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The infinity elixir

The secret to living healthy is not medication but regular exercise

Dr Gita Mathai   |   Published 15.09.21, 12:26 AM

People are always looking for a magical pill, a single tablet that will keep them healthy and disease-free so that they live actively to a ripe old age. However, the secret to this is not medication but regular exercise. Physical activity will keep you fit and negate the need for pills and tonics.

Walking, especially as you get older, is the ideal exercise. It is gentle on the body and requires only a pair of properly-fitted, sturdy walking shoes. If you wear flip-flops, your feet are not supported as the slippers tend to fall off. Sandals are a degree better, but good shoes allow the correct walking technique — the heel strikes the ground first and then allows the foot to roll up to the toe in a rocking motion. If this technique is followed, pain in the feet is prevented.

As with any new activity, most people have “starting” trouble. Prevarication is usually easier. The first step is the hardest. And after that, the next 9,999 steps follow almost effortlessly. Every 10 minutes of walking adds approximately 1,000 steps. Each stride is about 1.2-1.5 metres long.

While walking, the calf muscles release chemicals that are responsible for several health benefits. Some of them are endorphins. Others are similar to the chemicals found in marijuana. All of them are mood-elevating and anti-depressive.

Studies have been extensively done on the benefits of walking. A 10-minute walk helps to soothe anxiety and reduce anger. If you have a sedentary job and work all day seated at a desk, then getting up every hour for a 2-5 minute walk will keep you active and energised through the day.

If you increase your walking time to 40 minutes a day, you can reap more benefits. Those 40 minutes do not have to be at one stretch — can be split into two 20-minute sessions. A slow waddle is better than nothing, but you should try to increase the pace to four kilometres an hour so that you can cover 2.5km in 40 minutes. There are many free apps available that can help you track your speed and distance.

Walking not only elevates your mood, it also helps with weight loss, diabetes control, prevention of stroke and heart attacks. It lowers blood pressure, reduces the incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and even reduces the number of colds bouts. It speeds up recovery from illnesses too.

Fear of the Covid-19 pandemic has left many people housebound. They are unable to go to the gym or just “go out and walk”. India has always had a traditional yogic remedy for this — the “infinity” walk. On the veranda or terrace, or in the hall, use chalk or tape to draw two circles. Although, ideally, each should be six feet in diameter and face north-south, this may not be practical or feasible. You need to walk clockwise for 15 minutes and then anticlockwise for 15 minutes. This figure of “8” walk is preferable in the morning. Yet, try to repeat it in the evening also.

In addition to giving you the benefits of walking, the “infinity” walk also develops coordination and balance. It is beneficial for people with problems after recovery from a stroke or paralysis. Also, during the turns taken while walking in the shape of 8, the spine, hips and knees are bent in various angles. This is believed to stimulate all the organs in the body.

The writer is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore and the author of Staying Healthy in Modern India. If you have any questions on health issues, please write to

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