Take care of the only car you will ever have

27th November 2006, ECONOMIC TIMES

It is in the first ten years after the working career begins that the greatest neglect of youthful health begins. Sportsmen stop playing sports, teetotalers drink alcohol, non-smokers smoke, active youngsters sit on desk jobs, and starving hostel inmates eat rich foods. These early years are the ones to watch.

27th November 2006, ECONOMIC TIMES

It is in the first ten years after the working career begins that the greatest neglect of youthful health begins. Sportsmen stop playing sports, teetotalers drink alcohol, non-smokers smoke, active youngsters sit on desk jobs, and starving hostel inmates eat rich foods. These early years are the ones to watch.

You can convince yourself about the reasons—no time to exercise, the importance of socializing, the difficulty of getting a club membership, timings and logistics problems and a whole host of reasons. However even if all these are correct, you can always go for a walk or do yoga! There are no good enough reasons for lack of fitness and exercise, other than indulgence or laziness.

While growing up in Calcutta, I joined a tennis coaching scheme at the Bengal Lawn Tennis Association. It was run and supervised by Dilip Bose, the Indian Davis Cup tennis star of the 1940s. He was a fiend for fitness. Before we could get our tiny hands around the racket, he would make us run around the South Club tennis courts ten times, do one hundred jumps with a skipping rope, and do another fifty sit-ups. We were too tired to play any tennis by the time all this was done. His message was that we could not be tennis players if we were not fit.

There is much truth in this for executives also. The stereotype shown in advertisements of the high-living and high-spending executive is completely mythical.

One day, Dilip Bose asked us,” How would you take care of your car if you were told that it would be the only car you would have for your whole life?” The answer was self evident; all of us kids said the same thing in chorus.

“Well, your body is the only car you will have for all your life. You cannot change it, so look after it like your only car,” he bellowed.

To a kid, that was a simple message to understand and to remember. I owe it to the late Dilip Bose that I grew to love exercise and tennis, both of which have been an inexhaustible source of pleasure, relaxation, character-building and fitness, all rolled into one bundle.

Upon arrival in Mumbai for my first job, an early expenditure was on a membership of the Bombay Gymkhana. The club membership took precedence over the purchase of a motor cycle, music system or occasional fine dining (Bombelli on Warden Road, not the Taj Mahal!).

It is terrific to see health-conscious executives exercising and keeping fit. A management career is extremely stressful, and every young executive should work at managing that stress. Some are unlucky because they develop health problems without bringing it upon themselves. But others squander away their good health on the grounds that office work is stressful. Healthy and young people need not develop stressful social habits, deluding themselves that it is relaxing. Such a hectic lifestyle catches up after ten years.

My university tennis partner was Jyoti, who was already a State level champion. I used to wish I had his ground strokes and his swing. When I met him after 40 years, we naturally spoke about tennis. “Oh, I gave up 20 years ago. I should have taken better care and played more regularly after college. I should have controlled some of my habits. I had to stop after a bypass surgery several years ago,” he said to my great regret, for he was such a lovely hitter of the ball.

I am not suggesting a Spartan lifestyle, far from it. Go out and enjoy life, youth comes only once. However, do listen to what your body is telling you and do not flog it to capacity.

Your good health is an asset on your balance sheet. Grow it, maintain it, but do not destroy it. It is the only opening balance of asset you get at the beginning of your life.

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