(Illustrations: Saurabh Singh)
NEXT TIME YOU look in a mirror, recollect what has changed from a day before India announced its lockdown last year. Have the jowls begun to flab or is your core at its most taut it has ever been? Do you stand a little more erect or do you look like the weight of the world has been thrown upon you? The difference that you notice is a good indication of how you have been affected even if you weren’t infected. You could even make such evaluation of people you know. The way they changed, physically, signals what the toll has been.
An extraordinary amount of the world’s resources has been used in trying to find a way around Covid. Vaccines, medicines, masks, introducing policies for lockdown and social distancing, all of these come accompanied by subsidies from governments. Yet, as the podcast host Joe Rogan is wont to repeat, one of the most effective things they should have done, and didn’t do enough by far, was to encourage people to become just healthier. Because Covid is a culling of the unhealthy, whether by reason of age, lifestyle or disease. It is the old and those with comorbidities who are at maximum risk for its most severe fallouts. If an obese person can become less at risk for Covid’s complications by hitting the gym or a diabetic by excellent control of blood sugar through a diet revamp, then governments should have been considering forceful policies around it. Why, Rogan asks, aren’t they setting up gyms? Instead, energies have been spent either on shutting countries down or banking on the pharmaceutical sector to come up with a fix. Public service announcements and advertisements to wear masks are ubiquitous but if people had also been asked to run a kilometre and do 20 push-ups a day it might have made a difference between life and death.
Your resistance to Covid is entirely your responsibility and the more aware you are of it, the better your position in the hierarchy of survivalists of the new universe. What then is someone who has no experience of being healthy to do? He or she has to start. It doesn’t matter how you begin as long as you do. Health is an incremental journey. It is only after the first step that interest expands and then comes a point when you don’t evaluate the outcome in terms of how much you were able to push the body but how good or wholesome you felt. You start questioning other aspects of life contributing to that feeling. People who begin to exercise inevitably see the connection between the food they eat and their state of well-being. Diet becomes a part of the equation even if there was no conscious desire for it. The start doesn’t have to be much. Walking a short distance, climbing stairs, barebones stretching, a gym membership, or following YouTube fitness videos. The World Health Organization (WHO) has an advisory for people in self-quarantine but that could work just as well to set off one’s journey to fitness. They recommend 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise in a week. Divided by seven a little over 20 minutes a day. Or, they say 75 minutes of vigorous activity, which is just 12 minutes daily.
Physical health is just one aspect of the equation, probably even the lesser one. Barring those it has directly infected, Covid, and largely the result of the isolation of the lockdown, takes a bigger toll on mental health. Here too, there are simple measures to fortify the mind. America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has these recommendations for dealing with stress, and right at the top is: “Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed, but hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple times a day and disconnecting from phone, tv, and computer screens for a while.” It also asks you to eat well, sleep well, exercise, unwind with a hobby, be social—connect with people and be part of communities.
WELLNESS IS NOT a single endeavour. It has many components, some not well known. For example, sleep. If one-third of human life is spent sleeping, then its quality is critical to the all-round health of body and mind. The recognition of sleep as a wellness determinant has now led to specialised labs and startups finding solutions to insomnia through your mobile phone. Or there is diet and the question of what is most apt for the body. There are no definitive answers but eating less is always preferable to overeating. Intermittent fasting, a whole new approach to food where for large parts of the day the body consumes nothing, is a fast picking trend.
Covid comes at a time when science has been able to meet it with more efficiency than ever in the past. You know this from the record time in which vaccines were created and distributed. What technology does today can seem like magic to even doctors 100 years ago. Diabetes is a disease wherein glucose levels in blood go out of control. But until half-a-century ago, it was not even possible to measure it. Then came the glucose monitors for doctors, then their sizes decreased and accuracy increased, until patients could do it themselves at home, every morning, if they needed to. Soon, measurement of blood glucose will be available in the fitness trackers on people’s hands today. Already, they measure blood oxygen—that number which is so important if someone has Covid. Heart rates are tracked. All the parameters that give a picture of the inside of the body at work are going to be available without going to a Path Lab. What to do with that data is going to be told by that device too and, if human advice is needed, it will also connect to an expert. There has never been a better time in human history to take health in one’s own hands. But it is also happening when humans, despite and perhaps because of their prosperity, are becoming the unhealthiest. Not all the advances in glucose tracking have prevented the explosion of diabetes. Good health will only happen with initiative. Most people choose to wait for a crisis. There was a time when we thought genetics decided whether one would get diabetes. Now it is possible to hold off the disease by just opting for a good lifestyle in advance.
Covid is a culling of the unhealthy. Your resistance to Covid is entirely your responsibility. The more aware you are of it, the better your position in the hierarchy of survivalists. What then is someone who has no experience of being healthy to do? He or she has to start
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In June this year, McKinsey came out with the findings of a survey on wellness among consumers in which there were 7,500 respondents in six nations (it didn’t include India). For 79 per cent, wellness was important and as many as 42 per cent considered it top priority. More interesting was what they thought constituted the idea of wellness. It included better health, better fitness, better nutrition, better appearance, better sleep and better mindfulness. The last is a synonym for an abler mind. Mindfulness is a subset of meditation and consumers were keen on having more choices when it came to products and services that would increase their practice. McKinsey pegged the global wellness market at $1.5 trillion. India, poor as it is, accounts for only a small fraction of it. Corporate India is putting a lot of emphasis on the health of its employees, if only for the simple correlation that fit people are more productive. But most of India is not employed in the organised sector. In June, management consultancy RedSeer estimated that only 15 per cent of the Indian workforce was covered by health and wellness programmes. A Mint article that reported on it said: “India’s overall workforce includes 477 million individuals, 85% of which are unorganised blue collared employees, according to RedSeer estimates. ‘A mere 15% of the total workforce is covered under such programs. 405 million employees across sectors are still not part of such corporate programs. This shows there is a long way ahead of such programs…,’ said RedSeer, as a part of a statement.” India and Indians have much to travel on this road.
For an individual to be wholesome is to satisfy all the things that contribute to that wholesomeness. It is an ideal and possibly never achieved in its entirety but there is no option but to move towards it. The alternative is to be adrift and at the mercy of every wind that pulls you in any direction. What better example of this than Covid, which is one disease by one virus, but whose consequences—from the anxiety of contracting it to the depression from the isolation, to the physical deterioration from inactivity, to the lack of vitamin D from remaining indoors—affects humans in many
About The Author
Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai
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