A study published in the BMJ journal in 2010 reviewed 33 observational studies which evaluated the association between physical strength and mortality. It wasn’t surprising that in all the studies, across all ages, poor physical performance was associated with increased mortality.
To be completely strong, however, everyone needs more than physical strength. Emotional health and a strong immune system are as important.
A study conducted by researchers at Bishop’s University in Quebec, Canada, in March 2008indicated that mental training alone could increase muscle strength. That doesn’t mean you can build muscle on meditation, but it does go to show that our minds are as powerful as our bodies. In his book The Power of your Subconscious Mind, Joseph Murphy has suggested that our thoughts are the driving force behind why some are more successful and why some make it through seemingly incurable diseases.
With the right diet and routines, you can build strength in a way that keeps the body fit, mind happy—and you away from disease. Here’s how:
Work on your mind
Monica Chib, senior consultant, psychiatry, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, says there is actually no such thing as a weak or strong mind. “However, there can be genetic predispositions, environmental factors, poorly learnt behaviour that may predispose one to have certain problems,” Dr Chib explains. To make your emotional health peak, here’s what you can do:
Do some exercise
Says Prashant Talwalkar, CEO, Talwalkars Better Value Fitness Ltd, Mumbai: “Exercise provides a change of scenery, gets you out of the house and routine, allows you to meet new people and feel less isolated. Its benefits last longer than quick fixes such as comfort eating, smoking or drinking.” While most people are aware of the physical health benefits, many are not familiar with the range of mental health benefits that can be derived from regular exercise. He adds: “Exercise reduces depression, anxiety, stress and it improves self-esteem. In fact, people who exercise regularly may inoculate themselves against symptoms of anxiety and depression.”
Say no to that doughnut
Immunity heroes: These include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and plenty of fluids.
Refined and processed foods affect not just your immunity, but your mental health too. Says Ishi Khosla, clinical nutritionist and director of Delhi-based Whole Foods: “Unhealthy eating can cause lowering of attention, concentration, focus and mental acuity. Slumps in energy or feeling low after eating are also common in people who have imbalanced diets and lifestyles.” In a study published in ‘The British Journal of Psychiatry’ in 2010, it was found that processed junk food can trigger or contribute to depression. So learn to say no to that pizza, cheese burger and pastry now.
As much as possible, stay independent. Dr Chib suggests that depending too much on other people to make one happy, or a rush from nicotine, alcohol or narcotics, never works in favour of one’s emotional health. It’s also a good idea to have a little bit of discipline—this includes regular food timings and habits and regular sleep patterns.
Strengthen your immunity
Khosla says a diet consisting largely of junk food, refined sugar, white rice and refined fats low in vitamins and minerals can weaken the immune system. This is because a good immune system needs vitamins and minerals, while junk food is full of sugars, fats, sodium and other toxins.
Start with a detox
If you are stuck in a junk food spiral, start with a simple detoxification plan, says Khosla. Simply increase the intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, drink plenty of fluids, and minimize sugars, refined and fried foods, limit alcohol intake to a maximum of two drinks (less than 60ml of whisky, rum or vodka or about 100ml of wine) and avoid smoking. In addition, Khosla says, popping antibiotics at the hint of a sneeze can also lower your immunity “as it can create dysbiosis (imbalance between good and bad bacteria) in your body”.
Add some goodness
Khosla’s immunity heroes include whole grains (oats, barley, millets), pulses and legumes (Bengal gram, beans, soybeans), brightly coloured vegetables and fruits (broccoli, garlic, ginger, onion, red grapes, ‘amla’), nuts and seeds (walnuts, flax seeds, fenugreek seeds, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, sunflower seeds) and other foods such as wheatgerm, alfalfa, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, ‘hilsa’, ‘purva’), olives and olive oil and mustard oil, etc.
More than anything else, Khosla suggests loading up on probiotics and prebiotics. When administered in adequate amounts, probiotics—beneficial microorganisms present in the gut—promote the body’s natural immunity, help in digestion and maintenance of good health. “Good sources of probiotics include yogurt, buttermilk (‘chaach’), ‘lassi’ and ‘kefir’ (thin drinkable yogurt). A prebiotic is actually a substance found in other foods that feeds the probiotics and, in a way, it’s the probiotic’s lunch,” she says. Good sources include whole grains, pulses, beans, vegetables, fruits and seeds.
Take a walk
However, it isn’t just food that fights infection. Says Talwalkar, “Participation in regular, moderate intensity exercise has been shown to contribute to building the immune system.” He adds, “Another advantage of regular exercise is the release of endorphins, which improve your mood and are also natural pain relievers.” But he warns that intense exercise may cause a temporary decrease in immune system function, which can make you more prone to disease in the short term. Research has found that during intense physical exertion, the body produces certain hormones that temporarily lower immunity. “Stress hormones (like adrenalin) raise the blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which may suppress the immune system,” he says. Therefore, cardiovascular exercise, specifically regular walking, is perfect to begin with. Take a 20- to 30-minute walk at least five times a week. Yoga is also recommended.
Make your body stronger
There are a number of ways to improve physical strength and stamina. The kind of exercise you choose will help you achieve your goal, says Talwalkar.
Focus on repetitions
Weight training is very useful for bodybuilders. “When building muscles, you will need to concentrate on lifting the highest weight possible. However, if you are trying to build stamina, you will need to concentrate on lifting less heavier weights as many times as possible,” he says. Repetitions will get your body used to lifting the weight. “Try to lift for more repetitions, rather than increasing the weight straightaway,” he adds. A great idea is to keep a record of how many repetitions you do and which weights you lift each time. To know the exact amount of weight your body can carry, consult a fitness expert first.
Step up on the bench
“One very useful exercise which can be used to improve physical strength and stamina is the bench step-up. This exercise concentrates on the hamstrings and gluteals,” says Talwalkar. To do this exercise, stand in front of a high bench—around the height of your knee. Then simply step on to the bench and step off. Make sure you are controlled when stepping on and off the bench. Once you have returned to the starting position, repeat the action. Ideally, you should do at least 20 repetitions and try to increase this every time. “If you want to make it slightly more difficult, you can also hold dumb-bells in your hands and move them at the same time you stand on the bench,” he adds.
Hop for endurance
Hopping can be used to work on certain muscles and also improve stamina. This will also coordinate your foot, ankle, calf and hip muscles. “This is a perfect exercise for anyone who wants to build stamina,” he says. Hop on one leg as fast as you can for 20 seconds. Then swap feet and repeat with the other leg. You can also slightly adjust this by bouncing from one foot to the other.
Imaging by Raajan/Mint
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