Exercise at any age: How these 3 women ignored physical activity but began late and got back in shape | Health and Wellness News

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Savitri Bobde, a 39-year-old start-up owner in Bengaluru, had never exercised till 2020. Mistakenly believing she was fit because she was thin, she realised something was wrong when her knees gave way during a trek and she felt unusually exhausted. Pushpa Sharma, 62, balanced chores with her work as a government school teacher, travelling 80 km daily from her home in Jaipur, and started exercising as a retiree because of her diabetes. Noida’s Vandana Garg, 54, took up exercising post-50 to control her weight and hormone issues. For a long time, she thought her obesity was due to her genes and no amount of physical activity or gym could address it.

These three women are a perfect representation of a latest Lancet study, which has found half the adult Indian population to be unfit. According to it, more women (57 per cent) than men (42 per cent men) are physically inactive. Despite being educated and informed, none of these women knew that they wouldn’t have had the health complications in their middle age had they made exercise a part of their daily discipline in their 20s. But the good news is that all three, though late bloomers when it comes to fitness, have managed to turn their lives over.

“I coach many women in their 40s and 50s who thought their work lives and household chores more than made up for a lack of exercise. First of all, we tend to overestimate the number of calories that are burnt while doing housework. They can never be enough to make up for calorie burns during more traditional exercises. They cannot restructure and reshape your body. If you overwork, managing chores and office, the body gets exhausted. Exercises are about relaxing the body too. Some of these women, who started late, were able to reverse their body conditions with something as simple as deep breathing, yoga and disciplined eating,” says holistic health expert Dr Mickey Mehta. Functional medicine expert and celebrity fitness coach Vijay Thakkar has many 50-year-old students, who had enrolled with him when they were 42. “Today they are better than 35-year-olds in terms of body functionality and fitness. Even if you start your fitness journey post-50s (and I have many heart patients coming for cardio-rehabilitation), you can take it slow and easy, build up with small efforts like walking and stretching and sync yourself with your body threshold, of course after medical evaluation,” he says.

Savitri chose yoga and calisthenics

Savitri Bobde (Photo: File) Savitri Bobde, a 39-year-old start-up owner in Bengaluru, had never exercised till 2020. (Express photo)

“Unfortunately, I, like most people around me, assumed fitness was all about being thin. In my mid-30s, my legs started hurting and my knees gave way during a trekking holiday. Things got worse when I founded a startup; the stress of setting it up resulted in acid reflux and nausea every morning. That’s when I approached a fitness coach who told me that I was low on immunity and stamina and needed strength training,” says Savitri. She began with yoga in 2020 and the following year, signed up for calisthenics — a form of strength training where you use your own body weight as resistance to perform multi-joint, compound movements with no equipment. Her routines were about pull-ups, push ups, lunges and squats, all of which strengthened her core, legs and upper body. She also gained 7 to 8 kg of lean muscle mass over two years.

“Now I cannot live without exercise,” says Savitri, who is watching her diet too. She has increased her protein intake. Alternating yoga with calisthenics every week day, she even walks 4 km in the evening. Now she’s preparing for a trek at Kishtwar in Jammu. “I do half-an-hour of stair climbing with an eight-kg backpack. I am not tired anymore,” adds Savitri.

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Pushpa’s challenge: Tadasana, walks and warm water

Pushpa Sharma (Photo: File) When Pushpa Sharma retired in 2023, she found herself overweight at 80 kg with knee problems that restricted her movements. (Express photo)

Married at 17, Pushpa moved to her marital home in a village for a few years, doing hard labour and staying up nights to complete her B-Ed course. Even when the family moved to Jaipur and she got a job as a teacher, her posting was in a government school 80 km away. “I would wake up at 4.30 am, cook for the family and set out at 6 am because school began at 7 am. For many years till my retirement, I took a train, shared a ride and walked to reach my school. I never had breakfast except a cup of tea, had a brunch of rotis and vegetables around the student’s tiffin break at 10.30 am and never had anything till dinner. The long gaps between meals led to chronic acidity,” says Pushpa, detailing her overstressed younger years where there was no room for exercise.

So when she retired in 2023, she found herself overweight at 80 kg with knee problems that restricted her movements. She was further diagnosed with diabetes, her sugar levels shooting upto 400 mg/dL. That’s when Dr Mehta advised Pushpa to begin with yoga, doing mostly standing positions with Tadasana. “Now I walk between 5,000 to 8,000 steps daily and track my progress on an app. I do yoga for an hour every morning in a hot room till I sweat,” she says.

She follows a diet discipline. “I have two bajra chapatis by 10 am, have vegetable and fruit salads by 3 pm and a dalia khichdi by 5 pm, the last meal of the day. I have given up tea altogether, preferring to sip warm water whenever I have an urge. I have a glass of unsweetened milk at 9 pm,” adds Pushpa. She now weighs 70 kg and her diabetes is under check. Her takeaway? “People talk about self-love. That begins only when you take care of your body instead of burning it out,” she says.

Vandana’s turning point

Vandana Garg with her son (Photo: File) Vandana Garg with her son. (Express photo)

For a long time into her 40s, Vandana reconciled with her obesity thinking it was hereditary with all family members overweight. That’s why she never thought much about her post-pregnancy weight gain. That was until her scales tilted to 88 kg and she developed hormonal complications, thyroid problems and psoriasis. “I never thought exercise could take care of my fat genes. But research shows that even if you inherit them, you can change your life by doing an hour of moderate exercises daily,” says Vandana, who began with free-hand exercises and then brisk walking. But since she would tire out easily, she varied her routine with yoga.

With the stubborn fat taking time to melt away, Vandana changed her diet. “I shifted my breakfast to 7 am, junked parathas for oats, dalia or multigrain sandwich, eliminated wheat, limited portions of rice and added more salads and sprouts for lunch. I even switched over to bajra rotis, vegetables and soups for dinner. There was a time when snacking meant only pakodas. Now I have bajra puffs, roasted makhana (foxnuts) and papaya salad instead,” she says.

Contrary to perception, exercise can be begun at any age even if you have ignored it all your life. “Nudging your body shouldn’t be about shoving. You must give stimulus to your body to improve and adapt itself. There are no bad workouts but workouts not done the right way,” shares Thakkar.


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