“You want me to do what?!” It was with these words and a look of absolute horror on her round face that my twelve year old cousin declined my offer to go on an evening walk. “We’re going to be dripping in sweat… Ewww!”
The disgust didn’t notch down even an iota when I reminded her about the fact that the tree lined, huge concrete buildings hugging street that she lived in hardly got any sun.
I don’t know what it is about people today. The glossy magazines that adorn book shelves assure me that Indians, on the whole, are getting more health conscious, so why is this bit of information not mirrored on the streets? Oh sure! There’s the pretty, slim and fabulously trendy college girl and her equally cute and dimpled boy friend. But are they fit and healthy?
I come from a small city or an overgrown town, if you prefer, where the pollution levels are very low in comparison to Pune, where I now study. Every day in the mornings, as I walk to class, my eyes burn because of the smokiness that seems to blot out the sun like a mosquito net. I marvel at the fact that the cities, in general, do not have too many wide open spaces for people to frequent when they want a break or for children to play in. Our very definition of health has taken on a completely unhealthy hue due to size-zero fixations and virtual playing fields. Health is not about how skinny you are; it isn’t about bulging muscles but about a state of being where one is mentally and physically fit and above all, happy.
In today’s day and age, with the competition being the way it is, it gets difficult to devote time to what is good for you. A pay rise/promotion sends the stress levels soaring. The balanced meals are replaced by fast food. The walk in the park gets substituted with an evening in front of the telly and maybe a stiff whiskey. Parties till late in the night show up around your eyes in the form of dark circles. Is it any wonder that so many young adults are increasingly falling prey to physiological and psychological disorders like the rising obesity rates, migraines and paranoia?
All of a sudden, a slew of gyms with night work-out hours have cropped up everywhere, to cater to the high-flying young executives. Cycling and walking have been replaced by air-conditioned cars and the internet is the new obsession instead of drawing in a breath of fresh air. They arrange conferences with friends over the phones and body movement seems to have been completely suspended until they enter the air-conditioned gym to supposedly work out their stress. But even this ends up being a place to meet, greet and socialize.
The children are fed into this “system” where there is a constant rush to get a lot done in very short time, right from the moment they get to higher secondary classes. School, curricular activities and tuitions after school barely leave them with enough time to breathe, let alone get a decent meal in edgewise. At the end of the day, they are too tired to move. Parents’ too don’t take a different view of things, not realising that lack of physical activity is actually more dangerous than obesity.
The environment today has become a very important medium of hyping the unhealthy lifestyle that we, as a generation, seem to follow. We are constantly bombarded by advertisements in newspapers and television and the hoardings on the streets, promoting detrimental food. A soft drink giant comes up with a bottle of brown fluid that is chalk full of calories and projects it as a drink for the youth. In addition, children, the easiest target, are surrounded by images that demote the importance of physical activity. Socio-economic status of the family is another reason for unfit children and adolescents.
The growing use of computers and the idiot-box at home and decreased physical education at school contribute to the children and adolescents living a more sedentary lifestyle. Almost 50% of children in urban India go to schools which do not have proper playgrounds where they can spend their breaks and physical education classes. Physical activity, independent of other factors such as smoking, hypertension, cholesterol, etc. and body weight, exerts positive health benefits. Regular moderate physical activity stimulates the immune system, improves insulin sensitivity and increases bone density in children and adults.
What is needed now is an absolute change in the way we look at fitness. At the lowest level, some practical tips would be to park your car further away so you can walk a little way to work. Take the stairs at least half way up before you succumb to the elevator’s enticing ping. Parents need to teach their kids that advertising is all about selling and manipulative marketing. After–school activities should be aimed at relieving the stress and fatigue caused by school, rather than tuitions, that just add to the tension.
On the higher level, a board should be set up on a national scale to address the issue of advertisements that go overboard and deliberately mislead. The Municipal Boards should be directed to create more parks and properly maintain the few that already exist. It should be mandatory for all schools to have a playground that the children can have fun in and physical education classes should cover things like summer camps and treks, etc. to promote physical activities as well as adventure and learning. But most of all, we need to be aware of the fact that our body is a bit like a machine. It needs preventive maintenance in the form of physical activity. We can choose to do so or wait till it is defunct. Just be sure that you know, ain’t getting a new one.