Mahatma Gandhi was healthy but underweight, show health records
For a man who refused modern medicine to treat his chronic high blood pressure, Mahatma Gandhi was unbelievably healthy because of his simple diet and active lifestyle, according to his health records in a collectors’ edition book, Gandhi and Health @150, released on Monday by the Indian Journal of Medical Research (IJMR) as part of his 150th birth anniversary celebrations.
Gandhi walked around 18 km, or 22,500 steps, every day for over 40 years, and covered a total of 79,000km for his campaigns between 1913 and 1948. “This is equivalent to walking around the Earth twice,” the journal said. The World Health Organisation recommends walking 8,000-10,000 steps a day to stay healthy.
“The book aims to look at the Gandhian philosophy of health care and learn from his personal life. He led a disciplined life and followed a routine that included daily exercise. He also promoted a vegetarian diet, which is known to be good for health, and stayed away from tobacco or alcohol. We should follow in his footsteps,” said Dr Balram Bhargava, director general of ICMR.
At the age of 70, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi weighed 46.7 kg. He was 5-feet-5-inches tall, which means he had a body mass index (BMI) of 17.1, which falls in the underweight category. BMI is an indicator of healthy weight and is calculated by dividing the weight of a person in kilograms by the square of their height in metres.
Gandhi’s peak blood pressure, recorded on February 19, 1940, was 220/110, against a healthy blood pressure of under 120/80. To manage his blood pressure, he applied mud poultice on his abdomen every day and ate garlic and Sarpgandha (Indian snakeroot), which is an undershrub flower found in sub-Himalayan region.
“The high blood pressure did cause some changes to his cardiovascular health but his overall heart health was good,” said Dr Bhargava, who is a cardiologist by training.
Gandhi’s electrocardiography and oscillograph reports showed that there was diminished arterial elasticity and slight degeneration and inflammation of heart muscles, which was normal for his age.
Between 1918 and 1945, he suffered three bouts of malaria, two of dysentery, and had gastric flu and influenza once.
Acute amoebic dysentery almost killed him in 1918, but Gandhi refused to be treated by modern medicines. He believed dysentery could be cured by abstaining from food. He refused injections and doctors finally convinced him to take an enema, in which they mixed emetine hydrochloride, an anti-protozoal drug.
Mahatma Gandhi, who was born on October 2 1869, was operated for piles in 1919 and appendicitis in 1924. He also developed pleurisy — an inflammation of the tissue on the inner side of the lungs — during his visit to London during World War I.
The journal also talks about Gandhi’s emphasis on sanitation and nutrition to improve population health, and a “village first” approach to mobilise community action.
“Just like Gandhi ji, we at WHO believe that health is multisectoral and needs to focus not just on health care delivery but also on sanitation, water, and nutrition. India is making an effort through programmes, such as the Swacch Bharat mission,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, WHO South-East Asia.
“We need to interpret the teachings of Gandhi in today’s context. There is a need to look at climate change and sustainability and how it is and will affect our health. In our endeavour to evolve policies, strategies and missions for the future, his teachings should become the guiding light,” said Prof K VijayRaghavan, principal scientific adviser to the government of India.