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Fitness for starters

With 80 per cent of Indians either malnourished or overweight, the sight of two sprightly seven-year-old gym enthusiasts in their pink leotards and Barbie totes made my day, writes Sanchita Sharma.

health and fitness Updated: Jun 08, 2008 02:01 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
pink leotards

With 80 per cent of Indians either malnourished or overweight, the sight of two sprightly seven-year-old gym enthusiasts in their pink leotards and Barbie totes made my day. “Gym is fun,” I ventured. “It makes you fit and flexible.” “We know. I want to grow up to be a cheerleader,” said one of them. “We go to gym class to get good a figure,” said the other. Right. So it wasn’t just men watching IPL cheerleaders!

Though surprised that their obsession about their weight and shape started so early, I was relieved that they had at least got a part of the message right – that exercise is the only way to stay in shape. Most people are still too lazy to get on their feet and prefer dieting that either drastically cuts back calorific intake or excludes essential nutrition sources. A few years on, almost all chronic dieters end up with several nutritional deficiencies and health problems, from osteoporosis to wrinkly skin and falling hair.

The quickest way to lose weight and keep it off is by eating high-fibre, low-sugar foods and exercising more. Of course, it is easier said than done. Every day, situations crop up that make it difficult for us to eat healthy or exercise at all. The way around it is to choose options that help you shed flab and keep it off even if you stray occasionally off the healthy track.

Dieting alone helps you lose a few kilograms initially, but some aerobic exercises such as walking and strength training is essential to keep off the weight that was shed. To lose one kilogram of Adipose tissue (fat), you have to burn 7,700 calories. To lose one kilogram in a week through diet control alone, you would have to be on a diet of vegetables and yoghurt only (the recommended intake for sedentary women is 1,500 calories a day; it’s 1,800 for sedentary men). Combining diet control with exercise, on the other hand, pushes up the metabolic rate through the day and helps the body burn the calories more efficiently. This is because muscles are metabolically more active than fat tissues, and the increasing lean muscle pushes up the overall metabolic rate even when you are not exercising.

An effective exercise programme should combine strength training (free weights such as dumb-bells, free-hand workouts, weight machines and calisthenics like push-ups and sit-ups that use your own body weight as a resistance force) to build muscle mass with some aerobic exercises such as walking or running.

To burn fat effectively, one should exercise, walk or run for about 30 minutes because the heart rate needs to stay increased for at least 20 minutes for a person to begin getting heart-protective benefits. Beginners should start with 35 minutes of low-intensity aerobics (walking, step aerobics) three times a week and should gradually increase it to 40 minutes, four to five times a week.

Yoga and other stretching exercises increase flexibility and lead to some weight loss, but the rate of weight loss is only a fraction of what can be achieved by combining aerobics and strength-training.

The best way to start is by setting a realistic goal such as losing two kilograms a month, cutting back on sugar, and exercising for 30-40 minutes three times a week. Don’t over do it. You should stop exercising the moment you start panting hard and have any difficulty in talking. Experts believe that staying fit is about knowing when to start and when to stop, be it eating or exercising.