Building a Healthy Lifestyle

This article is the fourth issue of a series on healthy food habits. Click here to read the third issue: The Rise of Organic Food  , the second issue: The Importance of a Healthy Life  and the first issue: Does an Apple a Day Keep the Doctor Away?

A fitness discovery platform conducted a national study in India and found that 53% of Indians self-avowedly lacked the discipline to stay fit. This is concerning, as fitness is no just about maintaining a certain weight or BMI, but it is closely related to health. Being fit means the body is physically stimulated, agile and strong; health implies that the body is internally well to perform all required functions. Being a healthy and fit person therefore, means that our lifestyle and daily habits are good for our body and mind.

Fitness does not equal aesthetics– many fit people are not aesthetically built like physique athletes, and many people whose abdominals or deltoids are visible are not necessarily fit. Fitness also does not equal the weighing scale, as a person weighing more could be healthier and fitter than a person of the same height and gender than a person weighing less, purely by virtue of their lean mass to body fat proportion for the same total weight.

Women tend to store more fat in their body than men because estrogen promotes fat deposition. Testosterone in men aids in muscle gain which is why it is easier for men to put on muscle than for women. The lowest essential fat percentage possible for men is 7-12% body fat, while for women it is 15-20%. It is important to understand that such low levels of fat percentage are only sported by competitive body builders who lose their fat to showcase their muscle detail, and that too only for a couple of weeks during show season. Therefore, it is easy to see Instagram fitness models post their lean-phase pictures all year round and be deceived into thinking it is a sustainable year-round body form. Since ketogenic diets are the biggest fitness trend right now, I feel the need to discuss why it is not a sustainable long-term lifestyle. It is a planned two to three week diet that is done when wanting to drastically lose fat, generally by people who are athletes or in the entertainment industry. It is neither sustainable nor healthy to continue after that time period.

If one’s fat percentage is higher than 25% for men, and 30% for women, it is advisable to do a caloric cut for six to eight weeks and then adopt a maintenance fitness regimen and diet after reaching the healthy fat percentage. During this calorific deficit however, it is essential to keep protein levels extremely high– it is a common misconception that only people who are looking to gain muscle need heavy protein intake. The processes of muscle building and fat loss are tied together, as muscle tissue is easier to burn for energy than fat tissue. Therefore, if we create a caloric deficit in our diet don’t have high protein intake, we will end up burning our precious muscle tissue and keeping all the fat, even if that results in loss of weight.

An example to illustrate how closely physical and mental fitness are tied together can be seen during extreme keto or paleo diets. When we intake fewer calories than we need, the body shifts the energy creating process from that of breaking down sugar in our blood to breaking down fat cells, and uses ketones to create energy instead. This process is called ketosis. At this caloric level the body starts switching off non-essential functions like critical thinking, which is why students are never advised to go on such extreme diets during exam time as it hampers one’s metal productivity.

There are two types of fat deposits– visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat exists deep beneath the muscles, especially in those who drink alcohol regularly. The hard ‘beer belly’ means that there is fat stored beneath the stomach muscles rather than over them. This kind of fat leaves one quite susceptible to cardiac diseases and is extremely difficult to lose once deposited. The other type of fat is subcutaneous fat, which is stored right under the skin, and unlike visceral fat, it is soft. Subcutaneous fat is quickly gained and quickly lost. A fitness myth pertaining to fat loss is spot reduction. We cannot target-reduce problem areas: doing abdominal exercises will not make one lose fat only from the abdomen, as whenever there is a calorie deficit, the body loses an equal layer of fat from all over the body. Which areas of our body gain fat most easily and store the most fat is determined by a genetic code, but overall, more the lean muscle present in a body part, the less fat it will tend to store.

Weight training then, is the most efficient way to lose fat by growing muscle. If one joins a gym and begins weight training, they are often advised to start taking whey protein powder especially if they have a vegetarian diet. Protein powders are not drugs, and are just like Bournvita or Horlicks but with a higher protein percentage each scoop. For someone who isn’t an athlete, counting macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins and fats is not needed, although it is an interesting exercise for anyone driven to undertake it. The general diet rule would be to eat six to eight small meals in a day and to make sure each meal has proteins, healthy fats and a small portion of unprocessed carbohydrates. One should not try to eliminate food groups completely, rather limit things like refined sugar to once a week .

Getting exercise daily does not mean that one needs to visit the gym daily. Many new fitness services are coming up, and home workouts are also growing. If one is looking for an engaging group class in a fitness studio, new popular classes are pole fitness, capoeira, aqua fitness, power yoga, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), while plyometrics, pilates, zumba and functional training that have been popular and effective for years. Home workouts can easily be done on a power yoga or HIIT module. Although assistance from a healthcare professional is advised in the beginning, when planning your own workouts for simply maintaining fitness rather than muscle detailing, it is always better to do compound exercises like squats, lunges or deadlifts as opposed to isolated exercises like leg press or leg extension. This is because the average person benefits from an overall increased BMR (basal metabolic rate)–  having a high BMR means that one burns calories even when sitting or sleeping.

In the end, health is about feeling good and energetic both physically and mentally. One has to find one’s own sustainable diet and exercise pattern to fit with one’s goals and create a positive mental state of mind to fuel the same.

Picture Courtesy- Thrive Global

**Indianfolk provides to you a new series on healthy food— a set of articles that guide you through the steps of a moving towards a healthy life, inspiring you to stay committed to a goal that will make you as well as the world you live in better. Stay tuned to the site for our next issue**

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