Dr. Biju James Contemplates on the thoughts before starting a fitness regimen and the obstacles associated with it.

If you are in a hurry and don’t want to waste your time reading the next 1000-odd words, the short answer is- You Can’t. Now, you can go ahead and order the Big Whopper with cheese.

Exercising and keeping fit has been a long-cherished dream for most of us. But exacting work schedules, changing sleep timings, and general inertia has often gotten the better of us. So how do we keep fit in these times? How can we ensure we get our eight hours of sleep? How can we lose weight and make sure it stays lost? How do we look better, feel better and something-else-that-I-have-forgotten better?

This article answers none of those questions.

Sleep is a very tricky thing. We know we need our naps. There have been studies showing sleep deprivation results in death. It is such a vital part of our lives and we probably need to give it more importance. The cover story of the August 2018 issue of National Geographic was on Sleep. Anyone who sleeps for less than six hours regularly is cranking up his or her chances of depression, psychosis, stroke and obesity.

picture courtesy; Zane lee : unsplash

So, how do we sleep better? Again, one of the most sleep disruptive thingies is the tablet/ smartphone. Just one quick look at another person’s status update might delay the onset of sleep by as much as an hour, depending on the amount of blue light emitted. Light at night inhibits the production of melatonin, the stuff behind our circadian rhythms. Some mobiles have a blue-light filter and hopefully, it will help in our beauty sleep.

As an interesting aside, there is a music piece called ‘Sleep’ a minimalist piece that guides listeners through a restful slumber. Its duration? Eight hours. So quick question: How many hours of slumber do you get every night on an average?

Long story short, we are sleeping less than about fifty or sixty years before. The LED lights for instance, though energy-saving, interfere with your sleep because of the blue light they emit.

The Japanese, it is estimated about 40% of them, get less than six hours of sleep at night. People catch up on their sleep in places not meant for sleep- subways, diners, offices. And there is even a name for it- ‘inemuri’ or ‘sleeping when present’, that is sleeping in places not meant for sleep.

Plus our work schedules play havoc with our sleep. I remember scheduling an early morning run with a friend and finally doing the run alone. He had got delayed at work the previous night.

“Dude! What can I do? I get home so late on most days that all the channels are showing only the teleshopping network!” he said.

I nodded understandingly. “That is late.”

And exercise?

We hear about chaps going to ‘get some cardio’ in their exercise routine. Some of you might be wondering how did it all start and whom to blame for messing up the abovementioned beauty sleep. The earliest study linking exercise and cardiac health was done in the 1940s. Jeremy Morris circumvented issues of funding for his research by studying two groups comprising people of about the same age, males, and with about the same risk factors except for one point- some were physically active, the others weren’t. The groups were bus drivers and conductors. He studied them for two years and found out that, after adjusting for all other variables, the drivers were twice as likely to have a heart attack as conductors.

There are innumerable articles about the benefits of exercise but regarding how much exercise we should get is a more debatable point. Ten thousand steps a day? 150 minutes per week? But all agree on one point- we don’t get enough of it. Only 20% of people manage moderate amount of regular activity. And what kind of activity?

My friend and I had this wonderful plan to get fit or get fat trying.

First we tried to get some fitness equipment. All of the stuff came in boxes having maniacally grinning blondes who looked as if they never would need the equipment inside the box. But we wanted a complete experience for each and every one of the six-hundred muscles that we possessed.

Next, we visited the local gym, selected for its proximity and timings. There was the mandatory glass cupboard with whey protein bottles in the reception area and framed pictures of bodybuilder types.

The guy at the reception had muscles bulging in all directions. He first took us on a tour of the gym, showing us various pieces of equipment. Intermittently, he would pick up some random piece of equipment like a dumbbell or kettle-bell that looked bigger than me and my friend combined, and keep it on its designated rack.

At the end of our tour, he asked us our feedback. My friend had a doubt.

“I saw pictures of various people in their undergarments. Is it necessary to be so dressed?”

One fibre twitched dangerously in the enormous left biceps of the gym guy as he tried to come to terms with something he hadn’t been asked before.

“Seriously?” I hissed at my friend.

“Dude, what can I say? I feel awkward walking around in my undies!”

The gym guy slowly rose from the chair he had been sitting on, undoubtedly to do some complicated warm up exercises before kettle-bell-swinging us through the front door. Luckily, we escaped.

For what it’s worth, here are some pointers that work for me:

  1. Choose an activity that you enjoy. Okay scratch that- choose a physical activity that you enjoy. Be it walking, running, swimming, tennis, badminton, zumba- anything. I have realized that unless you enjoy the exercise, it’s not very likely you will stick with it.
  2. Choose a time that works for you. Maybe you are a morning person. Maybe you prefer a run on the seaside after work. And keep that time for exercising. Weekend warriors are prone to injury so it is better you do half hour every day than two or three hours on the weekend. I have seen chaps going to the gym in the lunch break to avoid the crowds. Maybe that also works for some people.
  3. Choose how you go about doing it. Maybe you prefer working out with a friend and motivate each other. Maybe you prefer solitude. Maybe you prefer to keep all your exercise routines private between yourself and your Instagram account. Whatever works. Do it.

The other vital part of the fitness regime is diet and honestly, I am at a loss here. There are advocates for intermittent fasting, for frequent small meals, for caveman diet, for all-you-can-eat diet (okay, that was just thrown in for fun). But I will need to copy-paste a lot more articles to get the details. Maybe in another article.

So, in conclusion, both diet and exercise are equally important. And sleep. But you probably already knew that. So I will end with a random fact you might not have known: A couch potato is defined as someone who sits for six hours or more per day. And not any random chap binge watching Breaking Bad and munching his way through endless bags of crisps.


  1. National Geographic magazine- August 2018
  2. The Body- Bill Bryson (Doubleday 2019) (Friendly tip: If you search on the internet, using the keywords ‘Bill Bryson Body’ you might end up with results you might not want)

Dr. Biju James is a Radiologist, Author and Quizmaster based out of the the UAE

Featured image courtesy: Javier Santos on Unsplash