NEPAL -- We all age every second of every day we live, whether we like it or not. Many of the changes of aging are inevitable and are accepted stoically, but a significant number can either be stalled or even reversed by regular exercise.
The human body usually reaches its apex of physical fitness in the third decade of life. After our 30th birthday, most of us start going downhill at the rate of about 1-3 percent a year! What we often forget or ignore, however, is that most of this decline is due to decreased physical activity, rather than the effects of aging alone. What we need to do, therefore, is not stress about aging, which is inevitable, but do something actively. Else, chances are, that you will be really run down by the time you hit your 50th birthday.
I started jogging regularly after reaching 40 and I am still jogging as eagerly almost two decades later. I normally jog eight km (50 minutes) on alternate days and 16 km (one hour 40 minutes) once a month as a high intensity effort. Believe me when I say that I have never felt better in all my life.
By jogging, I don't mean brisk walking or sprinting, but a moderately slow run of not more than 6 miles per hour. It is a simple free exercise that tones up your body, revs up the heart and lungs, and strengthens the bones and muscles. It also reduces stress, clears the mind, improves memory, increases confidence, reduces body weight, and increases joint mobility. The benefits clearly outweigh any associated risks and any initial discomfort first timers might experience in the first few days of their jog.
At this point, I should warn you that if you have a medical problem, you should consult your doctor before starting to jog. The discomfort I speak of varies from jogger to jogger, depending on a variety of factors such as age, state of health, stamina, and intensity of the jog. But it is advisable to start gradually, and for a newcomer, it may take upto three months to adjust to the increased pace. So be patient. This graded approach will also reduce injuries and maximise the benefits derived from a beginner's attempt at jogging. We know that we should all be eating three meals each day with all three major food groups (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) as well as enough fruits, vegetables, and pulses. When you are on a normal diet, you don't need any extra vitamin, mineral or hormone supplements. Instead, drink plenty of water (I recommend a large glass with a lemon squeezed into it and a small pinch of salt after the run). By the way, it's also a good idea to go to the bathroom before starting to run as public toilets are few and far in between in Kathmandu! Wear comfortable clothing. That means nothing too tight and be liberal with cotton as it best absorbs perspiration. Make sure, and this is important, that you have a comfortable pair of jogging shoes on, with adequate toe space, and a thick comfortable sole to dampen footfalls; comfortable shoes, as opposed to fashionable ones, are always worth an investment.
Carry a handkerchief and some tissue paper. You may need an identity card and some cash. I don't carry a mobile phone as I find it disturbing but is important that your family or friends know which route you take. To combat the current winter morning fog, a small torch helps. I have seen joggers carry a stick to ward off stray dogs; you may find it necessary but don't weigh yourself down with too many things. It is also a good idea, especially in the winter, to start off the run with a 5-10 minutes stretching exercise to loosen the leg, abdominal and back muscles. Begin to run gradually, and remember it takes about 10-15 minutes for your body to adjust to the run. Listen to your body signals and pace yourself accordingly. Take your pulse for 10 seconds, multiply it by 6, and if it is over 220 minus your age, slow down. Older athletes need to train smarter rather than harder. Stay motivated, and pay attention to your body. Rest and recovery of the body is equally important. Add a high intensity period about once a week to your routine to improve your stamina. It's easier to do your running in the morning or evening, when it's cooler. Valley traffic is heavy and the roads are dusty in the afternoons. Choose wide and smooth-surfaced roads; Kathmandu footpaths leave much to be desired. Try to break the monotony by changing routes and choosing plain, uphill, and downhill tracks. Face the traffic to know about oncoming vehicles. Be on the look out for aggressive dogs and also aggressive people. And give a thumbs- up sign when you cross other joggers, especially those older than you!
There are some popular myths about jogging which I want to dispel. Firstly you are no more exposed to pollution while jogging on the road during off-traffic hours than you are lying on your couch watching soap operas on TV! Secondly, there is no significant risk involved in a graded jogging programme with medical clearance after 50 years of age. If jogging is done in a graded manner there are no increased knee impact injuries. Towards the end of your run, slow down for about five minutes towards the end of the run. You should have totally recovered ten minutes after the run; otherwise you are again straining yourself by running too fast. Remember you are your own and only competition. Any improvement achieved is a credit solely attributed to you and you should feel good after realising that you have improved and will continue to do so. And I will vouch for the improvement. After each jog I experienced a euphoric feeling the entire day, which I attributed to the surge in endogenous chemicals like endorphins generated during the run. This usually carried over till my next run. Over the months, my elated wife noticed my intake of alcohol had gradually decreased, and I no longer enjoyed the taste I had slowly developed for whiskey during the two decades of my army medical career. I talked about this new peculiar 'problem' with a close psychiatrist friend, who said it was a benefit due to the chemicals liberated in the body by jogging. So nowadays, I let my old whiskey bottles slowly mature and gather dust in my small bar! As for me, I'm still on the road. Thapa is an ardent jogger,pathologist, and health care executive.