In Conversation with Dr. Aashish Contractor

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Pioneer of cardiac rehabilitation in India, HOD- Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital

A heart attack kills one person every 33 seconds in India. What can we do as individuals to reduce the risk of heart ailments?

Dr. Contractor: As individuals, we can keep our risk factors in optimal control. Unfortunately, we have no control over advancing age and our family history but what we can and should control are:

  • Not smoking or taking tobacco in any form;
  • Keeping our BP in check (close to 120/80);
  • Keeping our cholesterol under control, as well as blood sugar;
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight;
  • Getting in at least 30-60 min of daily physical activity;
  • Keeping stress under control, and sleeping well

Have you always been a fitness enthusiast?

Dr. Contractor: I would like to think so, and am glad you didn’t use the phrase, ‘fitness freak’, as most people do. It’s sad that we call a healthy person a ‘freak’.

What is your daily fitness routine?

Dr. Contractor: I aim to get in at least 10,000 daily steps and this does NOT include the exercise I do. So, in addition to 10,000 daily steps, I run or cycle 4 days of the week and do some strength training on one or two days of the week.

You have been using the pedometer since last 10 years. What role has this device played in your health and wellness journey?

Dr. Contractor: I think it’s played a critical role in my health and fitness journey. As I’ve written in my book “The Heart Truth”, my pedometer has been my ‘conscience on my belt’ and served to keep me honest about my daily physical activity.

Statistics shows that heart disease is the leading cause of death in Indian women. What is the cause? How can they take care of their hearts?

Dr. Contractor: Honestly, the care that women need to take is no different than what men need to do, which is, to take care of their risk factors as listed above. One point that women need to remember is that their symptoms sometimes differ from that of men- they tend to get ‘chest pain’ less often, and instead, ‘shortness of breath’, is their warning sign of possible heart trouble.

Three heart disease myths even the fittest people should know about:

  1. Fitness does not give you immunity- just because you are fit, does not mean you can’t have a heart attack
  2. To gain the health benefits of exercise you don’t HAVE to run marathons or do any other ultra-endurance activities. 30-60 mins of daily exercise is good enough for best health benefits. Anything more you do, is more for ‘achievement’, than health (not that, there is anything wrong with that- I run marathons, too!)
  3. Heart disease cannot happen in young people. In our country, it’s not uncommon to see people as young as 30 suffering.

What is your advice to the corporate professionals today as increasingly 30-year-olds are suffering from heart ailments?

Dr. Contractor: My advice is that they should ‘know their health numbers’- just as they know their company targets, profit and loss, so on. They should know their individual health parameters and chase health targets as much as they do for business targets. Once health is lost, unfortunately, it’s very hard to recover it.

In your book ‘The Heart Truth’ you describe doable “life rules” for a healthy heart. Please elaborate for us.

Dr. Contractor: My point is that to lead a heart healthy lifestyle we all know largely, what’s ‘good’ for us, but unfortunately implementing it is the hardest part. Which is why I suggest, making simple rules, which you can stick by. The rules that apply to you, will be different for somebody else, whose lifestyle is not the same as yours. For instance:

  1. No snacking on starters at parties, before dinner
  2. Walking back and forth, while waiting for your flight after check-in, rather than sitting in one place
  3. Parking your car at the furthest spot from the entrance in a parking lot

Tell us a bit about your published study ‘Pedometer Assessed Physical Activity in Urban Pubertal Children: First Report from India’.

Dr. Contractor: In our study, we found that children in India, take less ‘daily steps’ than children in western countries, such as the US, UK, and Australia. This was rather surprising since the school we did it at is known for its sporting excellence. This underscores the growing epidemic of physical inactivity and obesity that is spreading in our country over the last decade and is a cause of concern.

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