Knowledge of good health

Knowledge of good health

Muralidharan Nair

I had mentioned in my previous column that healthcare (not sick care) must be the focus of both policy and public. As I prepare to write this column, intending to focus on the theme of self-accountability for a healthy life, I am reminded of an interesting experience that was shared by the promoter of one of the largest healthcare chains in India. His company had come out with a scheme for a free annual health check-up for all its employees. When they reviewed the utilization of the facility after almost nine months, less than 15 percent had availed of it and this perplexed the management. It was assumed that health matters dearly to all. Upon instituting a quick study to understand the reason for the poor take-up, the most frequent response was lack of time and the overwhelming feedback for making it a success was to additionally offer a half-day paid leave for the employee to take the tests!

I must say that I was not truly surprised by this attitude and neither is it uniquely relevant to health. I think it’s more a result of a psychology where management of crisis perhaps gets celebrated more than the prevention of crisis. Again I am reminded of an interesting article by Swaminathan S Anklesaria Iyer, almost a decade back, where he had tried to analyse the reason why so many Indians had risen to the very top in global corporations during that period. His hypothesis was that it could be that our risk response skills– that is honed from very early stages living in an environment where the system does not assure an objective experience — that have come to be a very differentiating skill in the global context characterised by high volatility and uncertainty. The moot point here is that, irrespective of the reasons for our general psychology of discriminating against proactive risk management, it will be highly undesirable and unfortunate if this trait continues to manifest in matters of health.

The twin problem of a very high communicable, and a high and rapidly-growing non-communicable disease burden puts India at a unique disadvantage. Consequently, it is imperative for us that there is sincere focus, both at an institutional and individual level, to seek good health and prevent sickness. The factors that critically contribute to shaping the health of a community can be classified into two categories: Macro factors, such as nutrition, pre and postnatal care, immunization, sanitation and pollution, and micro factors, such as personal hygiene (physical and mental) and physical activity. The macro factors need institutional/state intervention, and are typically beyond an individual’s control. I intend to focus on the micro factors for which an individual is fully accountable:

Physical Hygiene: A. Our body is nothing but the food/drinks we eat. Eating right is half the thing done, your body will always tell you what and how much is right if you care to listen, and keep in mind that “what makes you crave is not your friend” because nature loves freedom and not slavery. Personally, I have found the book, “The Wellness Sense” by Om Swami, an informative source in this regard.    B. For minor ailments, minimise the use of modern medicine, which are a concoction of synthetic chemicals and not a friend of the body. In fact, we have the unique advantage of a rich tradition of home remedies, naturopathy and AYUSH, which should be our first recourse. Please view Padma Bhushan Dr. B.M.Hegde’s videos on YouTube to get a perspective on modern drugs. C. Periodic internal cleansing of the body, per season or at least once a year. There are different methods prescribed in naturopathy and yogic traditions, and the same can be understood and adopted as per individual comfort after expert consultation. An alternative that I have personally found very useful is 2-3 day (consecutive) fruit fast during every season change.

Mental Hygiene: It is mental hygiene that results in a healthy mind, which in turn is an essential prerequisite, nay, the very bedrock, of a healthy body. It is of particular significance if we have to prevent the menace of non-communicable disease. Without mental hygiene, attempts to achieve physical hygiene is futile. Inversely, physical hygiene habits grow organically as your mental hygiene evolves. Unfortunately, this is much less understood and often neglected. Mental hygiene essentially stems from a Steady Mind, something everyone craves for but only a few achieve in today’s world. It is indeed a great tragedy that India is one of the rare countries that has a  very rich Yogic tradition, wisdom, knowledge and practices pertaining to this esoteric area, but has neglected this priceless treasure. I suggest only one practice to start this journey of achieving a Steady Mind: Pranayama, specifically Anulom-Vilom. Learn the technique from a qualified expert and practice it for half an hour a day and witness the change for yourself.

Physical Activity: There is no dearth of information available to all on this subject, but personally, I feel a simple and cheap, but very effective, way is to target 10,000 steps a day doing whatever one is comfortable with. Technology in the form of wearables are a great ally in this pursuit. A still better way is to target 30 mins of Surya Namaskar every day.

Before I conclude, I must clarify that I am neither a medical doctor nor an expert in Yoga or naturopathy, but have been a keen seeker of knowledge for good health. What I have shared in this column is what I have personally experienced and found beneficial.

The author has long-standing association with
EY India but the views are strictly personal.

MURALIDHARAN NAIR

Partner, Healthcare Practices, Ernst & Young India.

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