Pankaj Chopra, vice president, Bharti Airtel Ltd, says he was never an inactive person but what he lacked was a regime. It was a routine health check-up , the first ever for Chopra, in 2011 that shocked him. “My lipid profile counts came all wrong, and in particular the triglyceride levels were found to be extremely high, which are a big risk factor for developing heart disease," he says. As someone who dealt with a knee problem and high blood pressure, having his heart in trouble too was an eye-opener. “The love of Punjabi food was written deep in that report," says Chopra.
On the trail
Chopra was prescribed medication by the doctors that was supposed to be consumed for the rest of his life, but he had other plans. He read up about lipid profiles, consulted a few experts and decided to change his lifestyle completely so that he could one day stop the medication.
Given his love for food, Chopra realized changing his diet completely would be difficult, so he decided to get more active. He started with running but soon realized that he could not do beyond 50-100m at a go, so he switched to brisk walks instead. “In my school days I was an avid cyclist. The place where we lived, a small township in Himachal Pradesh, was a hilly terrain but by the age of 16 I had conquered all the possible tracks that were wide enough to fit the cycle in. So not able to run even small distances came as a shock," he says. Besides, his bad knee was giving him trouble too.
Since his aim at the time was not to be a marathoner, but to reduce the risk of heart disease, he kept the focus on brisk walks.
Fortunately, few years later in 2015, the triglyceride level became much lower but he still had to tackle the issue of high blood pressure. Chopra then decided to focus on increasing his stamina and body strength to be able to walk longer stretches. He took training, and ran under the supervision of his trainer. “My knee still hurts now-and-then but that does not stop me from running," he says. With determination and grit, he has been able to bring his blood pressure down to normal levels. Of course, he is in constant touch with his doctors and gets regular check-ups done.
Today Chopra is a regular runner. Twice a week he goes for cross-training sessions. Cycling has always been a passion, so he does long distance cycling once a week. “I take alternate days off from running and cycling and train for the upper body and lower body strength," he says.
Bringing about a lifestyle change is always tough, and specially if you haven’t been active for many years. Chopra says it took all his willpower in the beginning to stick to his fitness regime. Also, injuries are a big scare for anyone and if you are prone to injuries, you have to take special care. “I suffered an injury earlier this year. While preparing for a marathon event, as a part of cross training I played cricket and suffered a major muscle tear on the calf. It took two months to heal. I had to start training from scratch," he recalls.
What he eats has also changed over the years. Chopra’s diet has become simpler and more balanced. “Though I am a vegetarian, I do not take any supplements," he says.
“Exercising motivates me. I feel fresh and full of new ideas at work also if I exercise regularly. Now it is a routine and the body demands some time daily for the training," says Chopra. He recently ran the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. “Signing up for marathons like this helps give me a goal to stay fit," he says. “Socializing and meeting friends for evening drinks was earlier a routine for me. The routine is still on although sans drinks, and we now meet for morning runs or cycling sessions."
A fit leader
“Exercising has made me punctual, confident and better poised to handle stress. It has increased my stamina both physically and mentally and helps me in enduring the pressures of corporate life. This is what leaders need," adds Chopra.
Finding Fitness is a series that looks at how a health scare prompted senior executives to work on their lifestyle habits.