We are all immortal till we die! Or at least that’s what most of us believe to be true. There is always a tomorrow or the next birth to make up for the current sloppiness. This thought is so ingrained in our society, probably courtesy major religions, except maybe Buddhism. We simply live in denial.
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD), Cancers, Diabetes and Respiratory diseases alone account for more than half of the total deaths today, half of which are premature deaths. The diagnosis given out in hospitals and by the doctors are as a matter of fact only a symptom of today’s poor lifestyle habits: reduced physical activity and poor eating.
These long duration (chronic) diseases slowly kill the patient and also drags the supporting family, that tries to finance these high medical expenditures by household borrowing and sales of assets, towards poverty. Studies have shown that in India there could be an annual loss of US$ 23 billion or 0.7% of GDP. And this is just the beginning.
Our current and next generation might be highly tech savvy, but instead of being an asset to the society and the nation, they’ll end up becoming a mega liability. They’ll start to crumble in their 20-30s, when they are supposed to be the most productive in their professional lives. Sadly, by now majority of efforts will go in fighting the uphill battle. Quality of life will go for a toss.
As manga comic author Natsuki Takaya rightly points out, “it’s all very simple. But maybe because it’s so simple, it’s also hard.”
These diseases are largely preventable, but definitely not by just sitting on your backside. It’s too big a problem to be left alone to doctors and health-care industry to address. Neither is this a problem only to be addressed by individuals alone. It is a societal problem, we all need to pitch in.
Sports and physical activity for life, for all, not only for medals
As Mahatma Gandhi had said, “it is health that is real wealth and not the pieces of gold and silver.” There isn’t too much of a correlation between nations winning medals and fitness, eg. US, Australia or China.
Participation in sports shouldn’t be limited with the goal to win, but to embrace it for life. This needs to start from school, carried on in college and then encouraged in the corporate world.
To maintain good health, 30 to 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous structured and unstructured physical activity per day is prescribed, but that alone is not ample to fix this problem. Physical activity throughout the day is more important.
Start from the kids
Sports and physical activities can no longer be treated as extra-curricular. Sports need to be incorporated into all the subjects being taught in school so that all students are repeatedly exposed to it. Parents and teachers, who the children look up to as role models, need to lead by example.
Corporate Employee Responsibility: Time to walk the talk
Besides breast cancer, heart attacks, obesity and stroke, 10 years of graveyard shifts leads to 6 extra years aging of the brain. After quitting, it takes another 5 years to return to normal. We need our youth to be fit for longer for them to be optimally productive during their peak years. Corporates need to be held responsible for this.
The government needs to enforce the corporates to have a rehabilitation program for such employees so they can have a long working career. By regulation, night shifts should be limited maximum to 3 years for any employee. There need to be mandatory physical fitness assessment every quarter of all employees.
Make our healthcare industry fitter and healthier
“Aerobic exercise is important to keep you alive, but strength training is important to keep you out of the nursing home” - Dr Paul Thompson, Cardiologist.
Medical students and practicing doctors need to be trained in exercise medicine and it’s role in tackling chronic diseases.
Medical students and practicing doctors need to be encouraged to pick up sports and exercises. This way there are more convincing when they talk about it.
Make each medical interaction count by asking, assessing and prescribing exercise and increased physical activity during each consultation.
Discourage sugary fizzy drinks
The Chief Medical Officer of England is of the opinion that early exposure to a high sugar percentage in food can shape future taste. Recently terms like ‘slow poison’ and ‘new tobacco’ are being used for sugar because of the effects it has on health.
Proximity of shops selling fizzy drinks to schools, colleges and hospitals and needs to be very strictly regulated. The sugary beverage companies need to be banned from sponsoring events for children.
Urban designing to encourage active transport
Active transport is the most practical and sustainable way to increase physical activity on a daily basis. More than encouragement and motivation, ease of doing activities are important. The government needs to strictly implement pilot projects in a few areas of all big cities where they develop safe sidewalks and cycling paths that are well integrated with public transport.
The society needs to come together to promote walking, cycling and usage of public transport.
Mass media: Use mass media to raise awareness and change social norms on physical activity.
Social media: Schools, colleges, corporates and public sector needs to promote it using social media.
If it takes a Modi for Indians to understand that cleanliness is good, lets also have him and other thought leaders show the way in this as well. If we, as a society, are looking for a change, we need to be the solution, rather than contribute to the problem at hand. Let’s get moving, now!
Dr Rajat Chauhan is an ultra marathon runner. He specialises in sports and exercise medicine.
He is also associate editor, British Journal of Sports Medicine