index Low Carbohydrate diet, the Low Fat diet, the GM diet and so on and so forth. Most of these diets, feed on gullible weight loss desperados. Even while they may result in temporary weight loss, they also, by virtue of not enforcing a balanced diet, ruin health. The result – anorexia, bulimia, osteoporosis, etc.

Healthy Dieting
A reduction of not more than 500 calories per day beyond normal intake would be counted healthy, and nothing less than 1000 calories total intake per day (there go out the crash diets).

Eat a balanced diet of proteins and carbohydrates and ensure that fruits, vegetables and dairy foods are eaten daily. Add to this, one hour of moderate exercise like walking and free hand joint movements.

Exercising every day is good for health. But, as in all things, moderation is better than excess exercise. Exercising intensely is the prerogative of professional sportsmen – and even while it will deliver the results of success, fame and unlimited wealth, most often, health takes a beating in later years. Classic examples include boxing champion Mohammad Ali affected with Parkinson’s, Abebi Bekila, the marathon runner who was paralysed, and Diego Maradonna, who is drug dependant. And for the hundreds of lesser-known international sportspersons, the result of excess exercise is dementia (from boxing), spinal dysfunction (due to weight lifting), knee problems (in football), tennis elbow (tennis), shoulder problems (cricket), sexual problems (cycling), etc.

Healthy Exercise
Exercise activity need not exceed 45 mins to one hour daily. Exercising more than this will result in injury! Exercise may be done six days a week and must not be done when ill or tired or in extreme climates. Exercise must ideally be done socially and in a group. This will ensure support in cases of injury and emergency. Do a warm up prior to starting exercise and cool down thereafter.

Games like football, cricket, tennis, badminton and so on are only good for youngsters and older persons who are fit.

Stamina: Walk briskly or jog slowly, with a heart rate of not more than 120-140 beats a minute (swimming and cycling are also good, if you know how).

Strength building: Gym exercises with fixed weights machines are best. Six to 10 repetitions of two to three sets of each exercise is good enough.

Mobility and flexibility: Yoga is excellent, so are free hand exercises for each body joint.

It is not commonly known that there is good stress. Stress is the reaction of the body to a demand. This results in the body’s various systems being geared up to a higher level of functioning to meet the external demand or threat. The heart beats faster, one breathes quicker, the brain and eyes get sharper, and all in all, the person becomes more efficient in a mental, physical and psychological way. These are the beneficial and good effects of stress. Once the stressor is overcome, the body gets back to a rested or normal state.

Now what happens if we have stresses everyday or are not able to overcome an earlier stressor? Then the body remains in a hyper elevated state, which finally leads to the accumulation of adrenaline and other toxins in the body, resulting in body breakdown. This psychosomatic (body-mind) breakdown results in hypertension, rapid heart rate, respiratory dysfunction, headache, muscle pain and other ailments. Accumulation and prolonging of stress is thus bad for the body.

What Causes Stress?
Almost anything from work problems, home problems, health problems, etc, but most often, it is our personality that causes strees.

Our drive, ambition, competitiveness, or desire to be better than the next person, to earn more and to have the best home, or car etc. amongst our social group... this is known as a Type A stress-prone personality. The sad news is that everyone from our parents, teachers, bosses and spouses want us to be this way - they see this as the way to success.

8 Ways to Manage Stress
So how does one achieve success and yet not pay a price for it? We do this by managing stress, such that it is effective and not debilitating and destructive.
  • Be realistic: Know what you can do.
  • Be prepared: Do your background work and planning.
  • Be qualified: Make sure that the job required of you is within your area of expertise.
  • Be a team player: Many hands make labour light; many heads are better than one.
  • Seek help and advice from specialists: If legal from a lawyer, if medical from a doctor, if financial from an accountant and so on.
  • Manage stress physically: Exercise every day.
  • Manage stress mentally: Through meditation and prayers.
  • Manage stress physiologically: Have enough sleep, rest and relaxation every day.
Moderate Exercise
  • Is enjoyable
  • Burns body fat
  • Strengthens the heart
  • Strengthens muscles
  • Reduces hunger
  • Strengthens immunity
  • Increases health
  • Increases lifespan
Intese Exercise
  • Is stressful
  • Utilises glycogen
  • Stresses the heart
  • Stretches muscles
  • Increases hunger
  • Weakens immunity
  • Increases fitness
  • Reduces lifespan
Prof Adrian Kennedy is Managing Director, Wellness Rx, International guru on health, wellness and lifestyle medicine and guest faculty for Harvard Medical School, USA

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