How do you remain fit if you don’t even have an hour everyday to exercise? Do you need fat in your body? How do you prevent back pain if you have a desk-bound job? Do health drinks for children really work? Is sugar the main reason for developing diabetes? All of us grapple with a multitude of health, diet and fitness questions. Questions that don’t warrant a doctor’s appointment or an expensive fitness consultation, but the answers to which can have a significant impact on our daily lives. We compiled a list of the most basic, yet commonly misunderstood health issues that plague us, and asked experts to give us comprehensive answers that will keep your body in perfect running order.
1. How much time should a person spend exercising every week and when do you know you are overdoing it?
More than 45 minutes of intense workout starts burning muscles instead of fat
Including warm-up and cool-down periods, exercising for an hour daily is more than enough for people who are non-athletes. Remember to take a day of rest every week. So effectively no more than 6 hours of exercise in a week. More than 45 minutes of intense workout makes no sense because after such time the body starts producing cortisol. Cortisol is a muscle-burning hormone so it would just undo the hard work you have been putting in. Recuperation and stretching are the most important parts of the workout and you need to make sure you are getting enough rest. Insomnia, constant tiredness, constant thirst and restlessness are signs that you are overdoing it, and that you need to cut back. The biggest indication of overdoing it is when you don’t feel like going to the gym at all.
—Leena Mogre,Director, Leena Mogre’s Fitness, Mumbai
2. Is it good to follow a high-protein and low-carbohydrate diet to maintain ideal body weight?
Go the low-carb way only if weight loss is proving difficult
Eating a well-balanced meal is key to maintaining ideal body weight. Historically, Indian meals have always been well balanced, with rice, roti, dal, vegetables and yogurt constituting a full plate. They have always been heavy on carbohydrates and asking a regular person to cut down on carbs is just impossible. They just don’t like it. Weight issues are usually created by dietary imbalance, when someone indulges in one food group more than in others. We recommend low-carbohydrate diets only when people are trying hard to lose weight, because they tend to overindulge in carbs. High-protein diets are for maintaining lean body mass.
—Veena Shahani, Chief dietitian, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai
3. Is sugar and carbohydrate consumption the primary reason for people developing Type 2 (typically lifestyle-induced) diabetes?
Trans fats and saturated fatty acids are as bad for diabetics as sugar
Type 2 diabetes is a multifactorial disease, so you can’t blame just one trigger. It is influenced by genes, physical activity, stress, alcohol, obesity and many components of your diet. While overconsumption of refined carbohydrates (like maida) and sugar can definitely lead to diabetes, trans-fatty acids are even worse. As are saturated fatty acids. On the other hand, lack of omega 3 and omega 6 fats in diets can lead to diabetes too. So it is essential to cut out bad fats and include good fats such as monounsaturated fats in the diet. Lifestyle changes are most important in Type 2 diabetes, and these are always a part of the treatment. If someone is morbidly obese and has diabetes, getting him back to a healthy lifestyle and bringing the weight down will usually reverse the condition. But most often, there is intrinsic failure of insulin secretion, and there is no option but to medicate the patient.
—Anoop Misra,Chairman, Centre of Excellence in Diabetes, Obesity, Metabolic Diseases and Endocrinology, Fortis, New Delhi
4. How much harder is it for women to lose weight after they’ve hit 30, when the metabolism starts slowing down?
Exercise in the morning to burn more energy through the day
While it is true that metabolism does slow down once you hit your 30s, it’s not really difficult for women to lose weight once they hit that age. If the basic diet and exercise principles are followed, it should not be difficult at all. If hereditary health issues are present, or if a person leads a mainly sedentary lifestyle, then we could look at modifying the diet, but only when required. It can usually be sorted out by getting the basal metabolic rate (BMR) up in the mornings. BMR is the amount of energy expended daily when the body is in a state of rest, so raising it through exercise in the morning ensures you burn more energy through the day.
—Vidisha Parekh,Chief dietitian, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital and Medical Research Institute, Mumbai
5. Can anyone adopt a gluten-free diet like the one Novak Djokovic is on?
A gluten-free diet is meant for people with gluten allergy, not as a weight-loss tool
A gluten-free diet is now being hailed as the thing that transformed Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic’s rise to fame by improving his fitness and strength. People think it’s fashionable to get on a gluten-free diet, either to lose weight or to improve their game. But gluten-free diets cannot be treated as weight-loss diets; they are only for people who are sensitive or allergic to it, that is, people with Celiac disease. Gluten is a protein in wheat that Celiac patients are allergic to and this reaction is what causes the malabsorption in the intestines. The only cure to Celiac is to keep gluten out of your diet. Djokovic has benefited from this diet because he is allergic to the protein, and staying off it naturally boosted his health. Gluten is present in wheat and wheat products (such as barley, semolina, cornflour, etc.), which means that any regular bread, roti, cake or bakery products are a no-no for a Celiac patient. To keep away from gluten, therefore, is no mean feat. It requires that all gluten products have substitutes (which isn’t easy because it is gluten, incidentally, that makes bread soft and spongy) and all food packaging is clearly labelled gluten-free, or not, accordingly.
Photograph by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
—Ishi Khosla, Clinical nutritionist and director, Whole Foods, New Delhi
6. What is the best kind of oil for healthy cooking?
Mustard oil has the perfect balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids
Ideally, I would suggest using both mustard oil and olive oil every day for cooking. For example, make your breakfast and dinner with olive oil, and lunch with mustard oil. The rest of your daily recommended fat consumption should come in the form of natural nuts such as almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, etc. Most of us use refined oils such as sunflower oil for our day-to-day cooking, but I don’t recommend refined products because these oils go through several levels of cleansing (first, the extraction from the seeds, then the process of making them look prettier, as raw oil is darker than the ones we see), and this takes away their nutritional qualities. Both mustard and olive are cold-pressed oils (they are refined just once). Mustard oil is a great oil, especially in winters, as it has the perfect ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Olive oil mainly consists of monounsaturated fatty acids, which are considered to be good dietary fats and essential to staying healthy.
—Shikha Sharma, Wellness consultant, New Delhi
7. How should one recover from an intense workout?
Stretching is crucial to recovery after exercising, and helps prevent injuries and pain
Intense physical activity puts a lot of stress on the body and also causes wear and tear of bones, muscle and tissue, so it’s important to follow good recovery practices. It will maximize the effects of the workout, lessen post-workout soreness, make you feel more energetic and prevent workout-related injuries. The most important thing is to stretch. Most people skip this or do it half-heartedly. You need to do at least 10 different stretches after working out. For example, if you are running, you need to stretch your hamstrings, glutes, calves, quads, back, etc., after the run. Eating a high-protein meal within 45 minutes of training is highly recommended because this is the best time for the protein to get absorbed in the body, help build muscle and stop tissue damage. Eat lean meats, eggs, or a good, pure whey protein shake. It is also crucial to replace lost fluids and electrolytes after training. Gatorade and electrol/oral rehydration solution (ORS) are best for this. Also, drink plenty of water after workouts. An ice bath, if you have access to one, is amazing for recovery. Immerse yourself in cold water for 5-7 minutes (depending on how cold the water is) after your training, stay out of the water for 5-7 minutes and then go back in. Repeat this cycle thrice. It stops muscle and tissue damage that occurs naturally after exercising, stops inflammation and makes you pain-free.
—Heath Matthews, Sports rehabilitation specialist, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital and Medical Research Institute, Mumbai
8. What really is the nutritional value of health drinks for children and do they really help them grow taller?
Nutritional drinks for children are a good way to get your child to drink milk
These claims are mostly marketing gimmicks. Most of these drinks basically constitute the ingredients of a balanced diet. From what I have seen, speciality paediatric drinks satisfy that to a certain extent, but I wouldn’t recommend depending on these drinks. For parents who are concerned about their children’s height, the best advice I can give is a balanced diet fortified with protein and calcium. Additional calcium and vitamin supplements can also be given. The recommended dosage of these drinks, combined with milk, delivers around 600 calories per glass, and that’s almost an entire meal. The downside is that children will be too full to eat anything else. However, if this is a good way to get your child to drink some milk, then it should surely be given.
—Veena Shahani, Chief dietitian, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai
9. What kind of foods should one avoid to prevent heartburn at night?
Cucumber juice has high water content that helps flush acid from the stomach
Food enters the alkaline mouth and proceeds towards the stomach, which produces mild hydrochloric acid to help in digestion. The presence of acidity or heartburn indicates that one is not eating on a regular basis, and that the acid is being produced at a faster pace than the stomach is being given food. Eat foods with high-soluble fibre such as oat bran or whole oats, which tend to remain in the stomach longer. Ideally, you should eat a little bit every hour so that acid cannot collect in the stomach. But that is difficult. So drink a neutralizing drink like cucumber juice, also known as a blocker. Cucumber juice or lauki juice, with their high water content, help flush acid from the stomach. Eating heavy, salty and/or oily food at night goes against the principles of a balanced diet, so loading your stomach when acidic is only worsening the situation.
—Anju Sood, Clinical nutritionist and diet consultant, Bangalore
10. How can I remain fit if I don’t have even an hour to spare on a daily basis for exercise?
If you are not fit already, then it is difficult to do this. If you are more or less fit, it is possible to maintain your fitness level if you have just 20 minutes free at any time of the day. If you have access to a swimming pool, you could do hard laps for 20 minutes three times a week and it will be enough to give your entire system a thorough workout. On the other three days, do basic, but highly effective, full-body exercises such as push-ups and squats. Do these till muscle fatigue, so it won’t take more than 15 minutes per session. If you have very little time, cycling is not a good idea because it is a low-impact exercise. Do interval runs instead—do a light jog for 3 minutes, then a higher-paced run for a minute, a full sprint for 20-30 seconds, then come back to a light jog for 3 minutes, and repeat this cycle for 20 minutes. If you are seriously fit, you could get away with doing intense core and full-body exercises for 10 minutes a day three times a week, coupled with a long, easy-paced run once a week. For example, stand on a wobble board and throw a ball at a wall and catch it quickly—as quickly as you can—for 10 minutes. Mix it up by standing on one leg for some time while doing this. You will get an intense, full-body workout.
—Preeti Ashok, Physiotherapist and marathon runner, Bangalore
11. Should you avoid cardio exercises like running or cycling if you are trying to build muscle?
Cardiovascular endurance is the key to fitness
Building muscle like a bodybuilder is not fitness. A fit person is more like a sportsperson—good cardiovascular endurance, good muscle definition and good flexibility. So for fitness purposes, you need cardiovascular training. Having said that, hard cardio training does stimulate a reduction in muscle bulk. If you are skinny and trying to put on bulk, do heavy weights with low repetitions. Ten minutes of light jogging to warm up, then about 20 minutes of weights or resistance training and then 10 minutes of light jogging to cool down is a good way to do it. A 75% weight training to 25% cardio ratio is great for building more muscle. Generally, it is recommended that everyone does at least 20 minutes of challenging cardio three times a week.
—Heath Matthews,Sports rehabilitation specialist, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital and Medical Research Institute, Mumbai
12. How do you prevent lower back pain if you have a desk-bound job?
Sitting is 11 times more stressful than standing
For prevention, one should not sit for more than half an hour at a stretch, and take a walk often. When seated, ensure that your lower back is well supported, use the whole seating area in the chair by sitting back and straight. If there are no standardized chairs, sit in one that suits your comfort. The back of the chair can tilt back, but that should be firm. If suffering from lower back pain, rest it for two days by avoiding sitting. Lie down and walk around a bit. Sitting is 11 times more stressful than standing, so be sure to take off the stress at regular intervals.
—Sanjay Hegde, Orthopaedic surgeon, Manipal Hospital, Bangalore
13 .Is cutting down on fat, even if the person is not obese, necessary to remain healthy?
Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are the building blocks of the immune system and crucial for cell growth
You should not cut fat entirely from the diet. A balanced diet requires around 60-70% carbohydrates, around 15% protein and 10-15% fat. If a person has normal weight, there is no reason to cut it out. Fat can be classified into visible fat, that is cooking oil or cream, etc., and invisible fat, which exists in meat or other food products. For vegetarians, invisible fat comes mostly from conversion to fat from simple carbohydrates and for non-vegetarians, directly from sources like red meat. So in order to control this, it is advisable that vegetarians eat more complex carbohydrates like wheat or any pulses that come with the outer husk, while non-vegetarians should eat leaner meats like chicken that are lower on fat content. In addition to this, there is also good fat in the form of food high in omega 3 and omega 6, like certain types of fish, flaxseed and walnuts. These serve as the building blocks for hormones that control the immune function, blood clotting and cell growth, as well as components of cell membranes. Visible fat, like cooking oil, can be more easily controlled by following some rules. Indian women see the first dip in their metabolism rate at around 30. So if you consume around 4-5 tsp of cooking oil, then cut down a teaspoon post-30 and another post-45.
—Anju Sood,Clinical nutritionist and diet consultant, Bangalore
14. Is it advisable to combine practices from different schools of yoga in one workout?
Don’t do yoga on your own unless you have experience of five-six years
While there is nothing wrong with combining techniques from different schools of yoga, what you go for depends on your comfort level. However, I wouldn’t advise practising yoga on your own unless you have been learning some form of yoga for five-six years, ideally, and are confident about your own ability. Yoga is a vast science and cannot be learnt instantly. It takes at least a year of practice for the body to adapt to yoga and it is impossible to perfect it in a month. Trying to go too fast will just end in you hurting yourself one way or the other.
—Payal Gidwani Tiwari,Founder and CEO of Cosmic Fusion, Mumbai
15. What causes adult acne? What can be done to prevent or cure it?
Over 60% of adults suffer from adult acne at least once in their lives
Adult acne can be caused by any of these—genetic history, hormonal stress, overactive sebaceous glands, accumulation of dead skin cells that block the pores, bacteria on the skin, use of steroids, use of medication like anticonvulsants and antidepressants, cosmetics like anti-ageing creams that have a high oil content, even consumption of chocolates and excessive carbohydrates. Products to treat adult acne range from simple cleansers and prescriptions to actual laser devices and procedures like chemical peels and microdermabrasion. While topical antibiotics and oral antibiotics treat acne at a causative level, it is advisable to follow a regimen that includes cleansing and moisturizing. It is important to find a cleanser that is gentle and void of scrubbing beads and exfoliators, depending on the skin type. Laser treatment is another option; laser or intense light treatment can target and kill acne-causing bacteria.
—Mukta Sachdev, Head of department of dermatology, Manipal Hospital, Bangalore
16. What is the first thing you should do before going to a doctor if you have a deep cut or a painful muscle or bone injury?
To stop bleeding from a cut, apply an ice pack to decrease the blood flow to the area
If you have a deep cut, first tie up both the ends of the cut so as to decrease the blood flow in the area and, as a result, prevent loss of blood. Applying an ice pack will also decrease the circulation in the area. If possible, and without disturbing the area of the wound, place the area at a level above the head, so that the blood flows back towards the head. In the event of a bone injury, the area must be immediately immobilized to prevent further injury. This can be done by tying two wooden strips on either side with a cloth so that the facture is not further displaced. For a painful muscle, a little bit of stretching or a light massage or a hot pack should help. This should be done gently so as to prevent further damage.
—Rajeeva Moger,Consultant physician, Apollo Hospitals, Bangalore
Shreya Ray contributed to this story.