It is much too early in the year to talk of serious stuff. So, I will discuss the usual New Year’s resolutions we make and how most of them end up. The big three resolutions are to lose weight, to give up something and to take up something.
Being overweight is becoming a major problem in almost every part of the world not afflicted by war or famine. Weight loss diets are a major business and every year we get a new fad. And some of these diets are downright unhealthy. However the major problem with most diets is that even if you lose weight when you stick with them, you will put the weight back on once you stop any particular diet. If however you do decide to go on a strict diet of some sort, my advice, take a multivitamin pill with it every day.
Yes, prevention is better than the cure but sadly the holiday and the wedding season is too much for too many. However an interesting transition in public perceptions. You rarely see the well-off being too fat. It is members of the ‘rising’ middle class that tend to put on weight.
What to do about a few extra pounds? Just eat a little less by cutting out that extra piece of bread. And an occasional walk or an extra up and down the stairs every day will work but it will take time. However for the truly overweight that hit the medical definition of obesity, the only thing that works is weight loss surgery also referred to as bariatric surgery.
To the best of my knowledge there are no centres in Pakistan that perform a large enough number of bariatric operations to qualify as specialised institutions. Problem with this type of surgery is that it is irreversible and it requires expert follow up.
Enough about weights, now to giving up something. One of the commonest resolutions is to give up smoking. It is becoming increasingly difficult to smoke in public places. Also the price of cigarettes keeps going up. All this has cut down on the number of people that do smoke cigarettes but there is still a hard core number that persists. There are no medical alternatives that can reliably make people give up smoking.
From an addiction point of view, smoking is probably as addictive as heroin. Since tobacco consumption is legal so there is less chance of addicts giving up on it. Vaping or electronic cigarettes are an option but they do not seem to help people give up smoking entirely. Medically speaking vaping is less dangerous than smoking cigarettes. My advice is that if you cannot stop smoking cigarettes, try vaping. But the best is to give it up entirely.
Smoking is becoming a poor man’s addiction and increasing cigarette prices hurts the poor more than the better off. There has been talk of ‘sin taxes’ recently. The only real sin tax in Pakistan would be the one on alcoholic beverages but these are not openly sold to the public so it is not worthwhile taxing them more than they are being taxed presently.
There are many other things people want to give up. The simple fact is that if you could not give it up in July, there is no reason why you can give it up in January. So I don’t think that making unusual resolutions is worthwhile.
And the most useless thing is getting ‘gym’ subscriptions for New Year. Most of them go unused after a week or two. As I said above, the best thing to do is start slowly with ‘exercise’ and if you have stairs in your house, go up and down a few more times every day than before. A fifteen or twenty minute walk five times a week is also a good start and offers most health benefits of moderate exercise. However real exercise should be left to those that pursue it with fanatic earnestness.
About things that you can take up for a New Year, my suggestion is more about things you can do that are not necessarily related to physical activity. We all worry about our bodies too much and not enough about our minds. A healthier mind leads to major benefits to our general wellbeing. And we can improve our minds without even getting out of a chair!
First thing, turn off that TV and read a book. A real paper book that actually stimulates all your senses. You touch the page and turn it, and if you touch your finger to your tongue before you turn the page, you even taste it. You can hear the page rustling and of course you see the page. Indeed a new book even has a new book smell. And what you read brings new information and new ideas. What better to stimulate your brain than all that?
The next thing, turn off that ‘smart’ cell phone or at least turn off the volume and put it aside when you read or eat or drive. Especially if you drive. Texting while driving is emerging as a major cause of auto accidents. Personally, I don’t use a smart phone.
Yes, the smart phone allows you to stay in contact with the world and have information literally at your fingertips but then it does take away the time you might be spending talking face to face with your family and friends. Unfortunately communication skills that are needed to interact face to face are disappearing especially among the young.
When I came back to Pakistan more than a decade ago, like old times I would often drop in to see friends and acquaintances. I have almost stopped doing that now because half the time instead of a conversation they keep looking at their phones as if they are waiting for a missive from above. And it does seem they receive these messages once every few minutes.
So I strongly suggest that all of us that have become slaves to our smart phones should try and break that habit. Having one day in the week devoted to immediate family for face to face conversations is a worthwhile resolution to make.
Another resolution that I strongly recommend is to develop a new skill. Learn a new language, take up a new hobby, may be learn to play a musical instrument or take on a new political or social project. All these things keep your mind working and keep away the dreaded dementia that is starting to affect more and more people at a younger age.
And yes, if you have a garden attached to your house, however small, gardening is a great activity. Most importantly you can even come out of your home and smell the roses! If not roses then grow some vegetables and herbs. And another hobby particularly for men is to learn to cook. Not major stuff but perhaps for starters just breakfast and an occasional barbeque. One major advantage of cooking for your self is that that is by far one of the best ways to control or even lose weight.