Dr Ashwin Vijay: Happy Moms Are Better Moms

Do you forget to take care of yourself in your hurried life? Wondering what better you can do for your child’s well-being? Hear what popular health expert Dr Ashwin Vijay has to say. Take heed!

By Deepthi Balasunder

Dr Ashwin Vijay: Happy Moms Are Better Moms
Dr Ashwin Vijay, Fitness Expert, Orthopedician and Motivational Speaker

Mothers tend to neglect their health when they need it the most. To handle the workload and challenges of everyday life, taking care of your body is important. A good diet and fitness are necessitated to help your body regenerate and grow from the inside out. You forget that just the way you feel the need to take care of someone, you need to take care of yourself, too.

Also, in today’s day and time, with our fast-paced lifestyles – health issues among children are rising at an alarming rate. From high obesity rates to low immunity, from body image issues to lack of physical activities, parents are increasingly concerned about how to handle these issues effectively.

Feeling overwhelmed with all this? Every other mother feels this way. It’s a common story. What you need, is a good dose of motivation to keep your life on track. And from who else, but the phenomenal health expert and motivational speaker, Dr Ashwin Vijay.

ParentCircle believes in enabling parents in their journey to raise healthy and happy children. We were delighted to have an enriching conversation with the doctor, where he shared a wealth of information, essential towards nurturing women’s and children’s health. This is a ParentCircle exclusive!

Excerpts from the interview:

Mothers are hard-pressed for time and tend to disregard their own health. How important is it for women to take care of themselves and how can they go about this?

Most mothers tend to disregard their own health to take care of their children and family. But it is about time, mothers take care of themselves. To do that, what they must do is prioritise.

Taking care of kids is always going to be demanding and time consuming. But, if you set routines, stealing a few moments for yourself is possible and necessary. Make sure that you spend at least 45 minutes for some form of exercise every day.

Also, mothers constantly worry about their kids’ food and nutrition but end up neglecting their own. It is important to eat on time for mothers as well. As much as you value your children, equally value your own self.

Dr Ashwin Vijay: Happy Moms Are Better Moms
"It is not about what we eat, but what we must avoid eating that is important!"

How can mothers improve their happiness quotient and reduce stress in their lives?

A happy mom is a better mom! And to attain happiness, do try to reduce the stress in your life. But how can mothers improve their happiness quotient and reduce stress? Well, every mother is affected by stress in varying degrees at some point or the other in their lives. It is not easy to take care of a child, job and home. But what you can do is try to find one activity that makes you happy. 

It could be reading a book, watching a movie, a simple 20-minute walk or just some alone time doing nothing. But do that. Do not put it behind in the name of taking care of children and family. The time you take out for yourself, could greatly increase your happiness quotient and make you a better person. It can help you approach life with a positive attitude and different perspective. Try it!

Also read: Self-Care Is Critical For A Parent’s Well-Being

New mothers tend to choose fad diets or weight-loss programmes that promise quick results, to shed their post-pregnancy weight. How good or bad are these?

Fad diets and weight-loss programmes that are carried out soon after delivery can adversely affect a new mother’s health. Post pregnancy, a woman’s body undergoes a shift in hormones, as it prepares itself for lactation. Following a crash diet during this time, with an intention to reduce weight, might cause an undesirable hormonal imbalance, as the natural flow of hormones gets disrupted. This may affect the quality of breast milk as well as the natural lactation process. So, in an urge to lose weight, women end up putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on their vital organs that are needed for a healthy and long life.

Instead, mothers should not worry too much about shedding the post-pregnancy flab soon after birth. Those fats will eventually go. Give it time. If you rigorously follow a sustainable and balanced diet and take good care of yourself, you can aim to lose the post-pregnancy fat within a year of giving birth. However, if you are extremely keen on losing that weight, then you can probably go on these fad diets around 6 to 7 months after delivery, although it is better if it can be avoided. 

What is an ideal diet-fitness-sleep routine for a healthy lifestyle that you would recommend to women?

First, let’s start with the fitness part. 45 minutes to one hour of any kind of fitness activity is a must for everyone. If you can, do go to the gym. However, if you don’t want to go to a gym, then one hour of yoga from the comfort of your own home is perfectly fine too. In scenarios, where you are not interested in both gym and yoga, then at least try to go for a 45-minute walk every day, early in the morning. So, choose a physical activity that works for you. Try to religiously make it a part of your morning routine. It is better to do it in the morning as it helps to kick-start your day.

Next is the diet. To have a healthy lifestyle, you need not submit yourself to a drastic diet change. However, keep a few things in mind. For women, calcium is especially important, as is Vitamin D. These two are extremely vital for women’s health. Also, make sure that your diet is supplementing and strengthening female organs like the breasts, the uterus, etc.

For this purpose, here are some suggestions for food intake. Make sure that you are eating two servings of green leafy vegetables every day. Moringa (drumstick) leaves are very nutritious. Add walnuts and peanuts to your diet, as they are beneficial for your bones and joints. If you are a non-vegetarian, you can have bone broth/soup. These are essential for strong joints and bones, especially for women’s health. Women also require a regular dose of Vitamin C. So, eat fruits like guavas and amlas that are rich in this vital vitamin.

Sleep is another vital element which should be taken seriously for better health. I would highly recommend a minimum of seven hours of sleep every night. Do not compromise on your sleep in any way.

Some women may not be open to the idea of going to the gym or jogging in the park. What kind of physical activities can women do to stay fit, from the comfort of their own homes?

In such cases, the best fitness activity women can do at home is yoga. They can learn from a good instructor and practise yoga from the comfort of their own homes.

Also, there are certain bodyweight exercises, which you can do,that involves  just using your body. Learn those specific kinds of exercises and do it at home. However, if you feel you don’t have the time or want a quick fix to fitness, try Surya Namaskar. It is the best way to balance the hormones of your body and keep your spine and joints healthy. The kind of postures you do during the Surya Namaskar, helps towards achieving this. Everyone can immensely benefit from a few rounds of Surya Namaskar to stay fit.

There are innumerable aerobics and exercise shows on TV and YouTube. Is it okay to learn exercises from these videos or is it better to follow a fitness instructor?

Exercise videos are good to watch. But if you are taking your fitness seriously, I would advise that at least initially, learn the exercises from an expert in the field. This is advised because when you do exercises or any physical activities, you might be prone to injuries. And the chances of injury are more when you do not know how to do the moves correctly. So, it’s better to learn the same from an expert during the early stages and later, you can watch it on TV and follow. The fundamentals however, must be preferably learnt from a professional first.

Changing lifestyles have brought about quick fix meals, fast food, ordering in, sugar-laden treats and so on. But a family can't totally do away with these too. So, how can parents tackle this issue to ensure their kids eat a balanced diet?

As a family you cannot avoid these things. But you can tackle this by being the role model for your child. You can always lead by example. As kids follow what their parents do. The choice is yours.

So, if you order unhealthy food; for example, if you order a pizza with extra cheese, obviously your son or daughter is going to notice that and ask for it. And you can’t tell them to order a salad, while you have a pizza. Kids won’t understand that. So, you be the role model first and set the tone for what the eating patterns in the house should be.

Also to break it down and be more specific, indulging in fast food, eating out or ordering in, once a week is fine. This is acceptable, provided you and your family are eating wholesome, home-cooked meals for the rest of the week. You can have a cheat day, but don’t go overboard with that.

Are children today not as involved in physical and outdoor activities as compared to the earlier generations?

Yes, today’s children are not as active or involved in outdoor activities like the earlier generations. And that these kids are not having enough of these activities is a cause for concern.

There are a couple of things that have brought about this change. One, in urban areas, there is a lack of good space for playing. Comparatively, you can still see kids playing outside in suburban areas. Secondly, some parents frequently give gadgets to children to keep them quiet. What you can do is, encourage your children to go out and play, instead of playing online games and watching videos. And in urban areas, although there is a space constraint, there are parks and playgrounds in every nook and corner, and we should take our children out there and let them run and play. Additionally, what you can do is get involved in their games. Play with them heartily and relive your childhood. Like I said earlier, we have to be the role model, and this is a fun way for some family bonding.

During summer time, is it better that children stay indoors? If they do go out and play, what tips would you suggest?

I would not say it’s better to stay indoors since it is hot outside. But yes, avoid the peak sun time, i.e. from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Children should not go out during this time period, as the temperatures are at its peak and the chances of dehydration in children become very high. During summer time, visiting indoor play gyms make for a good idea. As this way, kids can stay safe from sun and actively play too.

Also, children should use sun protection when they step out. In fact, a child’s skin is more sensitive to the sun’s rays than an adult. So, apply a sunscreen lotion that contains a minimum SFP 25 on your child, before sending him out to play.

Also, make sure that your child is carrying a bottle of water while playing out in the sun. Ensure that they are hydrating themselves by drinking water regularly and consuming around 3 to 3.5 litres of water. During summer time, your kids can eat hydrating fruits to help rejuvenate their energy. Watermelon, tender coconut water are fantastic natural sources that replace the lost electrolytes and replenishes the loss of fluids in the body. However, water is the best source of hydration.

Any tips for parents with overweight and obese children?

Childhood obesity is becoming a major concern among parents. Some childhood obesity cases are due to medical conditions. While the other cases are a result of bad eating habits and a lack of physical activities. For instance, out of 100 obesity cases, only one or two can be attributed to a medical condition. Excess intake of processed and sugar-laden food is the common cause for kids becoming overweight.

So, what should you do as a parent if your child is overweight? First of all, never make fun of your child’s obesity. Never demoralise and say that you have to play or exercise since you are overweight. This will further demotivate her and they will end up having body image issues. 

Instead, be their role model. Unless you lead by example, your children are not going to listen. Unless you yourself go to the gym or engage yourself in some kind of physical activity on regular basis, you can encourage your children to do the same. Else they are not going to pay heed to you.

Also, it is important to have healthy eating habits as a family. Discuss the importance of eating right with your children. When you are with your children, avoid eating junk food and choose to eat nutritious items, and also emphasise on the point that eating processed food regularly is not good. Do not stock unhealthy food in your cupboards and refrigerators at home. Make an effort to stick to healthy options for your child. 

Any specific food you would like to recommend that may help children to lose weight gradually?

This is an important thing that not many people know of. The biscuits and chocolates we buy, all have additives which aid obesity. Children love having chocolates and other sweet treats like doughnuts, brownies and cupcakes. Excess intake of food made from sugar and refined flour, are not good for children. According to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO), the amount of sugar-laden treats that children eat these days are apparently 12 to 13 times more than what kids were eating 10 years ago. So, the best thing to do is to restrict your child’s biscuit and chocolate consumption.

Encourage your child to have fruits like banana which is naturally sweet. There is no harm to have chocolate once in a while. But it is important to introduce naturally-sweet fruits like mango, banana, and watermelon as well into their regular diet plan.

Also, there is no particular food that can magically bring down your child’s weight. To reduce weight, you have to change your child’s eating pattern and increase physical activities. And in terms of food, it is very vital to remember, that it is not always about what you or your child must eat, but more so about what you should avoid eating.

But kids tend to follow unhealthy practices outside of home. How to tackle that?

Some things are beyond your control. But from your part, you can do your best and condition your child. Make them aware of the adverse effects on their bodies if they choose to overindulge. Recently, I met a child whose family follows healthy practices at home. When this little boy went to his friend’s home, cupcakes were served to everyone. This boy ate only one cupcake as compared to other kids who were eating far more. These are the little things or achievements that often go unnoticed. So, healthy practices at home does make a difference to your child’s attitude towards food and instills healthy eating habits at an early age.

What’s your advice to parents of teens with body image issues?

Treat your teenage child like a friend when it comes to issues bothering them. Sit with them and make them feel comfortable to talk about their body image issues. Instill confidence and encourage them to accept themselves just the way they are. However, don’t constantly discuss about it as well. Most parents end up giving lectures and the child stops listening, retrieves into a shell and eventually gets depressed.

Body image issues are an important trigger for teenage depression. So, parents should give a patient ear to what children have to say and not judge them for that. Solutions to their problems can be found if we allow our children to speak out freely. If you listen patiently to that, you will be able to find a solution as a parent.

How can we boost immunity in our children?

To boost your child’s immunity, first and foremost reduce refined sugar intake. It is the most important thing to do. Also, add turmeric to whatever they eat because it improves their immunity in manifolds. Add it in curries and even fries.

Ginger is yet another important immunity-boosting food. Ensure that ginger is generously added to the foods you prepare for your child. Make a habit of including fruits in your child’s diet. Sugarcane is a rich source of iron and antioxidants, so it is an excellent source to boost immunity.

Vitamin C-rich fruits are also immunity-boosters. Since there are a lot of options in the citrus family of fruits, if your child does not like the taste of one, offer another Vitamin-rich fruit. For instance, if they don’t like oranges, opt for guavas. Even watermelons contain a fair amount of Vitamin C. So offer different kinds of fruits to your kids. 

Talking about fruits, supermarkets are flooded with exotic fruits that are luring buyers. However, nutritionists are stressing on the importance of eating locally-grown fruits and vegetables. Your take on this?

Absolutely, it is 10 times better to eat locally-grown fruits and vegetables as compared to the imported ones any day. That is one of the reasons why I keep insisting on people to eat guavas which are naturally grown here. 

Obviously, our weather is not suitable for fruits like strawberries. However, if you are going to cultivate strawberries by enabling the right conditions, it will be possible only if you add unnatural synthetic substances to grow the fruit. These substances will eventually seep into the fruit and then into our body when we consume it. 

Further,  imported fruits may not be fresh, but unnaturally preserved to look fresh. Organically, the freshness of fruits doesn’t last too long, so additives are added to keep them from getting spoilt.

Sometimes, the exotic fruits at the supermarket are a hybrid variety. You assume you are eating a strawberry directly from a farm and it looks like a strawberry, but does it have the nutrient value of that fruit? Nobody knows. Compared to that, locally-grown fruits are far more rich in vital nutrients and less on synthetic compounds, and is an obvious, better choice.

Hall of fame

  • The renowned orthopaedics surgeon from Chennai is a social activist, fitness enthusiast and humanitarian.
  • He has started the Strength India Movements which aims to empower people with the right knowledge to lead a healthy lifestyle.
  • Dr Ashwin Vijay's simple, easy-to-do-videos on fitness and nutrition are a viral sensation on the Internet. 
  • His platform Strength India Movement has more than 100 million views. His social media platforms have more than 1.2 million global followers. 
  • He won the Pride of Tamil Nadu Award by the Round Table India in 2017 for Strength India Movement in the healthcare category.
  • A sports injuries specialist, Dr Ashwin has treated many domestic and international athletes. 
  • He is part of the prestigious International society of knee, sports medicine and orthopaedic society (ISAKOS)
  • He was awarded the Icon of HealthCare by Berg, in Singapore for the year 2016.
  • He is listed in the Hall Of fame at the Indian Orthopaedic Association conference IOACON 2018 for excellence beyond orthopaedics.
  • In the year 2017, the World Tamil Chamber of Commerce conferred him with the Medical Excellence Award for his contribution to the medical field.

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