Every human organ seems to have a day of its own. On World Heart Day, I was invited by a cardiologist friend Dr.Jacob Jamesraj of the Madras Medical Mission to address generation next on all that goes with keeping this vital organ beating. My first justifiable poser was: “Why me?” After all, I am slightly overweight and a foodie to boot, I’ve been on medication for hypertension for almost two decades, my lipid levels are high and I hardly exercise. Wouldn’t that make me the most unsuitable candidate to dish out advice? Dr.Jacob was swayed by my “ability to dissect issues” and paint white black and black white, using shades of grey! While that may well be a compliment for my lawyer avatar, it made me feel like a hypocrite. How can I possibly preach what I don’t practise? I’ve been criticising politicians as a tv journalist for as long as I’ve been on BP medication and here I was expected to do the same. But then you don’t say ‘no’ to a Don Bosco schoolmate.
Now why would a hospital ‘celebrate’ World Heart Day? Logically, the greater the prevalence of heart disease, or the fear factor, the better would it be for any hospital’s cash box right? That’s probably what distinguishes a missionary hospital from a corporate hospital. The bottomline here is cure, not profit. The focus is on patients, not shareholders. The catchphrase on any organ day is ‘awareness’. Frankly, I find this term overrated. There is an information overload; enough to confuse the most seasoned health freaks. Is egg yolk high in cholesterol and bad for the heart? Or is the latest finding that it isn’t harmful true? Are statins really necessary? What about diabetic drugs? Or are they just a smokescreen to keep the pharmaceutical giants going? Does cooking in expensive Olive Oil help? Or is it suitable only for those in the mediterranean regions? Are ghee and cashewnuts a banned item for patients with high cholesterol? Is peanut butter really zero cholesterol? There is enough and more confusion as there is awareness. The average Kumar out there knows that if you don’t eat right and lead a sedentary lifestyle, you are inviting trouble. But he doesn’t care. Untill he is affected directly; or someone close to him is. What else would explain people refusing to wear helmets despite the law but franctically installing scratchguards on their mobile phone screens the minute they take them out of the pack?
As I set the clock back to when I was a student, it dawned on me that I had no dearth of exercise. I used to walk to the bus stop, play games before and after school, walk back home from the bus stop or railway station, run errands and stay active. Yes, I consumed as much high calorie snacks as we could afford. My mother used to faithfully treat us to high tea every evening. College was just as hectic, with walks from the class to the several halls within the sprawling Loyola campus and all those debates across the city, even the country. Cut to the year I joined the workforce. This transition from student years to corporate life is always a game changer as much as it is a veritable danger zone. It was a triple whammy. The quantity of junk food multiplied. Feeding time at the zoo was always at irregular hours. And in place of exercise, there was that big ‘S’ word – Stress. Working hours or off days or leave were never written in stone and hinged on the vagaries of news developments. Is it any wonder that the perks of corporate life include hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes? Or that twenty five year olds are dying of heart attacks?
We are a society of contradictions. We either secretly yearn to fit into size zero or flaunt a six pack or at least stay in shape. Yet we always consider a chubby baby to be healthy. We are aware that food can be poison but we eat out at least once a week, gorge on deep fried snacks, ignoring the serious health hazards of re-heated oil, sit at home and order large pizzas, insist on butter with our popcorn and rich cold coffee or colas to wash it down. Why go that far? What do our school and college canteens sell? Burgers, samosas, milk shakes, colas, canned juices, deep fried savouries, sweets. A few years ago, the Consumers Association of India conducted a novel experiment called the ‘Lunch Box Challenge’. It stacked up healthy food like salads, sprouts, tender coconut water, vegetable rolls, sandwiches with healthy filling and nuts on one side and the sinful pizzas, pasta, biriyani, chips on the other. A majority of students went for the high calorie items. Even hospital canteens serve samosas, chips and creamy coffee. In a leading corporate hospital headquartered in the North, I once noticed that the in-house Coffee Shop which was selling chocolate truffle, samosas and cappuccino was overlooking the interventional cardiologist’s consultation room. I texted the Chairman if this was a business promotion initiative!
Five and a half years ago, I had made a vow to give up chocolate for life. As a chocoholic it was unthinkable but I did this for my twin angels when they were born. But then ‘diet’ is not about deprivation but about moderation. I do believe that one can still enjoy sinful items like pizzas, say once a month, on a ‘cheat day’ and by sharing it with friends. So you may eat a small portion instead of wolfing down the whole dish. Today it is fashionable to be a teetotaller and non smoker because good health is the most emphatic fashion statement.
As for exercise, there are always excuses. A common escape line is: “if I run I will injure my knees.” When I bounced this off a doctor friend Kannan Pugazhendi on a live show, he quipped: “it may be better to get arthritis than a heart attack!” Then comes the old line: “Obesity is hereditary. It runs in the family.” Another doctor friend Manoj Beno retorted: “The problem is that no one runs in the family.” Working out need not be a painful ritual but can be woven into our routine. Simple habits like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking to the shop instead of ordering home delivery will take you closer to the recommended ten thousand steps a day.
A good physique is the best performing asset you can ever have. You cannot buy it. You cannot inherit it. You cannot borrow it. You cannot steal it. You can only work on it and maintain it. Take that to heart.