National Health and Fitness Day is celebrated all over the globe on the last Wednesday of September for Women of all ages. It is more pertinent to India because of the high levels of gender inequality prevalent in our country, say leading nutritionists and health experts.
Healthy women are key contributors to a nation’s economy. But a 2011 United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report found India languishing at number 132 out of 187 countries in gender inequality.
This means that women are getting the short end of the stick in every aspect of their lives, including healthcare. For example, 51% of Indian women of reproductive age (between 15 to 49 years) were found to be anaemic, according to Global Nutrition Report 2017.
“Women’s health and fitness are important indicators of a family and nation’s wellbeing,” says Dr M. Radhika, chief dietician at Yashoda Hospital in Secunderabad.
Sedentary lifestyles and a poor diet can cause a host of health conditions, including an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, colon cancer, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and depression. “Inactive women are more prone to obesity, diabetes and hypertension, which can lead to coronary artery diseases even before a woman hits menopause. Anaemia can also hinder physical endurance and fitness,” she adds.
Meanwhile, fitness helps combat diseases, improves insulin sensitivity and helps in weight management. It also increases energy levels, improves circulation, boosts muscular endurance, strength and the flexibility of joints. “It also slows down the aging process and cognitive disorders,” she adds.
Amazing women of Hyderabad
While most reports are bleak, the majority of the urban population in Hyderabad is managing to do “amazingly well with health and fitness”, according to dietician Aswini Sagar of Ahaarveda in Kompally.
The number of health centres, fitness and wellness institutes as well as awareness is at an all-time high — companies are building gyms and conducting health camps; experienced trainers and nutritionists are increasing; and more women are actively participating in runs and marathons. “However, a minor segment of women is still not able to keep up with basic health needs. This could be due to lack of awareness, lack of financial support, etc. Spreading awareness is key. Campaigns should be held by the government, hospitals and wellness institutions. Different communities could also come together to plan such events,” she suggests.
“The emphasis should be on hygiene and sanitation, healthy eating, healthy living, regular health check-ups, physical activity and nutrition supplements such as calcium, iron, folic acid and vitamins,” she adds.
Stress and mental health
A study reported in WHO last year, conducted for the National Care of Medical Health, stated that India is the most depressed country in the world with at least 6.5 per cent of the Indian population suffering from some form of a serious mental disorder, with no discernible rural-urban differences. It is estimated that the economic loss due to mental health conditions between 2012-2030 will be $1.03 trillion dollars.
Dr Radhika explains how exercise can boost better mental health. “Exercise releases happy hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. It keeps the body in good shape and boosts confidence. Being physically active also reduces risk factors and helps a person connect with their community. Exercise also improves sleep, relieves stress, anxiety, depression and reduces fatigue,” she explains.
Aswini Sagar agrees that good physical health helps mental health.
“Stress is inevitable. There is a lot of pressure on women on the work and domestic front. So, staying healthy is of utmost priority. Only when you are well can you take care of others,” she says.
Making health fun
Zumba, Pilates, kick boxing, yoga, spinning, swimming and marathons — the list of activities is endless, which can make looking after one’s health fun and entertaining.
Chief Technical Officer in an IT firm, Zafar Ali, says “But there are still so many misconceptions. My mother for example, confuses household chores as being as effective as working out.
Others think walking 10,000 steps is as beneficial. But being in a state of burning fat after a workout cannot be achieved by washing utensils. If that was the case, then every homemaker would sport a six pack,” he points out.