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Opinion: Lifestyle, cleanliness and longevity – what history tells us?

One of the most important landmarks of the Indian freedom struggle in early twentieth century is the famous ‘Dandi March’. If you see the frontline photograph of that epoch making March what strikes at first sight is that all our leaders looked so simple and had very good health — thanks to their clean and healthy lifestyle, regular habits and positive mind set.

Mahatma Gandhi on the Dandi March
Mahatma Gandhi on the Dandi March

We Indians are extremely lucky that our founding fathers could contribute so much to the growth of our country in immediate post independence period only because they had sound mind in sound body. Leading this March was the Father of the Nation, affectionately called as ‘Bapu’ or Mahatma Gandhi, who was a strict vegetarian, passionate walker, observer of total abstinence from alcohol, a declared non-smoker and a staunch believer in non-violence. The others included, who were to become the very first Indian Governor General Chakravarti Rajagopalachari or the first President of the Indian Republic Shri Rajendra Prasad, the first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the first Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel each one of them had very good health. Prime Minister Nehru though a social smoker did not smoke publicly. He used to practise yogic exercises daily. Other leaders (C Rajagopalachari, Rajen Babu, Sardar Patel etc) had strong aversion to tobacco and alcohol in their personal life.

Dr Shridhar Dwivedi
Dr Shridhar Dwivedi

It is worth remembering that all the above leaders were under terrible stress on account of the trauma of partition, unabated Hindu-Muslim riots, integration of princely states, rehabilitation of refugees, Mahatma’s murder, Kashmir invasion, and multitude of problems of the new Independent India. But thanks to their excellent health and lifestyle they steered the country out of the deep mess reasonably well. On the other hand Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah, because of his chronic heavy smoking succumbed to lung cancer and/or pulmonary tuberculosis shortly after independence.

Why go that far only the other day we lost famous Unani physician Hakim Syed Qadir at the ripe age of 114 years with all faculty intact still practising Hikmat till his last breath. Example of late Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, the missile man of India and former President of India, is too well-known to all of us. How razor sharp mind he had! He was delivering lecture at IIM Shillong at the time of death. Credit again goes to their healthy lifestyle, daily exercise, no tobacco and spiritual thinking.

This is enough a lesson for present day political leaders and those who are at the helm of affairs to lead a healthy lifestyle so that this generation and generation X imbibes these qualities in their day-to-day life and India does not suffer the ignominy of being labelled as the capital of oral cancer, capital of young heart attacks, capital of diabetes and the country with maximum number of obese teens etc. It may appear a bit preposterous to say that in a country of one billion plus people every fourth or fifth person is suffering from hypertension or diabetes and/or heart disease where majority of people belong to lower middle or low socioeconomic segment of the society. But the hard fact is that it is true.

The big question is how to salvage this grim scenario. The solution is not very difficult or costly. Truly speaking, the steps for healthy life do not cost much money. Health is dependent on the four basic rules of cleanliness:

1. Keeping our mouth absolutely clean – not polluting it in any way by tobacco or any addictive stuff. No smoking. Maintaining a good oral hygiene.

2. Not putting garbage in our stomach – no trans fats, fast food or aerated drinks, no liquor either.

3. Keeping our heart vessels and coronary arteries healthy – doing exercise daily.

4. Not cluttering our mind with anger, ill will, animosity or negative thoughts. Doing yoga or practising meditation.

It is worthwhile to mention that all the above organs — mouth, stomach, heart and brain — are interlinked directly or indirectly to each other through various neuro – humours/signals, metabolic pathways or cytokines. It is these cytokines or neuro-humours which are responsible for the present day non-communicable epidemic diseases mainly diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease (heart attack), cerebrovascular disease (brain attack / stroke), chronic kidney disease (kidney attack), oral and lung cancers, etc.

Can’t we, as a responsible citizen, start looking after our own health by following the above simple basic rules of cleanliness and make this nation a healthy nation rather than suffering from the double triple whammy of non-communicable and communicable diseases?

Dr Shridhar Dwivedi
MD, PhD (Cardiology), FAMS, FRCP (London), FIACS (Canada)
Senior Consultant Cardiology
National Heart Institute, New Delhi

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