Sometimes, an unexpected encounter could significantly change the course of life. Dr Rajesh Javherani shares one such event that inspired him to make a positive change in his life.
Name: Dr Rajesh Javherani
Age: 49 years
"Doctor, heal yourself!", these were the words said to me by one of my patients in March 2017 when I was unhealthy and obese and which still prompt me to remain fit.
I am a 48-year-old doctor, a specialist in Internal medicine and critical care. In 2015, I moved to Pune from Goa and started working at Chellaram Diabetes Hospital. I was staying alone, away from family and had a sedentary lifestyle. I was never into sports right from childhood and would prefer to commute by car even to a small distance. I loved eating good food and street food being my favourite; I would gorge on anything I would fancy. 'Calories don't count on the weekend' it is said but for me, every day was the weekend because I would venture out every evening and relish all kinds of street food. To top it all, I also consumed alcohol. I had put on a lot of weight and I tipped the scale at a whopping 100 Kg. Never in my life had I thought that I would be this obese. I remember weighing 54 Kg during my MBBS and was body-shammed for being skinny.
With obesity came other health issues. Obesity and overweight are major risk factors for many diseases. I was also suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea at that time. This is a syndrome which happens commonly due to obesity, wherein a person has disturbed sleep due to blocking of airways and this disturbed sleep causes day time sleepiness. I started using a machine to help me breathe called a CPAP machine. I would connect a face mask attached to the CPAP machine to help me breathe during my sleep. All kinds of physical activity were a hindrance and got me irritable and breathless but it did not stop me from eating or get me to change my lifestyle. I would sleep better with the help of the machine and continued eating and battering my body with junk food, fizzy drinks and alcohol.
That's when one of my patients said to me upfront that doctor you should heal yourself. That was a turning point in my life. I realised that the greatest wealth is health. I would like to quote a famous line by Benjamin Franklin here – 'I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand.' I decided to be different and improve my health by changing my mind. I was soon introduced to a running group by one of my friends where they had running sessions for beginners.
On one Saturday morning at 5.45 a.m., I drove to Pune University to attend a running session. I was shy and felt very ashamed of myself when I looked at the fit runners there. The session was for beginners who had never run in their life. I told myself not to be afraid of being a beginner. Prasad Patil, a well-known running coach, took all the beginners for a fun run of 3 Km. It was a walk-run and during the exercise, he explained to us the benefits of staying healthy and how running helps to stay fit. The session inspired me a lot and further strengthened my will to get fitter.
Then the routine started and I would go twice a week for strength training sessions at 5.30 a.m. in the morning. I would go for an early morning run for the rest of the days. Initially, it was difficult for me to wake up early morning but the happiness I would get from exercising and running was beyond words. That prompted me to get up early every day and follow my schedule.
It is said that this month's diet is next month's body and so I changed my diet too. I took help from a lot of my well-wishers and I also started to read more about obesity around this time. I realised that one of the main reasons for obesity was excessive eating. It is natural as humans to eat frequently due to many reasons, even when we are not hungry. I often pondered over the adage that a healthy life and body lead to a healthy mind which started making more sense to me with each passing day.
Though being in the medical profession, I was not eating a healthy diet. I decided to cut down excessively on unhealthy and junk foods. I cut down on sugar intake and started eating a healthy diet in proportion with carbohydrate, proteins and fats. I also reduced my alcohol intake.
As weeks passed, a daily routine of exercise and running became a part of my life. I started losing weight and reduced 4 Kg within a month of my changed lifestyle. Within three months' time, I lost 12 Kg more and I weighed 88 Kg. I felt fit, my sleep apnoea disappeared and my health started to improve. Aly Raisman, a world-renowned athlete, once said that the hard days are what make you stronger. I started seeing myself becoming physically and mentally strong.
The trend of running has increased in Pune these days and many regular marathon running events are being organised in the city now. One of the regular events is called LSOM (last Sunday of the month) where I participated for the first time and ran non-stop for 3 Km. It was a huge accomplishment for me.
There are many apps available on the phone to track the food and calorie intake and also the daily steps. It was good to use such apps initially but slowly I realised that cutting down carbohydrates and sugar, stopping junk food like burgers, pizzas and restaurant food which is high in calories is all that was needed to reduce weight.
Running regularly helped me in many ways. To elaborate some of the benefits, I started waking up early morning which made my entire day go well. My sleep quality improved. I could climb stairs easily without getting breathless. I became more active. My concentration and efficiency at work had improved. I looked younger. My temperament improved. Most importantly I started loving myself, especially the new me who was fitter, leaner and stronger.
Every time I go for a run, the time spent is like meditation to me. It may be difficult to sit and meditate to relax your mind. But during running, the mind is very calm and one can spend more time admiring the beauty of nature around.
The real purpose of running isn't to win a race but to test the limits of the human heart. I joined a local runner's group and that helped me to improve my running. I took part in my first half marathon (21 Km) in Bangalore and successfully completed my run. It was a proud moment for me. Now I could call myself a marathoner. There was no looking back from that moment. I started participating regularly in running events besides my daily run. I successfully finished a distance of 21 Km at Tata Mumbai Marathon in 2018. I have been running 21 Km regularly and finished more than a dozen of them. I am very proud of myself and my transformation.
What motivates me to keep going is the benefit of staying healthy. Now when I see people coming to me with lifestyle-related conditions like Diabetes, I share with them my personal story to help them understand that lifestyle disorders can be reversed and prevented by controlling unhealthy eating and regular exercise. The key to management is to start from somewhere. It's not going to be easy but it's worthwhile. After all, as it is said, life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to run in the rain. Fitness isn't a seasonal hobby, it is a lifestyle.
Dr Rajesh Javherani is a Chief Intensivist and a consultant physician at Victor Hospital, Goa.