Make Every Day A Yoga Day
International Yoga Day serves to remind us of the need to invest in our physical and mental health as a long term plan
Any snippet of any conversation these days definitely entails some discussion around the scare of COVID-19 and the importance of staying healthy and strong. In this lockdown period, as you will imagine therefore, the most impacted are our mental and physical health. This holds true across age groups. The schools, workplaces are shut and people are being asked to (as well as they themselves preferring to) stay indoors to reduce or break the cycle of spread of virus infection. Since elderly, people with any disease are vulnerable, they are even more restricted in their exposure to any outdoor activity. Even the kids are all locked up in houses thereby reducing their optimal outdoor activity time, play time with friends and release of all their energy. This unique opportunity can either be viewed as a chance to invest in our health and wellbeing emotionally and mentally, physically or can exacerbate stress and negative thoughts. The latter coupled with reduced activity and rise in more frequent unhealthy eating can have a lot of adverse impact on our long term health and state of wellbeing.Also these behaviors often contagious. If we see our parents or family members following a particular regime diligently, the effect rubs on and is very impressionable especially to younger people at home. Remember it can go both ways- eat right, exercise, stay positive or vice versa. The choice is largely ours to make and keep.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and several other global leading institutions on health and nutrition have advocated the importance of investing in good health by eating healthy, including ample physical activity in your daily routine and abstaining from alcohol and tobacco. This requires a conscious and sustained effort on the part of an individual while being supported by the right combination of community support as well as governmental policies and programs to help nudge and facilitate healthier choices. One low cost high impact strategy to boost health is YOGA.
Yoga is both a lifestyle and a philosophy which helps attainment of good physical and mental health. Yoga’s origin in ancient Indian philosophy has been acknowledged by the globe. Yoga comprises of a mixture of physical postures and exercises (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), deep relaxation, and meditation practices that cultivate awareness and ultimately more profound states of consciousness. Yoga is thus considered a holistic package of health benefits - while the physical exercises (asanas) may increase physical flexibility, coordination, and strength; the breathing practices and meditation may develop greater awareness and diminish anxiety. Other beneficial effects might involve reduced stress, decrease in blood pressure, and improvements in cognition, resilience, mood, and metabolic regulation. No wonder our honorable Prime Minister refers to Yoga as “health assurance in zero budget”. Colleagues at Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) recently confirmed the benefits of Yoga in a randomized trial called YOGA CARE (yoga and cardiac rehabilitation). In simple words, Yoga-CaRe showed that yoga improved self-rated health and return to pre-infarct activities after a heart attack.
Yoga also acts as an immune system adjuvant that improves defense activity and metabolic health.Research confirms a clear inverse relationship between physical activity and illness risk. Yoga and several other forms of exercise have shown to have an anti-inflammatory influence mediated through multiple pathways. In fact habitual exercise improves immune regulation, delaying the onset of age-related dysfunction of several organs. It is well known that immune function is compromised in all forms of malnutrition (under nutrition, overweight, obesity and micronutrient deficiencies) and diet related health issues. Rising obesity and related metabolic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular problems, respiratory illnesses, hypertension etc among young Indians is quite worrisome. Estimates from recent national and sub-national surveys report hypertension prevalence as 25.3% (207 million) with greater prevalence in men (27.4%) than women (20.0%). India houses 77 million diabetics as per latest IDF report – one in 6 people with diabetes are from India. Obesity prevalence both among children (ranges between 3-12%; 14.4 million children) and adults is galloping bringing several other related adverse co-morbidities. Projections report that by 2040 the prevalence of overweight and obesity will reach 30.5% and 9.5% among men, and 27.4% and 13.9% among women, respectively. In India, a big motivator for physical activity among youth and middle aged adults is losing weight. In current times, keeping COVID-19 at bay may be an added reason to undertake positive actions for boosting health. But whatever be your reason, science confirms multiple benefits of yoga for ‘community, immunity and unity’.
While days like these – International yoga day- help to reiterate the importance of staying fit and healthy (especially in the mind and body) for common man, it is not a one day affair. Good health and wellbeing are outcomes of sustained investments. They should not be viewed equivalent to winning lottery by one day’s luck but should be reinforced as careful strategic investments in small amounts consistently over a period of time which provide a cover and security for present and later life too. Sustained practice and motivation are key challenges. Regular yoga practice will in turn support a desire to adopt and maintain healthy behaviour. Let us use this time-at-home to self-indulge and motivate others around us to commit to various forms of activity to stay safe and healthy for life. Promise yourselves today not only to nurture these good habits and reap the multiple benefits but also to inspire others!
(The author is Head, Nutrition Research and Additional Professor, Public Health Foundation of India. She tweets @shwetaPHN)