Monday, September 26, 2016

Fitness: Make it a Choice

Turning 40 was a milestone I wanted to remember with a smile, not as the start of new aches and pains, and this has been my biggest motivation over the last couple of years to reach a stage where fitness is a big part of my life. If I don't workout or do something active on a certain day, I feel uncomfortable, like I'm missing something. I know that many factors might change, maybe I will start that full-time job or something else might take up more of my time, but I know now that I will always manage to make time for myself and my fitness. I felt compelled to write down my thoughts on how I got here, so here goes:

Find what works for you: Different ways of exercising might work for different folks, for example - many would swear by a gym routine or a group class as the dynamic is great and setting a regular schedule works well for them. In my case though, this just wasn't the right fit as I find it easier to keep my workout timing a bit flexible. I realized that I was finding it a challenge to get to my one group workout once a week - it seems like something or the other keeps coming up just at that time!! What has clicked for me is to find home workouts that are interesting, and to set a time limit of pre-lunch at the latest to get it done. This means that I have to change up and re-plan workouts every now and then, but I don't mind that. Fitness Blender is a great example of a site that offers free workouts with a whole lot of variations and you can choose the one that fits your current fitness level and work your way up!

Plan ahead: There was a point when I ended up missing days simply because I spent too much time looking for what to do on a particular day :P. I learnt my lesson and now make sure to have at least a general idea of what I want to do for a week or month. Picking up a challenge or a 60/90 day workout plan works even better as long as you plan according to your fitness level. In my case for example, I feel comfortable with a one hour workout but sometimes have to modify some of it to low impact to be able to complete it. I prefer to stick to challenging workouts, that I almost can't complete, rather than aim too low, as this is the only way to keep getting better. You can also keep track of number of reps, weight lifted etc so that you can easily make out your improvement over the days/weeks.

Watch your form: If you're new to working out, doing new exercises at a gym under a trainer's eye might be a good approach. I would recommend this for yoga as well, as personal feedback about poses helps a lot for beginners. Once you are clear in your mind about the form, then doing it at home becomes a good option, possibly in front of a mirror to check if you're doing it right. This is essential because just expending energy and sweating it out will not have the results that you want, if the form for the exercises is incorrect.

Don't let setbacks stop you: There will be illnesses, work, travel, and a million other reasons for a break in your workout schedule. Don't let this dishearten you - just back sure that you get back every single time. I am currently trying out the P90X workout, and have been joking that it might take me 180 days instead of 90 :). But the important thing is, I know I'll get it done.

Develop your knowledge: I started going to the gym in my 20s, but now I realize that I had no clue what I was trying to achieve (except to lose that tummy, which remains an eternal goal ;)). I just used to blindly follow what the trainer told me, and while I'm sure they were well-meaning, you need to understand your own body to get the results you want. With the learning from classes I've been to, and understanding better about how specific types of workouts affect my body, I can now workout a schedule tailor-made for me. While cardio/steps taken were the main focus earlier, I now find strength training to be the most important component of my workout plans. I don't think anyone should wait to turn 30 or 40 to start weights, the earlier the better! I make sure my workouts are intense enough, while at the same time know when to take a break or a rest day when I cannot manage a full workout. On such days, even a light walk or an hour of your favorite game helps keep the momentum going.

Motivators: Only you can find your own - It could be a workout partner, your family, or it could be an online group. A wonderful fitness conscious group on Facebook called "Fit Right In" was a big reason for my growth in this area. Folks who don't just share knowledge freely, but also follow up on you if you go missing, that's what you get with a good fitness support group or partner. In a smaller way, the Fitbit and other stats-based apps have also helped to quantify my improvement, so these could be worth checking out as well. I recently wrote about the Fitbit Blaze, and its earlier version, the Flex, was one of the motivators for my getting on a fitness regimen.
Catch 'em young!
I know that was a long one, so thank you for reading this far :). This is the story of how I decided to be #fitbyforty and now am very close to my goal of being #fitatforty.

Do you have a workout plan? How did you arrive at it? Do share with me in the comments!

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Semakau: Visit to a Landfill

If you know me personally, it is very probable that you have heard my views on waste management ;). Thanks to getting to know a lot of amazing environment conscious folks when in Bangalore, some time after I started composting at home (my first post on the subject in 2011 here), I also started segregating my waste. This was some time before it was made mandatory, though unfortunately I didn't see enough enforcement especially at the individual home level, even till the time I left in Dec 2015.

When I first started living in Singapore, I was a bit confused by the lack of waste segregation at the household level, and wondered how a country this size handled its waste. Enter Google and other useful links shared by folks in a local FB group, and I slowly started getting the picture. I also looked around for organizations that I could volunteer with, to make some small contribution in the area of sustainability, and found the Singapore Environment Council or SEC. Thanks to them, I have made a couple of trips that helped me understand the waste management in Singapore a bit better. I also hope to volunteer in a couple of upcoming events, to do my small part in making a difference.

Step 1 in the waste management process here is removing the recyclables - this is ideally at source in our homes - mainly plastics/paper/glass and a few other components. Recycling bins are provided all over the island, and the contents are taken to centers where they are segregated into different types before being taken to bigger centers where they are processed in different ways. Some removal of recyclables is also done from the mixed waste collected from homes, to minimize any plastics and non bio-degradables that might reach the next step. A visit to a recycling centre(my first trip with SEC) threw some light on the importance of details - how plain paper is easier to recycle as coloured paper needs some treatment to remove the inks, for example!!

Step 2 is the wet or miscellaneous waste handling and incineration was the process of choice. To someone like me, that sounded almost blasphemous, as burning of mixed waste was a big problem in Bangalore, especially as it is done in open spaces and exposes everyone to the carcinogens it lets off. Here however, it is a contained process, with large incinerator setups in different parts of the island. These are called waste-to-energy plants and our tour guide jokingly mentioned about how we pay for our waste to be disposed and then also for the electricity generated from it :). The resulting gases are handled by a filtration method before being let out into the atmosphere. As incineration compacts the waste to nearly 10% of its original volume, it definitely sounds like a smart choice when you don't have the luxury of space. (I hope to visit one of the incinerators sometime soon, if so will add more details here)

Step 3 is the handling of the ash which is the main end product of the incineration process. This is where a landfill enters the picture. My head used to throw up scary landfill images which are based on what I've seen in pics or in person in Indian cities - huge mountains of refuse with scavengers hanging around and a stink that is far reaching. That image is now changed for ever.

Resort like views all around :)

It was HOT out in the open, the hat bought for D's outbound trip helped!
Singapore has kept the landfill away from the main populated areas by making an offshore one out of two of its islands (Pulau Sekang and Pulau Semakau - see pic below). Large ferries bring the ash here, and they are then transported by lorries to be dumped into assigned areas. The dumping zones have been created by building an encircling wall that includes an impermeable geo-membrane, and the sea water is regularly pumped out to adjust the sea level. Once the maximum level has been reached, a few feet of topsoil is added so that the upper layer is fertile and can serve as a home to greenery.
(Side note: There are also some leachate handling plants on the island that serve as backup if any of the incinerators might give out for any reason.)
The presentation showed us the lay of the land.. err water.
We learnt in the presentation that followed the tour that while the earlier practice was to make smaller zones out of the entire dumping area (as shown in the top part of the pic above), it has now evolved to using one large zone which seems to work better for their needs. A movable platform serves as the base for the trucks, and as one portion fills up, the entire platform is moved to the next part.

The mangroves - there was a recent round of planting the previous year as well
to try to compensate for anything that has to be removed for expansion.
There is a lot of thought about affecting the water quality around the islands, and some of the eco-conscious measures that have been carried out include:
1. Mangroves at the ends of the island - these create a root barrier for flotsam, as well as act as a warning sign for deterioration of water quality - the foliage apparently would start showing significant areas of drying up which would immediately trigger extensive tests and remedial measures.
Testing well
2. Testing wells - These are numbered and located all over the island. A water sample from each is tested once a month, with the number pinpointing the location in case of any unusual results.
3. Marine life - Spotting of marine life such as dolphins and otters is considered a positive sign, to indicate that the island provides a comfortable environment for these species.

A few industries are being tried out on the island, such as this deep sea fishery 
To make the best use of the space here, there are also trial runs of a few chosen industries. Some of the mentioned ones were deep sea fisheries, work on biodiesel using the plant Jatropha, and a company that is working on harnessing natural energy from solar, wind, and water.