Health IS Wealth

When someone says they have been in a job for several years, that usually does not make me respect them more because it need not mean they are very knowledgeable. However, I realise that as far as I am concerned, all the years I have been living has been helpful for me to learn everyday. It is only now that I realise the truth in many proverbs although that does not mean I believe them all. When it comes to ‘Health is Wealth’, I admit I could not agree more. I realise that I grew up with a different outlook about health and tried to understand why things were the way they were. Insight into people’s thought process helps me understand why someone’s state of health is what it is, at least within my family. In this article, I hope to look into why it is critical for us to take care of ourselves and possibly look at simple ways to do so.

I grew up in a middle class family in India and both my parents were working so they could afford good education for us. In a typical middle class family, the woman usually wakes up early to get the breakfast and lunch prepared, get kids ready to school, pack food, then get ready for her fulltime job and come back home and start preparing supper/dinner. It is not until I started running my household that I realised how hungry my mother would have been while she was preparing meals for us and I can tell it is not easy to put a smile on your face and keep slogging while your tummy is growling after a long day at work. With barely any time left to even think of themselves, it somehow seems like a bull fight which usually stops only after someone is hurt. It is not until they have developed hypertension or diabetes etc. that people pause to think what they have been doing to themselves. In most families, parents dedicate their life to their kids and their world spins around them. So they stretch to provide them everything and almost nothing to themselves. There is a saying back home that means they could be mother and child but still they have their own mouth and stomach. This implies that each of them have their own needs, if the mother is hungry, the child cannot eat to fill the mother. One of the key points I have learned moving out of my home country is how it is expected that the children of the house leave home at one point in search of their lives and the parents are on their own. This thought keeps resonating in my mind because there may be a point in time when I may have burnt myself for my family but the children will have their own lives to live and it is everyone on their own. Amidst all the chores and responsibilities there is another complex thought process which even I struggle with every now and then. Sometimes, when I like to spend time for myself or even have an exotic fruit, I would feel guilty about ‘depriving’ my kid of something, which is so not true. It is also this thought process that holds one back from looking after themselves.

In the Hindu religion, it is believed that Lord Narayana resides in everyone. This is one of the reason that one should respect their own body and health and keep fit. Not taking care of oneself is disrespectful to the god as he is within us. A colleague once asked me if I was presented with a million pounds but I would have to give up my right arm, would I take the money? The spontaneous answer was NO. I would rather be healthy, fit and keep my independence so I can work hard to make that million pounds. I once became very unwell not because of a serious problem but a simple one – constipation. I had no idea what consequences it could have. It resulted in getting excruciating pain in my lower back, becoming immobile and shrieking in pain. I was given strong painkillers which increased the constipation. I then developed urinary tract infection and was given antibiotics for that. After losing mobility for a week and needing help to use the toilet and going through pain that made me think I should rather die than go through this, the doctor was advising me that I should take big oranges, prunes and water. Had I taken these regularly, I may not have constipated in the first place and needn’t have spoiled my holidays being unwell. The most important learning for me was how one loses their dignity once you lose your independence. It was a very loud wake up call and that is when I made up my mind that it is very important to focus on prevention which means I have to focus on myself at different times in the day.

It is easy to say take care of oneself, but as I explained earlier, it can be quite a challenge. Here are some tips I follow that help me…
  1. Drink a glass of water every hour. Almost every hour I keep asking myself if I had some water and if not, get some. It is easy to put off getting a glass of water, so you could also fill a bottle and keep beside you. I would aim to finish one bottle in the first half of the day and another second half.
  2. Keep a mental tab of how much fruit and vegetables you are taking. It is important to take a variety of fruits and vegetables everyday. at least five portions are required and as fruits could increase blood sugar, it may be wiser to have lot of vegetables and say two portions of fruits. If your plate looks colourful with vegetables, then it is safe to say you are getting a variety of them.
  3. Look at your plate to check if you are getting enough whole grains. Many of us have refined grains which is not really helpful to our body. Go for wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta, brown rice etc. Yes, they may not be as tasty as the refined counterparts, but they are by far healthier. You can also visit my blog to get healthy and delicious recipes using a variety of them
  4. Use a variety of grain and try not to consume the same grain over and over. Although not a grain, millets could be quite filling as well. Barley, sorghum, wheat, buckwheat, rice, ragi (finger millet), pearl millet, cornmeal, rice etc. are some examples to include in your diet
  5. Try not to have a heavy meal in the dinner. I know it can be quite a challenge and difficult thing to do as many of you may return home after a long hard day and would like to enjoy a nice hot meal. There are days when I am starving by the time I go home as my lunch would have been just been a cup of soup. On such days, I try to watch my intake throughout the day and make up my mind that I will have a big dinner so my overall intake for the day is still balanced and not too much. Once I decide on a big dinner, my mind is at rest and even stops craving unhealthy snacks at work. Try to stay up for at least two hours after dinner and if possible go for a relaxed walk (not a brisk walk).
  6. Keep healthy snack handy and avoid sugar loads or fat loaded or even salt loaded snacks. Again, you can pick some idea to make snacks from my blog
  7. Whenever you get a chance, just go for a walk, if not create the chance so you go for a walk. Sometimes I deliberately don’t buy enough of some item during my grocery shopping. That way I just walk down to the nearby store and buy it and that’s about 20-30 minutes of activity which is better than nothing. Aim for at least 20 minutes brisk walk and over time you will start enjoying the same and want to do more. Once you bring it into your system and regime, it becomes something like brushing your teeth and no hassle. Kids also help us get some exercise as we need to take them to the park or beach etc.
  8. Get it in your mind that exercising (which could be as simple as walking) is not a difficult thing or a bad thing and need not put you off. When we are quite unwell and are prescribed medicines, we easily take it despite the side effects it may have. Exercising has no side effect but the main effect will be to keep fit, boost your immunity so you can avoid medication. Consider it to be a preventive medicine
  9. Get good night sleep. Rest is very important for the brain to recharge and allow the body to rejuvenate. Try to get at least 6 hours of sleep.
  10. Try to keep a routine to fit cooking, eating, exercising and sleeping so it just become part of life and not a special task.
  11. We are all humans and would all like to indulge at some point in time. So set aside a treat for yourself. For example, if you love ice creams, pick a day in the week that you usually have lots of physical activities and have an ice cream that day. If you fancy something even unhealthier, then make sure you control the portion size and also try to cut down the next couple of days. Knowing that I can have a little treat in a few days time makes me not crave them and want to have them right away – there is a time and place for everything. Also, the more you tell yourself not to have something, the more you want it.
  12. Always remember, you come first. Some people think work is the highest priority and it makes me sad. If you cannot take care of yourself, I do not think you can be entrusted with any other responsibility. You have to be the highest priority as it is every man for himself in this world.

I recently read a news article which said one of the swine flu vaccines given to people is said to be causing narcolepsy (condition in which people will just start sleeping suddenly), especially in children. The vaccine is taken off the market and will only be prescribed if no other protection is available. If we eat, sleep and work out well, our immune system will be good enough to fight the flu and not need the jab. It is time for us to go back to our roots and rely on our basics like food rather than modern medicine. That is not to say that we are not affected by dreadful diseases and other horrible things in life, but they are not quite within our control. What is within our control is our lifestyle. Instead of worrying about things I cannot change, why not work on things I can influence so I am healthy enough. It is important to be hale and healthy to enjoy life and kids. The very reason for struggle is family and if we do not care for ourselves, our family will not have us. Rather than putting them in a difficult place which would be counter-productive, live a healthy life and also provide the same to the next generation.


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