On the move, with a fitness band
In 1953, the late London-based epidemiologist Jerry Morris published the results of a study that proved, for the first time, the link between leading a physically active life and good health. Morris’ groundbreaking research was based on examining the heart-attack rates in people from various walks of life, and the first results he got were of London’s busmen: The incidence of cardiac arrest for drivers was double that of conductors. Morris analysed the data and realized that there was only one major difference in the lifestyles of the two groups. The drivers, by the very nature of their work, spent most of their day sitting; the conductors spent most of their time on their feet and, these being double-decker buses, climbed 500-750 stairs a day.
Sixty-four years and many hundreds of studies later, the link between physical activity and the prevention of a wide range of diseases (and its obverse—a sedentary lifestyle and its many pitfalls) is understood more widely and with greater clarity than ever before.
The truth is simple: Exercise—in fact, just about any physical activity—is the greatest preventive medicine there is. Yet, how many of us spend a significant part of our day on our feet? And how much of our day is spent sitting? How many of us have a job that entails being physically active? How many of us feel that our workday leaves us with no energy to fit exercise into our daily routine?
Since counting calories and steps have become easier with the emergence of fitness bands, we decided to track six people from different professions for two working days using them. The idea was to see how physically active they were through the day, how that corresponded with their heart rates, and whether they managed to fit some exercise into their busy schedules. We picked a doctor, a construction worker, a chef, a veterinarian, a banker and a photojournalist. To maintain consistency, they all wore bands of the same make—a Fitbit Charge 2. The devices were provided to Lounge for this article by Fitbit.
This is not meant to be a scientific study, of course—for one, the efficacy of fitness bands in monitoring calories, steps and heart rates is not accurate enough for such an undertaking—but a peek into the working lives of others through the eyes of a fitness device. And, perhaps, to inspire the reader to get up and move (almost all the subjects managed to hit the arbitrary but helpful marker of 10,000 steps a day that fitness bands promote).
Gita Prakash, 62
Senior consultant, internal medicine, Max Hospitals
The indefatigable 62-year-old, in her crisp saris, has a daily schedule that she describes as perfectly crazy. It’s an understatement. Dr Prakash works from 8 in the morning till 1.30 in the afternoon at Max Hospital every day of the week except Sundays. On Mondays and Wednesdays, she visits a couple of institutes where she holds clinics from 2.30-5pm. On other days of the week, she visits various branches of Standard Chartered and RBS banks as their in-house physician. She is usually home by 5.30pm for a cup of tea. At 6.15pm, she begins her home clinic, which she has been running for 35 years, and where she treats patients who cannot afford private medical care for a token fee. At 8pm, she ends her working day—she sees around 40 patients in her 12-hour working day.
“When it’s dengue season, it’s anybody’s guess what that number can go to,” she says.
Despite what may seem like an overwhelming workload, Dr Prakash finds time for long walks every day and swims on most days. She sleeps by 9.30pm and is up and out of the house by 5.30am for a 40-minute walk in the neighbouring park, no matter what the season. A friendly owl who resides in the park is her key to a great day.
“I will walk on till I see the owl and take a photograph of her with my phone,” she says. “And then my day is made.” Dr Prakash has an enviable collection of images of the spotted owl on her phone.
It may seem regimented, but perhaps this discipline plays a crucial part in the irrepressible joy with which she lives her life.
“I never get stressed out at work,” says Dr Prakash, who began her career as a doctor in the Indian Army. “I’m always happy. I enjoy my days, and I also look forward to the end of the day.”
Height: 5ft, 6inches
Day 1: 9,748 steps, 2,469 calories, 6.79km, 10 floors climbed*
Day 2: 9,031 steps, 2,406 calories, 6.29km, 7 floors climbed
Bipin Kaul, 40
National head, acquisition and trade relationship-business banking and SME, IDFC Bank
Bipin Kaul has run more than 10 marathons, one ultra (50K), two Ironman triathlons, and holds three Super Randonneur medals (given to bikers who complete a cycle of 200km+300km+400km+600km events in a single season). For most people, that would be enough said. But not Kaul, a former national-level junior hockey player who gave up on all physical activity when he began his professional life, and tipped the scales at 105kg just six years ago.
That’s when he decided things had gone too far. He took to running with a vengeance.
“I would run in the morning, I would run late at night…whenever, wherever…,” Kaul says. “It was also the toughest year I had professionally, and the running really helped me de-stress. When you are running, all the negative stuff goes out of your head.”
Kaul says he kept running because he grew to love it, not just because he wanted to lose weight, and that became the foundation for what would soon become a hard-core amateur athletic career.
“Now if I don’t run or cycle on a particular day, I feel really unhygienic, like I haven’t brushed my teeth,” Kaul says.
Kaul checks into office at 9.30 every morning, and works for 8-10 hours.
“I head a sales team, so it’s very stressful,” he says. “We have daily targets, deadlines, commitments, so it’s a big challenge. I hardly ever get home before 9 at night.”
Juggling his work and his athletic pursuit requires meticulous planning (“I have a full year’s calendar worked out, geared from event to event,” Kaul says) and discipline, and neither can be successful without the support and encouragement of his family.
Kaul’s wife Preeti, who is associate vice-president, finance, at Mercer India, began running three years ago; she is now is an avid biker and competes in half marathons. Their elder daughter, who is 11, loves running, biking and swimming as well.
“Physically, our Sundays are more hectic than our working days,” Kaul says. “The entire family is out doing endurance training!” He spends an hour and a half every day at the gym, or in training outdoors.
All their family vacations are planned around the events Kaul participates in.
“People lead such stressful lives,” Kaul says, “but I want to prove to them that no matter what your work is, you can still follow serious fitness goals.”
Height: 5ft, 6 inches
Day 1: 15,969 steps; 3,157 calories, 14km, 11 floors climbed*
Day 2: 22,940 steps; 3,541 calories, 21.88km, 116 floors climbed
Umesh Kumar, 32
The 32-year-old from Aurangabad, Bihar, came to Delhi for a holiday 13 years ago, and never left. He had friends and family from his village working in the construction industry here, and he joined them in the profession.
Kumar specializes in carpentry, but chips in with just about every kind of work at the construction site, including electrical, labour and welding. He lives in Gurugram, adjacent to Delhi, with his younger brother, who is also in the construction industry, and makes a 1-hour, 20-minute commute, including a 3km walk, every day to his current site at Connaught Place in central Delhi. His wife, two sons and a daughter live in the village, which he visits twice a year for a month each time.
Kumar’s typical shift, from 10.30am till 10.30pm, involves him staying on his feet most of the day, climbing stairs, lifting heavy loads, with plenty of athletic manoeuvring up scaffoldings. By the time he returns home and makes dinner, it’s past midnight.
“I start cooking one day and finish on the next,” Kumar jokes. He also does all his household chores himself, so staying active is not the challenge for him—getting enough rest is.
Height: 5ft, 4 inches
Day1: 14,459 steps; 2,305 calories; 9.6km, 21 floors climbed
Day2: 15,178 steps; 2,436 calories; 10.18km, 9 floors climbed
Saumya Khandelwal, 26
Like most journalists, Khandelwal has erratic work hours and is on call all the time.
“On busy days, I might be out for 10 hours,” Khandelwal says, “but then there are days when I’m sitting in office the whole day. But on an average, I spend 4-5 hours shooting at locations.”
In the field, the work can get pretty physical: Walking around a location to find the right shots, chasing subjects, and carrying 8-10kg of equipment in a backpack is all part of the job. But the hardest part of the profession is being out in the sun in summers.
Because photographers carry heavy equipment all day long, they often have trouble with their back. Khandelwal, who doesn’t otherwise have a fitness routine, does targeted exercises, recommended by a physiotherapist. She also sits on a medicine ball in office instead of a chair.
Khandelwal graduated in business administration, but switched to photojournalism because she got “really bored with management work”. “It was just not meant for me,” she says.
Though she has been on plenty of difficult shoots, it is a personal project that has proved to be her most harrowing assignment.
“For the paper, you mostly parachute in and out of a shoot, so you can disengage easily,” she says. “But this project I’m working on, which involves shooting girls in rural Uttar Pradesh who were married off at puberty, I have really struggled to keep my distance.”
Height: 5ft, 1 inch
Day1: 13,692 steps; 2,077 calories; 8.89km; 30 floors climbed
Day2: 11,811 steps; 2,049 calories; 7.67km; 21 floors climbed
Saumya Khandelwal works with HT Digital Streams, a subsidiary of HT Media, which publishes Hindustan Times and Mint.
Moshumi Rao Kharb, 42
Dr Kharb makes a running start at 6am, when her two sons—aged 13 and 11—have to be packed off to school. Once she has dropped her younger son to his school (they go to different ones), Dr Kharb heads to the gym. She is serious about her exercise regimen, and puts in 2 hours at the gym five days a week. This includes an hour divided between the treadmill and the cross-trainer, and the rest lifting weights and stretching.
By 10.30am, she is at her clinic.
“On an average, I see 15-20 cases a day,” she says. The clinic runs till 2.30 in the afternoon, at which point it’s time to head back home to check on her boys.
“Oh, and wait, now our dog has also given birth to a litter of five, so I’m co-mothering them too,” she says with a laugh.
About four years ago, she and her boys started riding horses, but then Dr Kharb had a nasty fall and the entire family stopped.
“But recently my boys have started riding again—they were really missing it,” she says. So, in the evening she chauffeurs them to their hour-long session, which begins at 5.
When they get back home, it’s time to take the dogs out for long walks, make dinner, supervise homework….
“The days are fast-moving and not boring at all,” she says. “There’s no time to think of anything else, and I would not want it any other way.”
Dr Kharb’s husband Ranjit, a veterinary surgeon, spends 8-9 hours a day at the two clinics they own.
“We enjoy our routine,” Dr Kharb says. “It’s only when we have to do something different—say, go out for dinner with friends—that I get very tired.”
Height: 5ft, 6 inches
Day 1: 13,278 steps; 2,440 calories; 10.21km; 31 floors climbed
Day 2: 16,305 steps; 2,654 calories; 12.02km; 35 floors climbed
Santosh Pandey, 34
Head chef, Fuji, New Delhi
Like most of the people interviewed for this story, chef Santosh Pandey works a 12-hour shift—“that’s normal for kitchen staff in the restaurant business,” he says.
He helms a busy kitchen, where a skilled team of eight produces Japanese food.
“Being inside a kitchen on a hectic day is always challenging,” Pandey says. “I’ve been working for 12 years now and I still get nervous, my heart rate goes up, during peak service times.” Fuji serves around 60 diners on a good night.
Working in a kitchen is physically exacting. For one, almost the entire shift is spent standing.
“When I first started in the kitchen, it was brutal,” Pandey says. “Every part of my body used to hurt. It was difficult even falling asleep. But now it’s just routine. In fact, on my days off I feel restless, my body hurts more.”
Pandey only began an exercise regimen about a year ago, after he was diagnosed with cervical spondylosis (“because I was always bent over a chopping board”).
He has a pull-up bar and parallel bars installed on his terrace at home, and exercises for 30 minutes to an hour every morning.
“It is hard to find time for anything else when you are a chef,” he says. “I get to spend almost no time with my wife and my seven-year-old son. This is my 28th day without a break on the job because two of my chefs are on leave.”
Height: 5ft, 5 inches
Day1: 12,214 steps; 3,225 calories; 8.88km; 33 floors climbed
Day2: 13,478 steps; 3,232 calories; 9.8km; 52 floors climbed