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Staying alive

For that, cardio exercise at home or in gyms is the heart of the matter

Shagnik Sen was stunned when his doctor told him he would require balloon angioplasty to fix a clogged artery.

The 38-year-old software pro had fallen prey to coronary atherosclerosis, a hardening and narrowing of the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

Like so many of us chasing the new-age success rainbow on a diet of junk food and sedentary lifestyle, he had ignored early warning signals like breathlessness, chest pain and weight gain.

Fortunately, for every Shagnik callously skipping an exercise regimen, there are hundreds of others in town climbing onto a treadmill, a cross-trainer, a bike or a rowing machine.

The human heart beats 100,000 times a day, propelling six quarts of blood through 60,000 miles of vessels. Clearly, Calcutta is fast waking up to the need to ease congestion on this vital route.

WHY

To put it simply, if heart disease is seen as a plumbing problem, then cardio exercise is an efficient plumber. It challenges the body to use more oxygen as a result of exercising at moderate intensity over a period of time.

More and more Calcuttans — in gyms and at home — seem to be realising that you need ‘cardio’ to get your weight under control and stress within tolerable levels.

“If you have limited time and need to shed fat, you must do at least 30 minutes of cardio or aerobic exercise, thrice a week,” says Ritu Gupta of Addlife, one of the city gyms offering cardio fitness programmes.

Performing any cardio activity helps raise the target heart rate (THR) intensity to 60 per cent of the individual’s maximum heart rate (MHR). This is when the body gets into the fat-burning zone.

At its most basic level, cardio fitness means a person has achieved good oxygen flow and can walk or jog for an hour or more. In such physical fettle, one is less inclined to have heart attacks than a less fit person.

WHERE & WHAT

And now, if there’s a will, there’s a workpad. Says Divya Himatsingka, director, Gold’s Gym Calcutta: “We are interested in assisting members with the actual process of initiating and incorporating physical activity into daily life. We hope to discover individual traits and tools that enable certain people to stay with an exercise plan better than others.”

The international gym chain which has helped Muhammad Ali and Shaquille O’Neal, Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes and Nadia Comaneci and Anna Kournikova stay in shape, is launching a 70-km Cardio Thon in town, a competitive introduction to Gold’s cardio programme.

“It would help identify the stamina level and thereby heart fitness through simple exercises,” explains Himatsingka. Gold’s Gym aims to determine how well participants adhere to a personalised fitness plan, motivation both for beginning and sustaining regular workouts, and the role of a support system to boost determination.

Pallab Biswas, fitness superviser at Solace, agrees cardio shouldn’t just constitute a critical element of one’s exercise regimen but “be built into one’s lifestyle”. Going by the sale of cardio equipment, Calcuttans are doing just that.

Bodyline Stores, the mega fitness outlet on Ballygunge Circular Road, sells approximately 200 units of small and big fitness equipment every month, out of which 80 per cent are cardio machines.

Treadmills sell the fastest. Manual treadmills start from Rs 7,500 and go up to Rs 12,000, whereas motorised treadmills start from Rs 25,000 and go up to Rs 1 lakh and more. The stair climber (motorised), at Rs 65,000-plus, works as treadmill and stepper.

“If you focus on the goal of losing weight, sometimes you get discouraged along the way. If you concentrate on cardio fitness instead, you’ll end up losing all the weight you ever dreamt of, and your heart will thank you for the effort,” says Gagan Sachdev, director, Bodyline Sports, which also operates gyms at city clubs and corporate offices.

HOW

Current recommendation by the medical fraternity is 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity on most days of the week. “The important news is that these 30 minutes can be accumulated in three 10-minute periods of activity over the course of the day for the same health benefits as one continuous 30-minute session,” stresses cardiac surgeon Kunal Sarkar.

He, however, advises a slow-and-steady start. “You should aim to build up to half an hour of moderate activity a day. Remember, every little bit counts and any activity you can do like climbing stairs or walking, will help.”

Improved strength, endurance, flexibility, and better ability to walk and perform daily tasks are all benefits of exercise, doctors concur, recommending brisk walking, dancing, cycling or swimming, besides gym workouts. They also advise “alternating activities so that you don’t get bored”, a viewpoint endorsed by trainers.

“The body adapts quickly to any kind of workout routine. So, if you’ve been spending most of your cardio time on the same machine for over six weeks, your body has developed a mechanical efficiency to that movement and it’s time to change it,” says Anwar Wahhab, fitness consultant at Bodyline Group of Gyms.

Low-intensity cardio, which works at targeting body fat, is the most popular form of cardio exercise in Calcutta. This is in step with the Health Education Authority (HEA) recommendations of moderate activity, which “makes you feel warm”, and increases your breathing rate.

“You don’t have to break into a sweat to improve your health; there can be gain without pain as well,” smiles surgeon Sarkar.

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