I know way too many people who are so paranoid about what will happen to them once they quit gymming that they don’t even begin. I am talking about the smart, intelligent kind who are well aware of the many benefits of exercising regularly— better looks, better immune function, better heart health, not to mention a better social life.
The paranoia is fed by the myth, “if you stop exercising you will balloon out of proportion”. Really? You will stop getting your salary cheque when you quit work, right? So how about not working at all right now? Should you get the pink slip or take a sabbatical, you will stop making money, then you won’t be able to buy all that you are buying right now and will have to lower your standard of living. So, is it not better to stop working from now to prepare for that eventuality?
When it comes to making choices and decisions about money, our dimaag (mind) seems to function just fine. “No, I must work,” you reason—make money and use it well so that in case you have to take a break from work you will have enough saved to fall back on.
Then what happens to our reasoning ability when it comes to working out and enjoying its numerous benefits? For starters, we don’t value health half as much as we value wealth. So it’s only natural that we don’t use our brains and reasoning ability for something which is not of too much value for us anyway. But we need to value our health much more if we really care about amassing more wealth (a wise man once said: Health is wealth. But wealth is not health).
Total recall: Your muscles will remember your exercise routine.
Fitness is not a non-perishable entity, so your body has no ability to “store” fitness. As long as you work out and use the 640-odd muscles of your body, your body sees a reason to keep them in good shape and be in a “ready-to-use” mode. When you give up using your muscles or stop exercising, your body will keep the muscles in a ready-to-use mode for around three weeks. Beyond three weeks is very expensive, metabolically, for your body to maintain “conditioning” or a high level of core fitness parameters (strength, flexibility, cardiorespiratory and endurance). Muscle is a metabolically active tissue, which forces the body to burn fat in order to maintain itself. So if the muscles are not being used, the body will reduce burning its fat tissue and detrain or lose muscle tissue. Get it? Low BMR (basal metabolic rate, or the amount of fat tissues burnt daily while at rest) = more body fat.
Our muscles are, however, blessed with what is called “muscle memory”. This refers to nerves per unit muscle fibre or the neural pathways your muscles will use to bring about an action. This is the reason why you will still be able to write a 3-hour exam paper even today, after a long gap—your writing hand may protest initially but will eventually refresh its muscle memory and get to work like a pro. Your non-writing hand, however, can’t do it, because it has no memory.
So even if for some reason you haven’t been able to work out for the last three months or for the last decade, when you do get back to exercise your body will ignite its muscle memory and bring your fitness parameters to where you last left them.
But then, to have some memory you must have some fitness levels. To save for a rainy day, you must have some money to begin with. So you must start working out now if you want your muscles to build up a memory bank.
PS: Of course, just like you curtail unnecessary expenses while on a sabbatical or when you are between jobs, curtail your food intake while you are on a break from that workout.
This is the second in a four-part series by nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar. Her new book Women and the Weight Loss Tamasha (Westland, Rs 200) will be out in January.
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