Guest Column

The Caterpillar – Dr Sudipto Chakravarty

“The state of your health is just like a caterpillar larva. The moment you shed your cocoon; you turn into a strikingly beautiful creation.”
Hello readers. My name is Sudipto Chakravarty. I am a doctor. As an integral part of my practice, I have to come up with quips and examples like the one above, conjured on the spot, to convince care seekers about the virtues of healthy living and a moderately disciplined life. Today as well, I’m not here to sermonize on health, but the idea is to share a very general script about why we should begin to think about adopting a plan that will ensure we stay reasonably fit until ripe old age. Just like a retirement plan, you see, but not the financial one, which I’m sure, you already have stoutly in place.
If I were to suddenly throw a diet plan or an exercise regimen at you, many of you will, in all certainty, get up and walk away. That’s because most of you are fairly fit and do not face challenges in carrying out routine chores that our present lifestyle demands of us. Yes, you can climb a flight of stairs easily, maybe getting slightly breathless only towards the end. Yes, there’s some flab around the waist and on the abdomen, but then it should be okay. Parties and all. Understandable. Of course, you are very particular about food, but then, you cannot refuse the occasional pizza or samosa, or the couple of gulab jamuns that find their way into your fridge every once in a while. Yes, the ice-cream too. And sundry gravies. Groovy Friday nights too. Certainly, this should be normal, you feel, and the very idea of regulating your favorite stuff early in life strikes you as being a very unreasonable demand. “Yaar! Ye bhi koi baat hai?”
C’mon! Don’t go yet. There’s some interesting discussion ahead. Let us take a look at the life expectancy charts. Can you guess what the life expectancy of an average Indian was in 1947, the year we got our independence from the British? Thirty one years. Unbelievable? Yes, I too had rubbed my eyes in disbelief when I first read this, but that’s true. Those with access to nutrition and healthcare would live longer, even up to old age, but the teeming millions would simply perish in their thirties or forties. Cut to 2021. Today, the average life expectancy in India is 70 years. And in the next 20 years, it is expected to touch 80. Medical science is rapidly progressing to a stage where life would be actively preserved until very old age. Simply said, modern medicine will be adding years to your life with consummate ease.
What does it all mean though? Life expectancy of 80 sounds jolly good! Why should there be a problem in that? Won’t you get a lot of time to enjoy your years? Trips. Cruises. Adventure. With life’s responsibilities largely taken care of, and with some money to spare, won’t it be a very exciting time in your life?
Of course, it will be. And here lies the catch. To enjoy the years that modern medicine would afford you, you need to stay fit. Fit enough to carry out activities of daily living, unassisted. You can’t let yourself be restricted to a bed or a chair, having to depend on someone to even bring you a spoon or a glass of water. Your bones, joints and muscles would need to stay strong and reasonably free from pain, injury, or erosions. Mentally, you should remain alert and in command of a good memory. You may need medicines for blood pressure, but your heart should still be in good shape. There may be an acceptable range of age-related changes, but otherwise you should be able to chug along comfortably. And who knows, if you are fit enough in your later years, you may even care to indulge in a bit of romance every now and then! Now don’t stare at me!
It is this state of health that we need to keep in mind while drawing up our retirement plans. And just like our retirement corpus, our health corpus too needs years of diligent planning. Do I have your attention now?
Good. Then go to sleep. Yes. You read that right. Go to sleep. On time. Every night. A good 7 to 8 hours daily. That’s the single most important behavioral change you should strive to achieve before we can even hope to talk about fitness plans. Remember, it took us 15 million years to evolve from apes to humans. And we, as a race, have slept through one third, or 5 million of those years in this period.
So! Wish to ace that trek in the Himalayas in your sixties? Or enjoy that cruise in your seventies? Start sleeping 7-8 hours daily. I can guarantee you that you’d be halfway there already if you can manage a good night’s sleep consistently and make it a habit. Yes, you’ll have to sacrifice your late-night texts and bid an early good night to your WhatsApp groups, but it will be a small price to pay.
In my next story, I shall be dwelling some more upon sleep. Chit chat. Interesting anecdotes. Quick takeaways. That’s all. No scientific mumbo jumbo. I wouldn’t want you to sleep through my article on sleep, really.
Dr Sudipto Chakravarty, from Jaipur, Rajasthan, is a medical professional with 20+ years of clinical experience. As an innovator and entrepreneur, he has been at the forefront of introducing and adopting the latest in technology in his chosen field of expertise, gastroenterology. An avid writer, and one of the most followed doctors on Twitter, Dr. Sudipto loves to work closely with organisations, advocacy groups, and NGOs for spreading health awareness. You can follow him on twitter at @SudiptoDoc

November 7, 2021

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