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International Women’s Day 2011: Women and Wellness

by Thilaka Ravi on  March 07, 2011 at 6:53 PM Medindia Exclusive   - G J E 4
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International Women's Day 2011 is a great opportunity for people across countries and cultures to pool in ideas and visions and chalk out strategies for a greater involvement of women in all walks of life. On the day earmarked for a global celebration of women's success down the years, every woman could perhaps, take stock of her strengths and weaknesses and get fighting fit for a better tomorrow—for her and for society at large.

Dr. Gita Arjun, A.B. (USA) FACOG, Obstetrician and Gynecologist, Director, E.V.Kalyani Medical Centre, Chennai, South India, and author of the book Passport to a Healthy Pregnancy, spoke to Medindia on the importance of empowering and encouraging women to pay attention to their health and her commitment to raising the standard of women's awareness of wellness and fitness.

Q. In your opinion, what defines a woman in modern times?

Living in the 21st century is an exhilarating and energizing experience. Women never had it so good. We are empowered in many ways. Educational avenues for women are opening up every day. Women are on par with men in the employment arena and career opportunities.

Unfortunately, all this newfound independence comes with a price. In our spanking new roles, we still cannot shed the traditional role of mother, wife, daughter, and daughter-in-law. You may be a top executive in a company but you are the one your sick child wants by the bedside when he or she is ill. You may be a traditional housewife focused on giving your children the best but you may be stressed with the need to help your child achieve his or her potential. In this brave new world, we juggle our roles. Most of the time we manage our different roles with aplomb but all this does engender stress.

Women, particularly Asian women, have an innate need to please their family. Society has also imposed on us some specific duties. Too often, women judge themselves and others of the same sex with definite yardsticks. Keeping a neat and orderly home, pleasing husbands, bringing up accomplished children, taking care of old and sick parents and in-laws and still managing to look good is a utopia that often eludes us.

Q. What does women's freedom truly mean? Do you think some women go overboard trying to assert this freedom in a way that defeats its purpose?

A woman is as free as she wishes to be. The one thing that society or a family or a man cannot do is to take away her mental freedom. However, having said that, many women, even today are constrained by familial, social and cultural boundaries. Many have fought the yoke of custom and broken free to live a good life. However, for the majority of women, the freedom to study, work and marry as they wish comes with a price. Is there something called too much freedom? No. But I do believe that some women confuse freedom with independence. Being in a steady relationship, or being married, curtails neither your independence nor your freedom. To yearn to be as "independent" as a man sometimes leads the modern woman to shed the traditional monogamous role of a woman and lead a "free" life. I am not sure that this "freedom" is the path to long-lasting happiness.

Q. What tips would you suggest for women's fitness and wellness?

Take a hard look at your lifestyle. It is very easy to say that you don't have the time. As a physician who is constantly advising women on fitness and dietary goals, the commonest excuse I get is, 'Doctor, I just don't have the time!' Remember, if you don't fight to carve out time for yourself now, you will soon have a lot of time to brood over it, when you have to sit in doctors' waiting rooms with various health issues.

30 minutes of walking can be fitted into your schedule, at least 5 days a week. If you don't find it easy to go out for a walk, walk up and down the stairs at home or at work, for 20 minutes. Boring? Oh yes! But you can make it interesting and fun by taking your husband or a friend or a neighbor along.  And you can always start a trend at work by having a bunch of your co-workers march up and down the stairs with you! Don't forget, listening to music on your earphones while walking will make the time zip by.

Q. What triggered the idea for your 'Passport to Health' program? Please tell us something about it.

There is no doubt about the fact that Indian women do not pay enough attention to their health. Most women relegate their state of wellness to the far end of their consciousness. They tend to believe that health is just the absence of disease. Indian women think of a visit to the doctor only if they or somebody in the family is sick. This is a mistake. Only if a woman concentrates on wellness can she ensure a good quality of life. Remember, it is not enough to live long; it is important to live long and healthy. The key words are 'quality of life.'

Wellness is a state of physical, mental and emotional well being. Wellness is not mere absence of disease. Life in the 21st century has seen a rapid erosion of time spent on healthy activities and has seen a huge increase in daily stress. It is important for a woman to assess how healthy she is and to ensure wellness in the future.

The Passport to Health program (www.passport2health.in), provided by E V Kalyani Medical Centre, came into being after we started noticing the huge increase in BMIs (Body Mass Index) in women. There is also a sharp rise in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The Passport to Health program helps a woman optimize her health. We also help her in assessing her present state of health. We assist her in her quest for maintaining and enhancing the state of her health.

The Passport to Health program also provides a unique Health Horoscope that is drawn up after a complete physical examination and blood tests. It helps predict and avoid the pitfalls the participant may face. Though it is not possible to forecast the exact problems she may face in the future, the personalized Health Horoscope helps a woman realize the state of her present health thereby helping her to understand and avoid future risks.

We facilitate and assist a woman in setting realistic health goals and provide programs to achieve them. The program has other components such as Passport to Healthy Eating wherein an experienced nutritionist guides the participant in choosing the right diet. We have evolved a diet at the E V Kalyani Medical Centre, which can be a guide to healthy eating habits.

The Passport to Fitness component includes the perfect, do-able fitness program. Our fitness instructors have put together a regime which is a combination of cardiovascular training, stretches, and toning with weights which helps a woman keep fit and maintain fitness at her own pace.

Q. Can you share with the readers some proud/poignant moments in your life?

My mother lost 5 pregnancies before she went to Dr E V Kalyani. Due to a special kind of surgery done by Dr E V Kalyani, my mother was able to carry my brother and me to the full term. This is why it makes me feel particularly blessed, as an obstetrician, to be able to help couples go through the delivery process. To me the most beautiful moment in life is when a couple first sets eyes on their child. I have been fortunate to be part of many such moments. Of course, the joy is increased a hundred-fold, when a couple who lose pregnancies and give up hope of ever having a child come to us and we are able to send them home with their bundle of joy. 

Q. Given your very busy schedule, how do you chill out or de-stress?

I am a very positive person so I can handle stress reasonably well. It helps to remember what my mother used to tell me — things always happen for the best. Listening to music is also a great comfort — in fact there is always music in the background, whether I am doing surgery, writing on the computer or exercising. I must also confess that I am very lucky to have a marvelous life partner, Arjun, my best friend since I was 18. He is the ying to my yang and can help me defervesce, even in the worst of moments.

On International Women's Day 2011, Medindia fervently wishes that women all over the world  soon be free from oppression and violence and realize their dreams in a world that is free and fair to everyone.

  • Union Minister Dayanidhi Maran inaugurates Passport to Health
  • Winning ‘Just for Women’ award
  • Preetha Reddy, Apollo Hospitals, releasing Dr. Gita’s book
  • Women’s Fitness program at EVK Medical Centre
  • Raising women’s health awareness
  • I like to decorate my home
  • Dr. Gita with her book ‘Passport to a Healthy Pregnancy’
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