A 43-year-old steps into Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s clinic. He is slightly overweight and low on energy. The wonderful thing about Dr Chatterjee is, he doesn’t just prescribe some vitamins and send you on your way. He cares, so he listens, and draws the person out. And they work on the solution together. This person seems inclined to doing step-ups as an exercise. ‘Shall I do it for 40 minutes, three times a week?’ he asks. The good doctor says, ‘Yes, you think you could do it?’ ‘Sure,’ says the man, appearing quite charged. ‘Okay, go ahead. And see me again after three weeks,’ says the doctor.
Three weeks later, the patient returns. Slouching, still tired, he sheepishly says he has not been doing the step-ups — no time, so busy, the gym is expensive and so far away… That new slouch to his shoulders is because he now feels like a failure. Dr Chatterjee realises the 40-minute regime appears overwhelming. So, he teaches him two exercises, each to be done for five minutes, twice a week, at home. The man is surprised, a bit skeptical. Would 10 minutes a week be enough? But he is game.
A month later, he is back. He has a smile on his face, there’s a confident air about him, his posture is erect. Guess what? He has been doing those exercises daily, yes, every day, before dinner. ‘I said 10 minutes a week. He is doing 70 minutes a week!’ says the happy doctor.
This UK-based doctor has, indeed, found the solution. Fitness need not be a drag. Set the time bar low. If it’s 10 minutes, it feels doable and we do it, if it’s half hour, it’s overwhelming so we don’t. I learnt this principle at a young age. My sister was jittery about her finals in home science. My dad took down key points from her voluminous text books and distilled the lessons into 10 pages. Taking heart, my sister studied them like they were scriptures. She sailed through her exams, she topped her class! When you make it short, you get the essence, you understand, you do what it takes. And it’s sustainable.
5-minute kitchen workouts
Dr Chatterjee recommends some simple, effective exercises in his book, The 4-Pillar Plan. They’re known as ‘5-minute kitchen workouts.’ They are all done on the kitchen counter-top or wall:
Squats: Stand facing the kitchen counter. Holding on to it with both hands, squat as low as you can go, and rise again.
Heel raise: Stand. Raise your heels off the floor. Lower them.
Press-ups: Stand, arms straight out, palms against wall. Move chest to wall, bending elbows and raise your heels as you do. Return.
Arms strengtheners: Stand with back to kitchen counter, hands holding it. Go down, back straight, allowing arms to take your weight. Rise.
Lunges: Stand sideways to kitchen counter, holding it with right hand. Move right leg forward and lunge with left leg, keeping torso upright. Hold with left hand, move left leg forward and lunge with right leg.
Do two reps of each exercise every day. It’s exhilarating! Go for them. As Dr Chatterjee says, ‘Small things done regularly add up.’
The 12-hour eating window
The doctor also recommends TRE — time restricted eating which ‘has profoundly powerful effects,’ such as, ousting diabetes and excess fat. He suggests a 12-hour eating window: you eat only from, say, 8am to 8pm. And you don’t eat from 8pm to 8am. That is, you don’t eat for 12 hours of the 24 hours. The principle of TRE: In those 12 non-eating hours, the liver does not release glucose into the bloodstream but uses it to repair cells. Result: the blood-sugar level is controlled. In these fasting hours, it also secretes enzymes that break down cholesterol into acids which burn fat. Result: weight loss. This process is called autophagy — a ‘housekeeping’ process of the body.
I’m comfortable with a six-hour eating-window from 12 noon to 6pm — morning coffee at 7am, lunch at 12, coffee at 4pm, dinner at 6pm. It means, I don’t eat 18 hours of 24 hours. I suggest you find your window and stick to it. A clarification: Tea/coffee without sugar, and water in the fasting 12 hours are fine, but no sweet drinks and no food. Other benefits of TRE: it lowers inflammation, supports digestion, aids elimination and promotes sleep.
However, I still opt for low-fat meals with sensible portions of:
Carbohydrates containing soluble fibre — brown rice, oats, sweet potatoes. Gastroenterologist Dr Will Bulsiewicz says fibre makes antibiotics more effective, cleanses our system and reduces the risk of dementia at an older age.
Protein from whole pulses — moong, red and white beans and masoor. They help regulate blood sugar balance and energy.
Fermented food — mainly yoghurt. It helps the gut balance itself, supports digestion, reduces inflammation, lowers high blood pressure, benefits the heart by increasing HDL, the good cholesterol, say medical researchers.
Vegetables can be a hot pot of carrots, beetroots, tomatoes, cauliflowers, peas, onions, French beans with garlic, ginger, salt, herbs, sauces. Roasted, spiced okra is a great dish too. All these have a host of vitamins and can be had every day.
If your cut-off eating point is 8pm, you have two fun-time hours to spend with your family, before turning in at 10 pm. Sleep is an important lifestyle factor as it is a fantastic stress-buster. A lovely way to serenade sleep and the sunset is quietly sharing all the wonderful things about our day. The mind and brain love such narratives. The subconscious laps them up and either promotes sound sleep or causes pleasant dreams. In sharing, include every happy detail: what made you smile, laugh, something beautiful that caught your eye, something graceful and sensitive in another’s behaviour, productive things you did like updates, paying bills, completing a project…. It’s heartwarming to dwell on compliments and see them as blessings; or recounting your meeting your siblings. Not only do you sleep well, the mind hums with quiet joy the next day.
One day equals one life
It’s important to understand that one day is equal to one life. This helps us build our life around a good day, every day. Mornings are indispensable for starting anew. They’re a great time to watch the trees and plants lending their stillness to the world while the ants and sparrows keep the world running with their activities and the birds sing and fly to hold the world in happy harmony. We could sway to any of these living melodies in us through practices that resonate with us — meditate, write, walk, run, sing, paint and breathe.
Finally three take-away tips:
* Refuse to get distracted. Distracted people unsettle themselves all the time, focused people remain stable and serene. Do one activity at a time with full attention as if there is nothing else to do or think about.
* Follow simple little daily routines. They can be our purpose. A purpose makes life meaningful and it includes chores such as doing laundry, taking out the garbage, etc.
* Treasure the people who mean the world to you. Connect. Listen. Accept. That’s how we weave love into a good life and make it joyful.
The writers are authors of Fitness for Life and Simply Spiritual – You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme