To be or Not to be (Outdoors)?
If you are living in north India, and specifically in the Delhi-Punjab-Haryana-UP belt, you would know winter is setting in. Not just because of the slight nip in the air but because of the smog engulfing us, making it hard for us to breathe. It has been on a bad-to-worse trajectory for the last few years and this year pollution levels have set the alarm bells ringing. Burning eyes, throat and chest constriction, breathing difficulty on the outside and toxic deposits in lungs on the inside – the situation at present is nothing short of a health crisis.
Schools have been shut down, health advisories released and air purifiers are flying off of the shelf. Each time you switch on the television or flip through pages of the news dailies, there is a healthcare specialist advising us to stay indoors and refrain from strenuous outdoor activities including running and cycling.
For many endurance athletes this is a catch 22 situation. With events such as the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon just around the corner, many participants are currently in active training (and have been for months). And even if it weren’t for such events, running and cycling outdoors are now a way of life for many. So while they took to these activities for a healthier life, are they putting the same health at risk now by continuing on this chosen path? As a health and fitness specialist, I am in agreement with the medical fraternity in strongly advising taking a well measured call to exposure till the dust settles down (pun intended).
However, I also understand that it is a personal decision. So if one absolutely must continue, please do so wearing an outdoor mask and protective glasses. They will provide at least a layer of protection. You may not be able to see the extent of air pollution but it pervades all areas and won’t dissipate in a hurry. Unlike an injury, you may not know the extent to which it hits you inside, now or in the future.
Indoor Alternatives to Stay Active
For others, while you wait, you do not have to give up on your exercise regimen completely and negate all the hard work you have invested in over weeks, months and years. You can tweak your routines for a while, bring them indoors and experiment with newer work-outs that will help you keep up with your activity levels. Here are a few indoor alternatives:
- Remember that gym membership you paid for but never utilized? Now would be a good time to put it to use. From cardio machines to weights and group classes, you’ll have options to mix and match as per your interest, training requirement and ability.
- If you don’t have access to a gym, get innovative with the space and resources you have available at home and in office. There are several ways of training, including performing high intensity interval trainings, using your body weight, external weights and stuff lying around. Some of these were covered in my earlier blog Preparing for a Trek. You can get some good ideas there.
- Do you have Stairs in your home or office? Hit them to build cardio and strength. Walk/run up and down, one or two steps at a time depending upon your fitness level and ability. Add squats coming down (choose alternate or every step depending upon level of fitness). Hop up diagonally (foot landing on same corner of the step – R foot landing on right side of step, L foot on left side of next step, going up). Add backpacks/ loaded school bags for weight.
- Chairs, tables, benches and floor – all these can be put to good use for workouts. These can add a twist to functional training.
- Use this time indoors to build upon the oft neglected elements – Balance and Flexibility. (Some exercises mentioned in Visual guide to 36 useful stretches). Irrespective of age group and fitness levels/pursuits, most any way don’t spend as much time on these essential pillars of good health. It’s a good opportunity to address these.
A few nutrition tips to counter pollution
While we try and keep our body active and fit through alternative exercise regimens, I also suggest a few nutritional adjustments to counter or at least minimize pollution-induced conditions such as congestion, sore throat, asthma etc.
- Ginger, tulsi, anise, fennel, cinnamon, mustard and raw turmeric are just some of the commonly found ingredients in our kitchens that provide multiple health benefits. They are natural decongestants and adaptogens (herbal ingredients assisting health of adrenal system). They also have curative and anti-stress/detox properties.
- Seasonal fruits like Oranges, strawberries, apples, guavas and Vegetables such as broccoli, spinach etc provide Vitamin C (which helps fight allergies by boosting immunity) along with other essential nutrients that boost health.
- Food sources containing Omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium (such as walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, almonds, bananas etc) help.
- Hydration plays an important role in flushing out toxins. You could add fruits and herbs to water for natural flavor, such as cucumber, basil, mint, lime, orange, kiwi etc.
Remember different foods provide different nutrients in varying degrees. Follow a balanced diet (even otherwise) to get maximum health benefits, both active and preventive. Make use of the seasonal winter options. There are plenty of choices.
These are extraordinary times and we need to be extra cautious regarding our health. Even if the advised shift from outdoor to indoor is not the most desired alteration to our daily exercise routine, we may find it worth our while to tide over the situation with adjustments in the interest of our long term health.
Be Safe. Be Healthy.