Why I Chose a Non-Exercise LifeStyle?

Editor’s Note; This is purely a personal viewpoint and lifestyle. No one should under any circumstances and under any conditions try to practice our style on their own. All medical and health matters should be thoroughly discussed with your physician and medical advisers.

A few days ago, while surfing the net, I came across a Time.com article titled “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin”. I read the article and agreed with much of what the author John Cloud wrote. Frankly, that article got me thinking about my own experience and how I benefited by giving up exercise.

The TV character Ray Barone (star of “Everybody Loves Raymond”) once said “I love beef and I have always tried to get as much of it as I can”. Ray says this to Debra, his TV wife, after he thoroughly embarrasses himself and Debra at a PTA event. I can understand Ray’s behavior.

I love chocolate and I have always tried to get as much of it as I can. People, especially yuppie women, look at me and make snide comments when they are behind me in the line at the grocery store. Apparently, they are shocked by the amount of chocolate I buy. A few years ago, I was being driven to a concert in New Jersey by my dear friends, a wonderful couple. There is a Dunkin’ Donuts store located right after the exit from the Holland Tunnel into New Jersey. I asked them to stop at the store and I went in with my friend’s wife. She ordered something for them and I ordered two chocolate cream filled donuts. In my defense, chocolate cream filled donuts are not available in Manhattan – that is correct, no store in Manhattan serves this gorgeous donut, filled with chocolate cream on the inside and with powder sprinkled on the outside. It is impossible to eat this donut without making a mess of your lower face.

Before the server poured coffee and bagged my friend’s order, I had eaten the two donuts while standing at the register. My lips and lower face had white powder stains mixed with a bit of the dark chocolate cream. Both the cashier and my friend’s wife started laughing at me. That was not very nice of them but frankly I did not care. Finding that rare donut was reward enough. While donuts are great, a chocolate cake served at a fine Italian restaurant is pure heaven. After a dinner, I have been accused on inhaling a entire piece of chocolate cake before others can get a bite into their desserts. I would support the argument that chocolate was Europe’s greatest gift to humanity.

So I can relate to Ray’s binge of eating beef and spilling the au jus sauce all over his shirt while Debra was giving her campaign speech. But for a period of time, I was guilted out of eating chocolate by people who claimed they had my best heath interests at heart, literally at heart. At that time, during a routine physical, the doctor did a blood test and discovered that my cholesterol was 364. I was told this was a shocking figure and I must bring it down. I was also informed that among all the ethnic groups in the world, according to studies, the desi crowd (people of Indian origin) had the greatest statistical risk of getting heart disease.

I was disturbed myself and resolved to do everything I could to get my cholesterol down. I gave up chocolate and began exercising, the whole thing including treadmills and mens workout shorts etc. I went through EKGs, Stress tests, Thallium Stress Tests, the whole nine yards. I began taking statins in small dosage. I changed my diet and followed whatever I was told to do, including drinking 4 glasses of Metamucil daily (orange metamucil concentrate mixed with water). You try doing that at work in full view of about 20 colleagues and see what comments you get. But, in short, I became the near perfect disciple of the Behave Correctly school.

It helped a bit. My cholesterol numbers came down a little, especially the LDL, the bad cholesterol. But, there was no improvement in my HDL, the good cholesterol. So I was told to exercise more, because exercise supposedly helps to raise HDL.

I tried, I really did. But my personality does not seem to jive with exercise. The Treadmill was boring and so I tried to listen to music while I ran on the treadmill. Like most desis, I have to sing along when I listen to my favorite music. But apparently you cannot do so in a gym, however softly you choose to sing. So I began singing silently to myself and even that got really uncomfortable stares from others.

Apart from such social issues, exercise was frustrating. It meant I had to give up watching my favorite TV programs or movies, as well as having less time to watch all of the new shows coming to HBO that you can read here about. Going to the gym was such a waste of time. Apart from exercising, I had to get dressed in exercise clothes and take the elevator to go down to another floor in our building to visit the gym. The whole thing was very intrusive on my time and felt highly unsatisfactory. Even though I considered it to be a major inconvenience to my life and daily schedule, I do have to admit that I really liked the idea of wearing exercise clothes. Whilst a hoodie and trousers were my go-to, many of my friends had said that tank tops (find more information here) are a particularly good choice of clothing for exercise, or even just wearing them around the house. That’s a great idea and one that sounds quite appealing, especially as the thought of exercise was becoming unthinkable to me. Let’s just say that I was definitely getting irritable. So I gave up on exercise in the end (but not the clothing).

At that time, a series of articles appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek arguing that chocolate, especially my favorite dark chocolate, was good for the human heart in moderate quantities. Whether humorous or otherwise, the articles confirmed my belief. So I began eating chocolate again, but in smaller quantities.

At that time, I rediscovered my love for Bollywood films and began buying DVDs of my favorite oldies. This was the spring of 2002 and due to the recession, the desi stores in Jackson Heights, Queens were selling these DVDs at about $5 each. Quickly, I became one of their valued customers.

On Saturday and Sunday, I would stay in bed the entire afternoon (after waking up late) and watch Bollywood oldies. Then I decided to experiment a bit and got some newer films. I still remember the weekend, when I watched 5 newer Bollywood films, one after another. Each movie was a discovery. By sheer luck or destiny, I had chosen the right sequence; each movie turned out to be more enjoyable than the earlier. After that weekend, there was no going back. Watching Bollywood movies became my primary weekend function.

When fall 2002 arrived, the weekend schedule had to be adjusted. Remember what the Marine told Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men” ” We live by a code, Corps, God and Country”. Well people like me have our own code for the fall. Mine is “Michigan, Big Ten and College Football”. If a game is on TV, I have no choice. I have to watch it.

So that fall, Saturdays were done. I had to get up early to begin watching the two Bollywood music shows that came on at 9:00 am. Then at 11:30, one of Bollywood shows would end and I would switch to ESPN’s College Game Day. The last 15 minutes of the dream team of the Coach, the Street Guy and the Anchor Fowler cannot be missed.

Then at noon, either a Michigan or Ohio State game would be on TV followed by a Big 12 game in the afternoon. The day would end around midnight after the evening game, an SEC or a Pac-10 game. So, from 9:00 am to midnight, every fall Saturday was pure heaven , with great games, eating in bed and becoming what God no doubt intended me to be. Sundays were reserved for watching Bollywood DVDs.

In that great scene near the end of Analyse This, Bill Crystal says “who am I? that is a question for the ages”. The Indian Sages have pondered this question for ages. One of them, Sant Dnyaneshwar*, wrote of that divinely blissful feeling of liberation he felt when he discovered himself. Of course, he was describing his bliss when he received enlightenment.

My self-realization was very different from his. I found who I was, a guy who like to lie in bed and watch movies and TV. As Sant Dnyaneshwar wrote nearly 800 years ago, with this self-realization
all my doubt was resolved and in its place came a sense of deep inner peace. My friends and close ones, the “educated Indian” sort – modern, liberal yuppies or ex-yuppies who strive to follow every trend that is in vogue, were both outraged and saddened.

But magically as it were, around that time, my HDL level began increasing. Within a couple of years of this disciplined movie-TV watching over the weekend, my HDL reached levels of my dreams. In addition, my Cholesterol/LDL ratio and the HDL/LDL ratio reached “ideal” levels. They remain so to this day.

How is that possible? Even I wondered. Then I saw an article in the New York Times that seemed to suggest that the real benefit of exercise seems to be that it makes people feel good. In other words, the physical exercise may not the main benefit. The main benefit may come from the happy feeling it creates in the people who enjoy exercise. My doubts were resolved. If I get the same good feeling by lying in bed and watching Bollywood films, it should have the same benefits that exercise provides others. To many this might sound ludicrous and utterly self-serving, but to me it makes perfect sense.

A point of posture if I may. TV anchors often speak disparagingly of “couch potatoes”. They are so clueless. Serious TV watchers do not use the couch. It is bad for the back and the spine. The anchors should read what Jerry, the western cowhand, said to an English visitor in a Louis L’Amour novel. As Jerry explained “In England, they ride for about an hour or so. That is why they use the English saddle. But the western cowhand spends 15-16 hours in the saddle, he eats in the saddle and sleeps in the saddle. You need a comfortable western saddle to do that”.

This is the perfect analogy for TV watching. A couch is fine if you watch TV for an hour or two. But if you want to watch 14-15 hours of TV in a day, you need a king-size bed, a firm mattress, good pillows and end tables where you can put your drink and food. Only then, can you lie down all day, eat in bed and do your TV watching regimen in bodily comfort. This is good for your spine, your inner peace and your heart, as has been the case for me.

Why write this article now? The first trigger was the Time.com article about exercise. The second was the result of my heart scan that I received a couple of days ago. For those who do not know, this is great technology. It is called an Electronic Beam Tomography scan. They use it to scan the arteries of your heart to find levels of plaque in your arteries. This is only direct visual measure of plaque in your blood vessels that I know. Others like HDL, LDL, Cholesterol etc. are indirect measures that enable you to infer the condition of your arteries but do not provide a direct measurement.

I was thrilled to see that my plaque level after seven years of my weekend regimen is zero, yes Zero. Further, according to the cardiological radiologist, the probability of me getting a heart attack is less than 0.2%.

Clearly I do not know whether my weekend life style is responsible for my cholesterol and plaque levels. But just as clearly, it does not do any harm. And it provides me pleasure and a sense of inner peace. Why can’t my “educated” friends understand this?

* Editor’s Postscript
: I have enormous respect and devotion towards Sant Dnyaneshwar. He was the founder of the Bhagwat-Dharma in Maharashtra, the dharma of deep devotion that pervades the State of Maharashtra and all of India. Sant Namdeo carried this movement into North India and Sant Tukaram was its pinnacle some 300 odd years later.

Dnyaneshwar translated the Bhagwat-Geeta from Sanskrut into Marathi and transformed Marathi from a language of farmers and rural labor into a language embraced by the intellectual elite of Maharashtra. His poetry is simply out of the world. Today, 800 years after him passing, his poems are sung in every Marathi speaking household worldwide. How rare is this? Just ask yourself, how many English speaking families recite Chaucer in their homes?

In our article, we have used our interpretation of the words of Dnyaneshwar to provide a humorous but heart-felt analogy for our viewpoints. That is not only our right but our tradition. Just look at how many ways the Bhagwat-Geeta has been interpreted over the past 4000 odd years? So we do not intend to give offense to any body by quoting the great Sant in our article.

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