Fit perspective

Sheela Nambiar’s book isn’t the last word on the subject; some of the things she says or doesn’t say leave room for healthy discussion. But it is a reasonably comprehensive exploration of why fitness matters, and how the lack of it impacts us. She takes the trouble and the time to explore various facets and factors that go to making up good health, and that’s where this book is different.

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Fit After 40: For a Healthier, Happier, Stronger You by Dr Sheela Nambiar Hachette, 2018     pp 335, ₹399

As a practioner of lifestyle medicine who is also an active obstetrician and gynaecologist, Sheela Nambiar knows women, she knows their bodies. She has the science and the psychology. That’s why the tagline, For a Healthier, Happier, Stronger You, is the key to understanding why she’s not talking merely about strengthening muscle or shedding fat or even building stamina: she addresses body, mind and soul.

Do you hold on to the banisters as you walk up the stairs, she asks. Can you bend down to pick up something and not end up with a catch in your back? Sheela builds a sound case for trying to be in good physical shape as you get older through simple logic, basic questions and solid answers. She helps you make an honest assessment of your physical fitness level and clearly explains the medical reasons for the changes in your body — the only thing that’s hard to negotiate is the very light printing of the text. She takes you through the various ways we gain weight, and why weight training is as important as working on flexibility and balance, among other things, and emphasises how it is never too late to launch into a workable fitness routine.

But she’s not talking only about the physical body. Wellbeing, as she lays out, also takes into consideration an individual’s psychological, emotional and social health, being in tune with the environment, engaging with others, dealing with stress, and thus ageing gracefully. It’s about quality of life. Basically, it’s a self-help book without the sentiment but with ideas. In other words, ‘fitness’ isn’t about ‘fatness’; it is about being sensible. Who can argue when she says, “Never shop when you are hungry. You tend to make bad choices.” Or when she says, “I am sometimes horrified when someone tells me they have no idea how to cook and, more importantly, doesn’t have a basic understanding of food. You are quite literally delegating the responsibility of your health to someone else…”

We lead largely sedentary lives. So, keep moving, says the author. That’s sensible advice. But it’s when she tackles stress that she shines.

She touches upon various aspects of life that are close to our hearts, among them menopause, that awful creature, and offers definite ways of dealing with it. Her best piece of advice is to “find the humour”. She examines various reasons why people eat more than they need to, including social pressure. One of them, she points out and it’s so true, is the buffet. These days, wedding feasts are mostly buffets. Haven’t you seen how people pig out? “It’s a recipe for an overeating disaster,” Sheela cautions. However, I have to point out that the sketches showing stretches and other exercises are not very clear.

We lead largely sedentary lives. So, keep moving, says the author. That’s sensible advice. However, I wonder what all this constant motion will do to the stillness we strive for inside. But it’s when she tackles stress that she shines and I would recommend this book for how she deals with this issue alone.

Fit After 40 is a practical and easy-to-read guidebook that provides a holistic perspective on life. You may not go along with everything she suggests, or even be in a position to do so, but you will certainly be inspired to make some effort towards a healthier lifestyle. You will also get up close and personal with characters such as cortisol, deep glute stretch, brain-derived neurotrophic factor and phasic muscles and actually understand who they are!

Sheela Nambiar is a fitness columnist for Rotary News.

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