Under the shadow

Under the shadow

No pain, no gain? Maybe not always. Sandalwood superstar Puneeth Rajkumar’s sudden death almost exactly a month ago has turned the focus on what really makes for a good exercise and diet regimen.

How much is too much?

Come November 29, it will be a month since Sandalwood superstar Puneeth Rajkumar passed away. The 46-year-old actor's sudden death came as a rude shock after television star Sidharth Shukla's death recently at the age of 40 and Chiranjeevi Sarja breathing his last at the age of 36 in June last year. All three actors followed what is considered a 'disciplined lifestyle'. Did they overdo it? What can ordinary mortals do to maintain a healthy heart and lifestyle? DHoS spoke to a range of nutritionists, fitness instructors, actors and doctors to find answers.

Understand your limits

The first step towards drawing up a diet and fitness plan for any individual is to go 'Bio-individual', wherein one discovers one’s own capacity, advises Ryan Fernando, founder and chief nutritionist at a multi-specialty nutrition clinic in Bengaluru. “You then discover your capacity and what foods suit you and what don't. You can also do a blood test and eat certain types of food. I would advise people to go against choosing a diet based on random observations because this could affect liver and kidney functions and reduce the absorption of vital nutrients like magnesium, Vit B12, calcium, Vit K, Vit A and Vit E,” says Ryan.

He feels a healthy diet comes with a balanced consumption of carbs, protein and fat. This will ensure that you maintain a certain weight. “Some people consume more carbohydrates than what they burn. The excess carbs will then be stored as fat. This additional storage of fat causes the body to develop insulin resistance and that leads to higher sugar levels, diabetes and in some instances, heart problems. A balanced diet will allow you to balance out your protein, carbs and fat."

He says that he has noticed people suddenly switching to a higher protein diet with the idea of racing towards fitness. “This sort of diet, without consulting a proper nutritionist, will lead to kidney stones, cause high uric acid levels in the body and may even cause a shutdown of the kidneys. Also, excess consumption of processed foods with little vegetable matter will leave you with no fibre and micronutrients; this triggers more health issues. A balanced diet must include at least 20 servings of fruits and vegetables in a day."
Ryan says that actors come to nutritionists to achieve a chiselled physique but they are not started on any exercise unless a blood and genetic test is done. “It is only after this that their diet and exercise charts are tailormade to maintain healthy parameters. Many actors sometimes turn to trainers who are not certified food guides. It is in this scenario that the supplements they consume turn detrimental to their health.”  

Ryan agrees that actors go on extreme diets and extreme exercise regimes. “I worked with Aamir Khan for ‘Dangal’ wherein he was put on a high-protein diet and was asked to walk for three to four hours plus follow a strength training workout regime. Similarly, Fardeen Khan has undergone a major body transformation wherein he follows a diet and exercise regime which has been scripted for him. Actors have an occupational hazard because they have to display their body according to the role they are playing. This does not come without risks and it is this risk that the actors live with,” says Ryan.

Keep it steady

One can be chubby and still be healthy. Weight is never the right indicator of health, believes Resshmi Rajkumar, senior health coach and nutritionist at a wellness and diagnostics clinic. “We have always been taught that looking thin/fit is being in your best health, which is not true. Puneeth is said to have been working out strenuously for two hours daily on a regular basis, which says a lot about his stress hormone triggers that could have caused a lot of inflammation in the body,” she says. She states the actor was experiencing moderate to severe chest pain with prolonged discomfort for nearly a week while exercising. “This is a concern these days as most people think symptoms like pain and discomfort are the outcome of good exercise and choose to ignore it and don’t get it addressed,” she rues.

Resshmi says adhering to 'Low Intensity Steady-State' workouts combined with resistance training is the safest option. Can a workout plan be categorised based on age groups? “We can never categorise workouts based on age groups; it has to be customised according to medical conditions. For instance, diabetes, posture issues, ability to perform workouts, smoking, and an account of one’s maximum heart rate — these are factored in,” she says. 

She also feels that any fitness regime must be formulated with a deep understanding of a person's biological (interpreting biomarkers, sleep patterns, mental health) and physical needs.

Listen to your heart

According to data collected by the Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research, between 2017 and 2021, about 3,850 young people were diagnosed with heart attacks and all the patients were below 40 years. “Of these, 55 per cent were smokers, 10 per cent diabetic and 11 per cent had high blood pressure, 20 per cent had high cholesterol and 15 per cent strong family history of premature heart attack,” director C N Manjunath said.

If anybody in the family, irrespective of generations, have a heart attack below the age of 50 years, then the next generation is vulnerable to premature heart attacks. High stress, the urge to achieve too much within a short span and substance abuse also lead to heart attacks. “Those who are working beyond their stipulated hours and work odd hours with no adequate sleep are in a high-risk category. People with a strong history of heart attacks in the family must ideally undergo a cardiac checkup, treadmill test, run an ECG test and check cholesterol levels periodically,” advises Dr Manjunath.

What exercises are good for the heart? The doctor says 45 minutes to one hour of exercise is good for the heart, but nothing should be overdone. “Walking, cycling, swimming and jogging are good exercises with no stress on the muscular system. More strenuous exercises like weightlifting may cause sustained tension that develops in the muscles. Anything in excess is bad,” he cautions. He feels any fitness programme must be tailormade according to age, body weight and functional capacity of the individual in question.

He advises that the practice of undergoing a thorough cardiac test before enrolling into a gym where an ECO and ECG is done will help detect any hidden cardiac problem which, if ignored, will surface after one turns 40 or 50. People should start exercising gradually rather than suddenly hitting the gym. "It should be  a step-by-step progression for better results."

He also says that consuming less salt, less fat and less sugar ensures a healthy heart. “Include more fruits, vegetables and lentils in your diet. Continuous consumption of a very high protein diet can weaken the arteries. Blood vessels carrying the blood to the heart may develop blockages. There are ulcers within arteries and its rupture could cause a heart attack and the risk of rupture is more in a high-protein diet."

 'There's a lot of pressure to look a certain way'

Actors often put themselves through a tough diet and exercise regime to achieve the desired results. “There’s a lot of pressure to look a certain way if you need to bag meaty roles and to be noticed. Only the best survive and for actors who are struggling to get a break in the television and film industry, good looks and a chiselled body is what works,” says a Mumbai-based television star who wishes to remain anonymous.

“It is the urge to stay at the top that drives actors to use steroids and consume protein shakes to maintain a certain physique. But long-term health issues are aplenty. Actors never talk about the emotional, mental and physical trauma they undergo to get to a certain level in their careers,” adds the actor.

Kannada television star Chandan Kumar says that consistency in following a certain diet and exercise regime is the biggest challenge for any star. “Puneeth was extremely fit, but after his demise, we have begun to question our exercise routines. We wonder how bodybuilders survive with their kind of lifestyle. You have to remain focused and not try to achieve the impossible within a short span and push your body to do the same,” cautions Chandan, who is currently shooting for the Kannada serial, ‘Marali Mansagide’.

Actor Sriimurali, nephew of Puneeth Rajkumar, who will soon be seen in the multilingual ‘Madhagaja’ thinks actors must first know their bodies before they start working out. “I have no complaints about any form of workout but when one starts something one must make sure that one sees the end of it. You mustn’t stop half way and restart after a gap. This will leave your body in confusion. You must eat and burn what you eat,” says Sriimurali, who has been working out for the past 18 years. 

He says it is important to know how to steer your body in the right direction to achieve the desired results. “After we gain a certain physique required for a role in a project, we take a break of two or three months so that the digestive system settles down and muscles gain strength to even be able to lift weights. I always have dieticians telling me what I should not be doing more than what I should be doing. Gym instructors must make sure to never stress the body beyond a certain limit."

Chetan Ahimsa, who has acted in films like ‘Birugaali’, ‘Ranam’, says his exercise regime is based on 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weightlifting six days a week.

“If I need to get extra thin for a film (like 'Mynaa') or bigger for a specific film (like 'Birugaali') or toned up for a film (like 'Suryakaanti'), then I tell the director and film team that I need several months of workout before shooting. This is required since the body takes time to respond to workouts, and we can't always expect immediate results no matter the intensity,” says Chetan.

For the first decade of his journey in the film industry, he took gymming very seriously and would train for each role differently. “For the last four years, I have been maintaining a consistent workout regime along with proper diet, sleep, and sunlight, which helps me stay fit throughout. To keep an actor's body and mind strong, consistency is the key. We must workout on a regular basis instead of trying to overdo it for a single film in a short period of time."

Why skill training for actors

Delson Joy D'Souza specialises in training actors to acquire movie-related skills such as parkour, gymnastics, strength training, martial arts and calisthenics. “These specific forms of training will help actors swiftly execute fight sequences or chase sequences where actors are required to jump off cars and rooftops, run between crowds etc. Strength training exercises help actors perform flips, jumps and rolls with ease,” explains Delson. He says most superstars are already trained and practice these, so working with them is easy. Skill training for actors normally involves:

*Fitness training — building strength and flexibility, attaining mobility and stamina

*Specific skill training according to the requirement.

*Nutrition plan tailored to body goals; to keep health markers in check

*Recovery programme incorporating optimum sleep and integrating all these into everyday living.

Six things to keep under check for a healthy heart
*Blood pressure
*Blood sugar
*Blood cholesterol
*Body weight
*Waist circumference
*Stress levels

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox