The more I think about changing the health of people, more specifically, adults, I always fall back to the importance of their upbringing in childhood in my own self-conversations. I always wonder, what if these adults were brought up to be healthier in their lives, to make decisions which catered to their physical and mental well-being as they were growing and were taught from the beginning the discipline of leading healthier lives and making healthier options. Invariably when I try to find answers to these questions, I fall back to my own childhood years growing up in my home with my parents. My father was very particular about food that came in our house, he took extra care of the nutrition the family had and loved experimenting with food – all this he used to do for his family and to inculcate among his children the good eating habits. As a child, I cannot recall even once if I ever had “gol gappe”, “samosas and jalebis” used to come once in a month on Sundays when father felt like pampering us, but it was not a regular affair. What was uber regular was his ritual of buying loads of multi-colored vegetables every Sunday; back then it was trauma for me because I was the one who was supposed to wash all of them and arrange neatly in the fridge. But today, I understand very clearly the significance of his every action. Every morning, after waking up, he used to ensure that I and my brother drank 2 glasses of water, did some light exercise and on Sundays he just threw us out of home into the big stadium area to go for running/jogging. The most beautiful of memories are the times when he used to accompany us, three of us used to jog in the stadium and later relax doing long-jumps. All this I very vividly remember. We did not have shoes, we did not think they were important, chappals were enough. During evenings, me and my friends used to play games like cricket, badminton, hide and seek, jumping, border-border. Power cuts were very common in Delhi during my school years, we did not have an inverter and majority of my friends also did not have it; so when electricity used to go out, we used to play again (if father did not take English translation interviews or mathematics verbal quiz), games which could be played in little light.
We purchased our first motorcycle when my brother entered in college, my father got it for him. For himself, he had used bicycle to go everywhere; in retrospect I know it was not so much a decision to stay healthy but to save money, yet I also believe somewhere that my father ensured his regular activity by cycle. But this was not the only way by which he ensured his health. As a growing up child, I have seen my father exercising at home. I fondly remember the moments when on his biceps me and my brother used to hang like clothes on a wire; his arms were so strong that we could use them as swings and behave like monkeys. I also remember the times when he used to ask one of us to stand on his toes so that he could do, what today I know as, crunches. I have seen my father exercising every single day growing up and my mother doing Yoga and breathing exercises. I had the first pizza of my life in my third year when my junior took me to Dominoes; I did not like it (it was her favorite pizza, I still remember the name: Mexican Green Wave). After that I never had pizza. I used to eat McVeggie and McAloo Tikki burgers when I was in college, but that was occasional and eventually lost its charm to me on its own I guess. Never have I had craving for pizza or burger, I have seen a lot of people having that.
When I look at my life, and when I look back I can clearly see that our father was making us health conscious by acting the way he was. He is in CRPF and has undergone strenuous training in unfriendly terrains and I can only hypothesize that he observed that exercise changed him. We are from a farming family, so needless to say, he had always been active yet I feel that the more organized exercise regime in CRPF training led to cementing the importance of being healthy and, most importantly, strong in life in him. I can see today how consciously he has nurtured his both children, my sister happened much later (she is 13 years younger to me) and I believe me and my brother teach her by our actions. The crux of the matter is that I have grown up in a household in which proper health conduct was emphasized, in which we never had junk food (only on school picnics, mother used to cook chowmein), drinking water was heavily stressed upon and most importantly being outside of home for good one hour was the protocol. After dinner, our family used to go on long walks inside the CRPF camp where we used to stay. In morning we woke up early (5 am) and after reaching school I used to play handball during the assembly times; I was in the handball team of the school. So, I can see clearly how active I have seen people around me and I have had opportunities to be active myself; I love sports, I love all games till date. Today I do ask myself, if that is what has influenced “being healthy” as one of the core values of my life. But I do not find much intersection, my reason to lead a healthier life is inextricably tied to my vision of creating a healthier world but I do have lots of gratitude to my father. He inculcated in me and my brother healthier eating habits and the discipline of restraining and that I believe is much more important than exercising daily. The closest of memories are drinking sweet lime juice every time we went out with our parents; we never asked for a chocolate, chaat or samosa, we always asked for juice and we were really small children making healthier choice back then. My father’s presence was impactful and today is all the more impactful.
In essence then, I wonder why my father ensured that it was imperative to be active, why he exercised every single day despite his tight schedule and job responsibilities, how he stood first every time there used to be running competition among his entire team and day after day, how he woke up every morning at 4am. I have some very big shoes to fill but I think I can barely manage to fill 0.01% and if I can do that, I’d feel accomplished. Today I do realize the importance of all his activities, his healthier way of living and that strengthens me because he was my current age when I saw him doing all this. Activity had its own place but proper, clean, nutritious food was the most important decision of our household. My mother always fed us the best food with loads of salad, fruits, milk and dry fruits. In fact, my dad made a mixture of all dry fruits and used to serve it to us every morning before we left for school; according to him, it was good for brain development. How much extra care he took for us is unfathomable and makes me so much more humble towards him.
So, I do believe that my growing up years at my home with my parents have played a remarkably striking role in guiding my health habits. Even in college and now in job, I have never seen myself making poor health choices for a prolonged period of time. That way, my parents have planted in my psyche the seed of making healthier eating options. In the realm of exercise, when I look back, I understand my father’s attempt to make us active and health conscious – to be honest, we never liked those Sunday morning running events, it was hard work to do that but we did it nevertheless. And today it makes a lot of sense to me.
Hence, I do understand that upbringing has some role to play in how health conscious a child becomes as he grows into an adult. I also feel that friend circle has a huge role to play as well in determining the extent to which someone is health conscious. Apart from this, adults usually become conscious about their physique when they want to become more presentable or desirable in public, but this is more like an episodic conscientious behavior which can often disappear after obtaining the object of desire or gaining fulfillment.
All this self-rumination leads me to believe that targeting school going children and college going students for planting the seed of conscientious healthy living might go a long way in determining their respective health curves as they age. Behaviors can be easily integrated into the growing up years of an individual, not to say that they cannot be altered in future.
Health and well-being is definitely not as simple as it seemed to me when I had started three years back on this well-thought of journey of becoming a researcher in Public Health. It is labyrinthine and mysterious and it is about making conscious healthy decisions every single day.
Few Cartoons on health
Few Cartoons on health