There is a growing number of people turning to exercise in India, and this trend is particularly catching on in their 30s and 40s. Data from some of India’s most popular running events, such as the Tata Mumbai Marathon, Vedanta Delhi Half Marathon and TCS World 10k Bengaluru, backs this up. “The majority of runners participating in our all-distance races are between the ages of 30 and 50. Thousands of new runners from this age group register for our races every year,” said a spokesman for Procam International, the promoter of these running events.
There are several reasons for this. There is, of course, much more awareness about the importance of exercise for health and longevity. But there’s also FOMO, because people don’t want to miss out on what their friends are doing.
By the time people reach their 30s and 40s, disturbing signs such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and cholesterol appear. While excessive weight gain is linked to multiple diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mobility problems and joint pain, cholesterol also poses a significant health risk for people ages 30 and older, doctors say.
In general, cholesterol-related problems are more common in middle-aged and older adults, said Dr. Manish Hinduja, consultant for adult cardiac surgery and cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Mumbai. In India, these problems start much before the age when people develop these problems in Western countries, noted Dr. Manish Bansal, senior director of clinical and preventive cardiology at Medanta Hospital’s Heart Institute in Gurugram. “Nearly 50 percent of all heart attacks in India today occur under the age of 50. So 30-35 years is the age when one should be very careful about heart health, including checking cholesterol, although earlier would be even better,” Dr. Bansal added.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is produced in our liver. Every cell of the body needs cholesterol to perform vital functions. Cholesterol helps in the production of hormones, vitamin D and other substances that help us digest food, for example. Our body makes all the cholesterol it needs. Cholesterol itself is not harmful, but the problem arises when there is too much low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol in the blood (HDL or high-density lipoprotein helps to remove cholesterol from the arteries and carry it back to the liver and is therefore considered good). High LDL leads to the formation of plaques, which are deposited in the walls of the blood vessels, Hinduja adds. High levels of “bad” cholesterol can contribute to several health risks, such as atherosclerosis (cholesterol deposits lead to narrowing and hardening of arteries, restricting blood flow to vital organs), which in turn is a risk factor for heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and under other peripheral arterial disease.
What is commonly referred to as a cholesterol problem is actually a high level of LDL in the bloodstream and can be caused by genetic factors, a sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary habits, or a combination of these. “So incorporating exercise or physical activity in any form can not only help fight cholesterol, but can also help control cholesterol levels. A balanced diet also plays an important role in tackling the cholesterol problem,” said Gathaman Ramesh, fitness expert at Cult.fit.
Bansal and Hinduja agree that a healthy lifestyle plays a vital role. “A healthy lifestyle helps lower LDL levels and raise HDL levels. Regular exercise and eating foods rich in complex carbohydrates and monounsaturated fats are very helpful. We should consume more whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Flax seeds are also considered good. Sweets and refined carbohydrates should be completely avoided. It is also advisable to keep the intake of saturated fats to a minimum, but it is not necessary to completely eliminate them from your diet,” says Bansal.
Both strength training and cardio exercise play an important role in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, Ramesh stressed. “Strength training helps improve body composition and metabolism, which play a key role in improving cholesterol levels. Cardiovascular exercise is important for keeping the heart working properly and also helps improve overall calorie expenditure, which also helps reduce overall body fat percentage,” Ramesh added.
Aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming and aerobics lead to weight loss, raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, Hinduja said. “While strength training may not affect cholesterol levels as directly as aerobic exercise, it increases muscle mass, improves insulin sensitivity, and improves cardiovascular and bone health. Ideally, a well-rounded exercise routine should include both cardio and strength training components,” he added.
Bansal recommended two-thirds of cardio exercise and one-third of strength training for overall heart health. According to Ramesh, the best way to progress is to start slowly and then stick to 30-45 minute strength training sessions two or three times a week and three days of low-intensity 30-minute cardio sessions.
6 steps to beat cholesterol
Dr. Manish Hinduja explains how you can win the battle against cholesterol by following these six steps:
1. Choose a heart-healthy diet: Focus on a diet low in saturated and trans fats. Reduce your intake of processed foods, fried foods, red meat, full-fat dairy products, and foods high in cholesterol. Instead, opt for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (such as poultry and fish), and healthy fats (such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts). Consume foods high in soluble fiber, such as oats, legumes, and fruits, as they can help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
2. Increase physical activity: Regular exercise can help raise your HDL (good) cholesterol while lowering LDL cholesterol. Engage in cardio/aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or other activities that raise your heart rate. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week.
3. Maintain a healthy weight: Losing excess weight, especially belly fat, can have a positive impact on your cholesterol levels.
4. Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol consumption: Smoking damages blood vessels and lowers HDL cholesterol levels, making it more difficult for your body to clear LDL cholesterol. Excessive alcohol consumption can raise cholesterol levels and contribute to other health problems. Quit smoking and if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
5. Manage stress: Chronic stress can indirectly affect cholesterol levels. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga, engaging in hobbies, spending time with loved ones, or seeking professional help if needed.
6. Check Cholesterol Levels Regularly: It is important to have your cholesterol levels checked regularly, especially if you have a family history of high cholesterol or other risk factors. This will help you track your progress and make the necessary lifestyle adjustments.
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