Summer can mean different things to different folks. For many, it is a time of psychological retirement, years before we can actually retire. As we get older, the human body, like any machine, goes through a lot of wear
and tear.

In the ‘assembly line’ life of today, have you given yourself the chance to enjoy the fruits of your labour in retirement? What are your best memories of summer? What are your expectations from future summers? This summer, as you unwind and chill, take a good look at yourself and question yourself about the quality of your future life.

It’s important to explain why an active and healthy lifestyle is heavily encouraged. Does it guarantee a longer lifespan? Maybe not. But getting fitter is a rewarding journey in itself and I can definitely guarantee that it adds to the quality of one’s time on earth, even if not its duration.

Life expectancy at this moment is higher than it ever was in human history. The chances of dying from war, famine, infectious diseases and even death at the hands of another human have never been lower.

Rowe and Kahn were the pioneers in establishing the three point concept of successful ageing — in 2005, a 4th concept was added to the list following a discussion by successful ageing experts:

Engage in an active life
Minimise disease risk and disability
Maximise mental and physical capabilities
Maximise positive spirituality

They also recognized that successful ageing had two main components — the intrinsic or genetic component and the extrinsic or lifestyle component. The old ‘Nature versus Nurture’ debate plays a part in successful ageing as well; our genetic makeup is not one which we can change. We can think of it as a game of Poker; even if we lose the pot with a pair of Aces, we can win it with a great bluff. It’s not the cards you are dealt; it is how you play the game.

Researchers have presented over 80 unique definitions of successful ageing, with some estimating that a mere 1% of people achieve it successfully. It is important to note that researchers have also estimated that almost 90% of people can achieve it. Today, many people in their 20s and 30s present with lifestyle disorders like diabetes, stress and anxiety, apart from aches and pains which the previous generation did not have to deal with till they were over 50. This is largely because we haven’t understood the art of ageing well.

Successful ageing starts as early as childhood. It is as children that we develop habits and work ethics and learn to exercise and eat well. Ageing is a process and not a result. It’s never too late to start developing good habits and maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. The key hurdles we face today in the maintenance of good health are work-related stress and the habits we develop to cope with them.

In India the concept of work-life balance is yet to sink in. Most employers don’t see the well-being of their workforce as very important. Working shorter hours and on fewer days in a week has actually shown to improve productivity in employees. Scandinavian countries are actually considering 4-day work weeks. Unfortunately, we cannot expect such changes in our country in the foreseeable future. So instead, here are a few simple steps that would contribute to an active and healthy lifestyle.

Firstly, get a minimum of 8hours of quality sleep. This can be achieved by stopping exposure to devices with screens at least 2hours before bedtime. The blue light emanating from these handheld devices confuse the pineal gland in the brain and throw off your biological clock. This causes release of stress hormones which worsens the situation and leads to a vicious cycle.

Secondly, hydrate well. Drink plenty of plain water. In a tropical country like India, 8-10 glasses of water a day is mandatory. The best indicator of your state of hydration is the colour of urine. The clearer the urine, the better. Avoid caffeinated drinks; caffeine is a diuretic and causes one to produce more urine and will result
in dehydration.

Thirdly, designate a fixed part of the day for physical activity. It can be an hour in the morning or evening. Take the stairs whenever you can. Try to avoid hailing a taxi or driving distances that you can walk if you are tried. There are numerous activity trackers available in the market. Although the accuracy of these cannot be guaranteed, their positive effect as a tool for motivation cannot
be underestimated.

Fourthly, diet is very important. You are what you eat. You can never compensate a bad diet. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Our ancestors were hunters and gatherers. An empty stomach in the morning would force our body into an anabolic state, meaning it would start conserving energy for the day. This often leads to unhealthy weight gain.

Meditate, pray, practice yoga or any technique that will allow you to consciously control your breathing. This has a good effect on your autonomous nervous system and will reduce stress levels significantly. The spiritual component of life and its effect on your well-being is immense, and the magnitude of the positive effects is tough to estimate.

If you feel you need help in kicking things off, there are exercise medicine physicians like myself and many allied professionals like nutritionists and athletic trainers who can guide you to get on track and live the full life you deserve.

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