Archive | May, 2008

Exercise? If only there were 25 hours in a day

29 May

Most of us, at some point in time, have wanted to start exercising. Some of us do finally start it, albeit only for a few days or months. Some intend to start exercising but they are never able to make the transition from the planning to the execution phase. The most common reason – a lack of time.

How can I spend my valuable time exercising – at home or at the gym? My life is so busy, will a full time job, groceries, children, television, and numerous other engagements (and of course, sleeping). And there are only 24 hours in a day! And I’m busy all these 24 hours. If I had just an hour or two extra in a day, I’d exercise daily, because then I’d have extra time when I’m free. Have you had a similar thought lately? Well, guess what – there are only 24 hours in a day! And that 25th hour is never going to come.

Time is most common excuses (and a perfectly valid reason, in some cases) for not exercising. There is an old saying that a piece of work stretches to occupy the time available. The amount of work we do in 24 hours would stretch and fill the 25th hour too, and there will still not be enough time to exercise. I have faced the same issue, and despite the occasional motivation to go to the gym, have never found enough time. Until last year.

I have been regularly (three days a week) going to the gym for the last one year or so, and arrived at the conclusion that it’s not the time but motivation that has always prevented me from exercising. And I have started believing that this is the case with most of us. We are not motivated enough. Even if the motivation hits us sometimes, it goes away as soon as it came.

Exercising at home, park, or a gym, takes a little time and lots of motivation. The motivation to make a beginning, motivation to keep it up for a long time. And motivation must have a reason behind it. Motivation is an intrinsic state of mind, and comes from a realization, a goal, or in some cases, like mine, a shock.

So where does the motivation for exercising come from? Here are some of the most common reasons.

An overweight person:

  • wants to slim down and look good
  • has to reverse a medical condition, such as high blood pressure
  • wants to avoid some ailments for which s/he has high risk of catching

An average weight person:

  • wants to lose fat and tone her/his body
  • has to reverse a medical condition, such as high cholesterol, or prevent it
  • wants to build more muscle mass
  • remain active in old age

People who are happy with their weight and shape and are physically fit find no reason to exercise, and hence, there is no motivation for them to go to the gym. However, there are many benefits to exercising, even for healthy people. So here’s my advice – if you are overweight, hit the gym. Even if you think you are healthy, get yourself checked by a doctor – you never know what’s happening inside your body. If you have a genetically high risk of high blood pressure, it’s very important to prevent it from happening.

There are many more benefits to exercising. And the elusive 25th hour will never come. So motivate yourself … and join a gym.

The Best Cuisine – Views of a Food Dude

14 May

Centuries ago, when explorers landed on the Indian soil, they were amazed to see the multitude of spices Indians grew and used in their food. They took the spices back to their countries, and soon India became a hub of spices export to many countries. Even today, many different types of spices are exported from India all over the world. According to the data available for 2006-2007, $793 million worth of spices were exported. It represented 47% in quantity and 40% in value of total spice trade in the world. Spices such as chilli, ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, spice oils and oleoresins, vanilla, and big cardamom are the main spices exported.

I have always been a plain eater, primarily vegetarian, appreciating the quality of spicy as well as simple food. Though there are thai, chinese, japanese cuisines available in India, the restaurants serving these foods are run by Indians, making the food kind of Indo-chinese, and so on. Nothing authentic here. I, being a lover of Indian home made food, have never found myself much interested in international cuisine (my fitness-freakiness is another reason).

After moving to the US in 2005, I tried all kinds of food – American, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Mexican, Italian – and found most to be pretty good, though some are indeed outstanding. The crowded restaurants prove how good the food is in these restaurants. However, I don’t see the Indian restaurants even half-filled on weekdays. Why is it so? Is the food bad? The service sucks? Or is there some other reason? I gave it a thought and came up with a few reasons why not too many people go to Indian restaurants.

  • Indian food is mostly curry-based, which doesn’t make a for a good presentation.
  • The Indian restaurants are run by Indian families, and are not professional enough (the way most Indian businesses are run).
  • Marketing Indian food to the world has been non-existent.

After trying out international cuisine for a couple of years, I decided to take a break and eat only Indian food, simply because, in my opinion (no offenses to any country or culture), Indian food is, without any doubt, the best in the world. Best as in taste, not in appearance, originality, or any other criteria. Having been to an Italian restaurant twice in the last two months, and eating vegetarian food, I’m sure I’d not go there again in at least another six months. It’s not that Italian food is bad; they gave pizza and pasta to the world, after all. I just happened to go there with my colleagues on Thursdays, the only day of the week when I don’t eat non-vegetarian food.

The event I write about next should settle the argument.

In the spring of 2006, when I was a master’s student at Stanford University, an international food gala was organized by the student society. Food from more than 20 countries were available in as many stalls. Everyone was given five coupons each, free of charge, which meant we could eat food from any five countries. I decided to look at the food from all countries to see which ones tempt me enough to spend my coupon there. I spent two coupons on food from two European (I don’t remember which) countries and an African country. All looked good, some were sweet and some salty.

I had two coupons left with me and I didn’t want to go home and cook dinner, and my palate was not satisfied too, so I decided to go to the Pakistani stall. I was sure it would make my taste buds happy, though my stomach might remain unfilled (the quantity of food available everywhere was small). I started moving towards the Pakistani stall when I realized that the Indian and Pakistani stalls were overcrowded, with long lines of people wanting to grab something before it was over.

I stood in line, and after some time, my found myself standing in front of the tables. Tandoori chicken, mutton biryani, gulab jamum, and some other stuff was kept on the tables, but the Pakistani students were not serving the food like other students. Unable to pass this opportunity, I filled my plate with delicious Pakistani food.

After I was done with my dinner, I still had a coupon left, so I decided to finally go to the Indian stall. The long lines were gone, but so was the food! However, I had whatever was left and went home and slept in peace thanking the wonderful Pakistani food.

By the way, I brought up the spices story at the beginning of this post because both Pakistani and Indian food are very similar and use many different types of spices for flavor.

An Enigma: Better Known as Stanford

9 May

Stanford – a word, which, after Harvard, elicited my deepest respect and awe before I went there to do my master’s. Like most of the things you achieve in life, the ‘awe’ factor finally goes away, and what remains is the feeling of contentment, achievement, and on top of the world. But this feeling arrives after you’ve been to Stanford. Before that, it’s a word, and an enigmatic world, especially from thousands of miles away, in India.

When I decided to come to the US for a graduate program in technology-based learning, I applied to three universities and Stanford, thinking that there is no harm in applying though I was convinced that I would not be admitted. How could a simple and average person like me go to one of the best universities in the world (a line of thought that has changed since then)? When I received an email from the graduate admissions office, I went ballistic. This was unbelievable. And equally shocking was the cost of studying there – about $52,000, that’s 2.4 million in Indian currency. You could buy a three bedroom apartment in a nice locality in Bangalore, the (so called) silicon valley of India.

I couldn’t arrange for the money, and had to forego the admission offer, and was heartbroken. Though I did get admitted to the other three universities, I decided to wait another year and apply again. The next year, I applied to to some PhD programs too. Though Michigan State University offered me to join their Cognitive Psychology PhD program (by the way, their CP program was ranked 3rd in the US), I decided to go for the master’s at Stanford. This was then when I didn’t know much about Stanford, which was about to change …

I landed at the San Francisco airport on September 11, 2005 (9/11, if you will) and was received by a lovely old couple whom I’d met for the first time, thanks to the Home Stay program for international students.

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Get Rich U.

A Healthy Lifestyle: Now What’s That?

1 May

If you are 30+ and have a job that requires you to be in the office the whole day (and evenings), this post is for you.

Most of us lead a sedentary lifestyle with all kinds of amenities to take care of physical work. And most of us do not exercise, or rather, do not have time to exercise. Leading a busy life with a family and job can be very demanding with virtually not free time. All free time is spent doing “important” things like shopping, watching movies, and eating. Where in the world is free time, you ask? I wish there were 25 hours in a day, so I’d have one hour to swim, jog, and hit the gym. Well, guess what, there are only 24 hours in a day, so …. no time for exercise.

Is exercise necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle? Most of us think we already avoid junk food, we are not fat, so we are healthy, right? Wrong. A healthy lifestyle goes beyond junk food and being thin (or not being fat). I realized the truth the hard way.

Last summer, I got my lipid profile done. If you have never got yours done, here’s what it is. You don’t eat 12 hours prior to giving your blood sample. You can’t even drink anything except water. You go to the doctor, they draw some blood for testing, and within a day or two, they tell you the results. You get to know what your blood sugar level is, your LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein, also called the bad cholesterol), HDL (High Density Lipoprotein, also called the good cholesterol), the triglyceride levels, and some other things.

When I got the results, every reading was way above the acceptable limits. I’m thin, used to exercise, though never regularly and may be not the correct exercises, so I was under the impression that I was healthy as a horse. Not really, the doctor said. I was scared. I didn’t want to get a heart attack at this stage of life. So I did some reading on the Internet. The more results Google returns, the more confusing everything seems. But one thing common across most of the Web sites is the theme – healthy lifestyle. Some sites do talk about fat-melting tea or drink or something. I will write about why these drinks don’t (and can’t work).

By the way, eight months later, I got my lipid profile done again. And this time, everything was perfectly normal. I was relieved. I will write about how I did it and you can try and make it work for you too. In the meantime, go to Google and do a keyword search for healthy lifestyle.