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Gone are the days when a paunch, a plump wife and a couple of well-fed children were signs of success. The “now “ generation follows the fashion trends of its idols (the Khan brigade of Aamir, Shah Rukh, Salmaan and a few others in Bollywood) and everyone wants a six pack, or at least a four pack ab. Such ambition is not the prerogative of men alone. Women too want a midriff that can be bared and need not be concealed under voluminous folds of chiffon.
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The concept is simple. Just strengthen the abdominal muscles and lose body fat. What could be easier?
The catch lies in putting the equation to action. If your job and personal monetary value rest on your appearance (as with models and movie stars), many hours a day can be dedicated to achieving and maintaining this goal. Personal trainers, physiotherapists, physicians and dieticians can be employed.
For most people, an hour a day is about all they can spare, and the household income will not support the services of additional helpers.
With patience, dedication and will power, a six pack is an achievable objective and the effort is well worth it. Your morale, and physical and mental health will improve. An added bonus — despite your age, heads will turn.
The first step is often the most difficult — to get off the couch, put down the TV remote and start exercising.
When you eventually do get a six pack, the idea is that it should be seen and appreciated. This will not happen if it is hidden under a layer of body fat. Priority one is, therefore, to get rid of that flab. To do this, cardiovascular exercises like running, swimming, cycling, skipping or stair climbing for at least 20 to 30 minutes have to be combined with muscle training. Ideally the cardiovascular exercise should be performed after weight training. Having a light tea or coffee before starting also kick starts the metabolism.
Weight training increases muscle mass, calorie consumption at rest and reduces flab. Around 20 repetitive movements with a light weight (1-5kg) for each group of muscles is usually sufficient. This will not result in huge bulging muscle masses as in body builders.
Abdominal exercises have to be repeated at least every other day to maintain muscle tone. Exercises involve lying on the floor with the knees bent and then trying to touch the knee with the nose, bringing the knee up to touch the nose or moving both together simultaneously to meet in the middle. Start with 20 repetitions and eventually work up to 500 of each exercise set, increasing the number done only once a week. The most efficient abdominal exercise is cycling in the air.
While performing any manoeuvres, protect the neck. Do not attempt to place the fingers behind the head and pull up using arm strength. Place the arm across the chest or else place just the tips of the fingers behind the ears. Also, make the movements smooth and fluid. Jerky jack knife movements can injure the lower back.
Exercise does not really have to be a “no pain, no gain” process. Activities like flexing, stretching, clenching and unclenching the stomach while sitting behind a desk (especially if your job is sedentary) will effortlessly go a long way to achieving a flat stomach.
The abdominal machines advertised on television are really not worth the money. Similar results can be achieved with persistence. Targeting just a specific area of your body and doing exercises only to reduce fat from that particular region does not work. Dieting, exercising and working out have to be combined to get the ideal shape. Space out calories in 3-4 meals instead of missing a meal altogether. Try eating a fruit or drinking a large glass of water before a meal. Both will curb the appetite and offer health benefits as well.
Snacking on high calorie foods is unhealthy and silently adds to the number of calories consumed. Even when the meals actually eaten are small, there is no weight loss and the paunch remains. A written record of the food eaten and exercise done will help to keep a reality check on intake and output.
Many supplements (pills, powders, liquids) are advertised as the magic cure for increasing muscle mass and/or weight loss. They are expensive and the claims misleading. Thyroid tablets (to increase the metabolism) and anabolic steroids (for muscle) or diuretics (to lose water) are dangerous. There are specific appetite suppressant drugs that can be taken under strict medical supervision. Adjuvants will work only if combined with diet and exercise.
Everyone has an opinion on diet, exercise and body sculpting. Listen to these opinions, settle on a routine that works for you, and, remember, working out is like having a job. You cannot “take off” too many days without losing out.
Sources: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)
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