The world around us is in complete chaos. The pandemic has rendered everyone helpless, with little to do to protect ourselves. In times like these, it is extremely important to be focusing on our fitness and immunity.
Hi everyone! Today, we have with us, Dr Shailesh. I would like to begin by introducing Ezyschooling.
Ezyschooling is a platform aimed at digitalizing school admissions. Our founder, Mr Mayank Jain, has created a network of over 15000 parents, and we are connected with 150+ playschools. We keep the parents informed about all the news and events that are happening around us.
It would be amazing if you tell us something about yourself.
My name is Shailesh. I have been a daddy blogger since August 2018. I have a two-year-old daughter named Maisha. From a professional point of view, I have a PhD in microbiology and I work for a book publishing firm in Mumbai.
The topic for today’s session is the immunity and health of kids and parents. The first question I would like to ask you is how are our bodies immune to diseases?
It’s quite a generic question, to be honest. But I will try to do justice to answering it.
We have white blood cells in our bodies. For people who don’t associate with these biological terms, you can simply consider them to be a defence mechanism to anything foreign entering your body. Taking the example of Covid-19, the virus does not belong to your body. It is not a known cell in your body. So, if you come into contact with the virus these defence cells, or the white blood cells, try their best to fight against the virus. But if the virus outnumbers these cells then you will catch an infection. So that’s a very simple layman term of how our body’s immune system reacts to foreign particles.
What food items do you suggest for building immunity?
There are lots of things. In general, we need to have quite a balanced diet. It means that your carbohydrates, your fats, your good fats, your bad fats, all of them need to be balanced. We are unfortunately in an era where eating a lot of raw fruits and vegetables, although highly advisable, can be quite dangerous if they are not cleaned enough. Just include a lot of fibre in your diet, a lot of protein in your diet. And make sure that you are eating home-cooked meals.
Sometimes it is difficult to make kids eat food that is right for their immunity. Sometimes they say no. How do you make your daughter eat food that is good for her immunity?
I think that’s a completely valid question. It is a very tough thing to do.
Every kid has a series of things that they like at home. My daughter is 2, she has started speaking. So she can tell us what she wants for breakfast or lunch. Right now she is addicted to mangoes. She just continuously wants to eat mangoes. So we need to make sure that we are giving that to her in control. It is a good thing to eat mangoes but it may not be very good in high quantities for children. I think we don’t fuss about it a lot. For example, a lot of times she just wants to eat the plain chapati with no vegetables. That’s fine because in our households wheat chapatis are very common and it’s quite nutritious along with some ghee. So we give her that. She is fond of eating yoghurt. So we have tried plain yoghurt with her, we have tried flavoured yoghurt with her. We just do a bit of mix and match to make sure that she’s getting her dose of calcium. She’s quite fond of milk as well. So she’s getting her calcium from there as well.
I think you just need to do trial and error with kids. We recently realized that she loves eating kiwis. So then, we are giving her kiwis. I don’t know if that’s a phase and it will fade away and she will stop liking it after some time. But you just do trial and error and see what they like. There is no point forcing them to eat something because it will just turn them off for the rest of their lives.
Depending on the age of the child, it becomes very important to feed them what you are eating. My daughter usually would eat her meal from my plate or my wife’s plate. We don’t have a separate portion for her. Although we do make sure that we are measuring what she is eating. Otherwise, she will just eat two morsels and pretend as if they are full.
So yeah, in my daughter’s case, the trial and error method has worked quite a lot. I would want her to eat a lot of things but I think she is doing quite well for her age.
Sometimes kids demand a lot of unhealthy food as well. Is it a big no from your side or do you let her eat those as well?
I don’t think we can control it, to be honest. We have tried being strict.
Before Maisha was born, we would eat a lot of chocolates. So now, after she is born, one of the common things that we can do to control is just controlling the availability of these things in the house. For example, I have chocolate in my fridge right now. But the bar of chocolate may take like a week or ten days to get over because you just do portion control. Sometimes you need to bribe them to finish their food. It’s not a very nice thing to do. But if she is eating her portion of chapati and I just give her a small portion of chocolate after that, which is fine by me as the portion control helps a lot.
So yeah, I don’t think we can be very strict with them, to be honest. Otherwise, they would just think of it as something so unique that they don’t even have access to it. So I don’t think we can make it so exclusive in their heads. So just give them a little and just keep a tab on how much they have had in a day so that you don’t overfeed them too many sugary things.
Has the birth of your child brought a change in your diet as well?
So, Maisha started eating at the right age. We started giving her a bit of solid food by the time she was 6 months, or 8 months, or something like that. As I said, right now she says what she wants to eat. She rarely says she wants junk food for lunch or dinner. I have never heard her ask for burgers and things like that because even we don’t prefer eating that on a normal day outside. So, our diet has changed in a good way where we let her decide what she wants to eat; and unless and until it is very specific that we don’t want to it and she wants it, so we just make a small portion for her and that would just give her a variety of food items to consume.
So yeah, it has changed in a good way. As I mentioned earlier as well, we do try a lot of fruits for her whatever she is not eating, we have to eat it unfortunately because we can’t throw it. So yeah, it has changed. But it has changed for good, I feel.
There are a lot of supplements available in the market that say that they help improve the immunity in kids. Are they harmful, or are they right for kids to be consumed?
It’s a very subjective thing, to be honest. We have never given any supplements to Maisha. Maisha never even had Formula fed. She always was on her mother’s milk, or we just started giving her cow’s milk, which is quite light for children, after consultation with our paediatrician of course. We have never tried having supplements ourselves as well because I strongly believe in the power of eating fresh, healthy, home-cooked food. And to be honest, if you are very particular about what you are consuming, then there is no need for having supplements. The only thing which I can probably think about is probiotic yoghurt, which is something that we eat a lot at home. But we are not taking any tablets or pills or any formula feeds for ourselves or even for our children.
What are ways we can stay fit? There has been a huge change in our day-to-day life now due to the pandemic situation. So, what are the differences that you realized and what are the changes in the ways that you prefer to stay fit now?
There are multiple ways to our health, to our wellness rather. I think a lot of people concentrate on physical health. Say for example, if I have a fever, if I am sneezing, or if I am coughing, you can easily guess that I am unwell. And that’s physical fitness. That’s basically something that other people can see and you can easily gain attention or love, or if you are wanting some time off from work, you can easily get that because you have evident symptoms.
Now the issue is mental health- something very close to my heart. It’s a much-underrated path of fitness, I feel. And I think this pandemic is probably making it worse for people. I mean, there is no hiding the fact that sometimes even I don’t feel well. And it takes a lot of determination and effort to come out of that zone where you don’t feel well. If someone asks you what is troubling you, you don’t know what the answer to that is.
It’s just the basic stress of life. I think a lot of people have forgotten what normal was like. For example, if I am watching television and see a huge crowd of people, it immediately makes me feel anxious to see so many people at such a close distance from each other. And obviously, that is normal, right? That is how our lives were. So right now, with all of us working from homes, most of us staring into the screens for a very long time, we must take care of both our physical and mental health.
To be honest, it does not just stop at you. What if my wife is going through some issues? What if my mother is going through some issues? So the burden just keeps on increasing. Because you are home, it’s about everyone. And the last thing you would want is your child facing a bad mood or a day because they are so nice and young that for them every day is a good day. I don’t think my daughter realizes that we are under lockdown. She is a perfectly happy child, by God’s grace. So I think we need to be very particular about following a particular routine. You can do whatever makes you feel good. For example, I have recently started meditation and it is giving me a lot of peace and it is making me aware of a lot of things that even I wasn’t aware of about my body, until recently.
When we talk about fitness, you immediately think about gyms, and treadmills and all sorts of gadgets. But you don’t need all of those, to be honest, especially when gyms are closed right now. Just go for a short walk in your building or a park, if you live close to one. Just walk for 15 minutes, feel the breeze. Just do some basic things that you look forward to in your routine. Hopefully, that will keep you safe. Because it is a very difficult time that we are going through and there’s no sign of it ending anytime soon. So, we need to be careful and gain inspiration from whatever source of energy we can.
Some students were going to schools normally and now online classes have also started. But it’s getting a little difficult for them to spend their whole day. And it is getting difficult for parents to keep them in some of the other activities. So, do you have any suggestions or any opinions on that?
Yeah, I can only imagine sitting in front of a computer and trying to pay attention. And I am sure they have a lot of course work to do as well. I have my cousins who are in the 10th standard right now and are studying for their boards. It’s not at all easy. So I think one of the first things for parents to take care of is to make sure that they are around, to make sure that they are checking on the health of their children- not just physical health. If you see signs of fatigue, it is absolutely fine for them to get up and take a ten-minute rest.
It’s very hard to study like that, I am not sure. I have done a large part of my education abroad. So I think self-study comes naturally to a lot of people. But yeah, if you are in school self-study can be quite daunting. I have a five-year-old nephew who is going through online classes, can you imagine? So apparently he is in front of the laptop for at least 2 hours a day. And it’s sad in a way, to be honest because it is not only about education, right? What about the social quotient? What about our interaction with like-minded people? We all miss our friends. We miss having lunches with them when we go out. And, I think, smaller kids experience that a lot more. So, when I ask my nephew if he misses his friends, he does say yes but I am not sure how much it is affecting him, or how much he does miss it. Because he does keep asking us at regular intervals when he can go back to school?
So I think, yeah, to be honest, I drive inspiration from thinking that I am quite privileged because I have so many things that I can do. I have work. I have food in my house. I have a family that loves me a lot. So I think you just kind of look at the good side of things. So, for students, they just need to probably think of it as a temporary phase. Just try to pull through as much as you possibly can. Talk to your parents, talk to your teachers. Take a day off. Don’t do anything if you don’t want to, but don’t let it ruin your peace, because that is going to do long-term damage which will affect not only your studies but also your general well-being.
There are kids of five to six years of age. Do you feel this pandemic situation can harm their mental health?
I am sure there is, to be honest. It is quite an interesting area of study if I go to see it.
Say for example, when I am doing meditation I am using an app to meditate and over there is a section of meditation for kids. I didn’t even know that there can be meditation for kids. I mean, why would they probably need it? Because, when you are talking about breathing and how you should breathe, patterns etc., you always give examples of kids as they have the right pattern of breathing. So I am sure it affects their mental health. As I said, it depends on parents. How are they tackling it? Or, how much time are they spending with their kids?
I feel sorry for the nuclear families where both the parents work and the kid is there alone. How do they manage it? It will be very difficult to spend enough time with the child because the child will be constantly feeling guilty to nudge their parents between meetings or things like that. So, I am sure it does affect their mental health. But the best way to just make sure that you are doing the best as you can is to spend as much time as you can with them. If possible, please don’t work on weekends so that the children look forward to the weekend and they can look forward to spending a lot of quality time with their parents. As I said, when we think about spending time and spending quality time, we always think of these complex things that we need to do. But it need not be complex. Just sit with a pen and a paper and just let them scribble on it. Draw something and let them fill colours in it. It’s just something so basic yet the child feels so special when you sit with them and you make sure that you are giving them the time and attention that they deserve. If there are any visible signs of, say, for example, mental health being affected, then please don’t hesitate to seek professional help. There is a lot of stigma in our community, unfortunately, about these kinds of things for some reason. But I would like to believe that our generation of people is very well-educated and well-aware of these kinds of things. So, if you are experiencing it yourself, or if you think that a friend is going through or their child is going through, definitely recommend them to opt for professional help. And that should do wonders, I feel.
Since we are talking about exercises and meditation and everything, do you feel that it has some relation with our immunity as well and it can help us boost our immunity?
Yeah, it does and it’s proven also. It is a very common topic when it comes to, say, for example, physiotherapy, or de-stressing, or things like that. So when you exercise, or even moderate exercise, I am not talking about some heavy exercise, but moderate exercise. For example, walking for 10 minutes, rather than taking the lift, you can go down the stairs. Those kinds of basic activities become a part of your life. Like, you needn’t think about or instead of going to the gym, you can just make sure that these kinds of activities are a part of your daily routine. And what it does is that it maintains your blood pressure. It maintains your pulse. It regulates a lot of release of good hormones when you are doing moderate exercises. It helps you de-stress. And all of these have been scientifically proven to be related to a boost of your immunity. So it is a win-win situation where we are not only directly relating immunity to being healthy or staying safe.
It’s a must for everyone. It is not gender-related at all. It is not age-related at all. It’s a must for everyone. We tend to kind of over-complicate these kinds of terms.
Walking is the best exercise. We do a lot of walking, in general, in our house. Like, say, for example, if you have a decent size house in Mumbai, you would do a lot of walking in the house. But unfortunately, that does not count. Because, if you don’t feel a little sweaty after walking, it is of no use other than just increasing the count of steps. So, I think irrespective of who you are, make it a rule that you are going to dedicate just 30 minutes in a day to yourself- the ‘Me Time’, as well call it. Just dedicate 30 minutes to yourself, irrespective of who you are, and do something that truly gives you happiness. And I am sure it will do wonders if you continue to do that over a long time.
The importance of exercise is something that is understood by us as adults. But sometimes it’s difficult for us to explain the same to children out there because for them playing is the most important thing. And right now, it’s difficult for them to go to the playgrounds so they are constantly using phones and everything. So, what are the measures that we can take to make them understand the importance of fitness in their life, both physically and mentally?
So I have a small child, right? I am not sure if children of a bit more age become a bit more difficult where we need to convince them about why they should play, etc. Because, to my knowledge, most of the children would want some time to be spent playing, etc.
Now, again, to keep it very simple, when I go for a walk I take my 2-year-old daughter. We both are wearing masks because we are conscious of what is happening around us. But this is just within our building and we stay in quite a small building. It’s not like a gated community where you have acres and acres of parks and swings and all sorts of amenities. Say, for example, when I am walking, most of the time my daughter is running behind me, or she is hiding in the spaces because she wants to play hide-and-seek. I take her bicycle with me. So then, for some amount of time, she is on her bike.
Fifteen minutes of these kinds of physical activities, fresh air, making sure that you are a part of all of these activities make kids feel; involved. They know that they have someone caring for them and they don’t feel left out. So yes! They can’t play with their friends as much but I think we will have to become their friends in these times. And we will have to probably come down to their age and try to be there for them. And yeah, every little helps- as they say.
If your child is old enough, make sure that you are communicating with them daily so that you are aware of what’s going on in their mind, if mental health is an issue. Because, I think, communication is the best way to overcome any sort of basic mental issues that you may be going through. So then just pour your heart out. Speak out loud. And make sure that your loved ones know exactly how you are feeling. Not just on one particular day but every day you need to do this as a practice.
When it comes to fitness and exercise and everything, it is generally considered that the diet that we are maintaining throughout is generally boring. So, how can we make that food interesting?
I, to be honest, don’t pay a lot of attention to what I am eating. For example, we eat junk food even now, right? But there’s a huge difference between foods when you order them from outside versus when you make it at home. So let’s take the example of a pizza, okay? You will always like the kind of pizza that any delivery service will give you versus a pizza you have made. I know a lot of people who make their pizza bases. I don’t do that. I would just buy a pizza base from outside. I make the toppings and the sauces myself. If you are talking about craving, that’s good enough food to get rid of that craving. For example, we binge eat on a weekend. So then if I am craving cake on a Monday, I know that unfortunately, I will have to wait till a Saturday or a Sunday. And then I just order a cake, if I want a cake and we do binge-eat.
But I think if you are doing exercise in moderation, if you are eating healthy throughout the week, then a bit of junk food is absolutely fine when eaten in moderation. I think everything is fine in moderation, to be honest. Because there is no point thinking about having a cupcake all week and then just kind of keeping yourself as it is going to affect your mental health in some way or the other. You might as well just eat and get overeat. But make sure that you don’t eat five. Just eat one and finish it off.
Any last message that you want to convey to the parents and the children out there?
I hope that people could relate to what I spoke about. And I think just go with the flow. These are difficult times. We are in testing times. But with each passing day, with each passing month, things seem to be improving slightly. So, please take care of your mental and physical each as both are equally important. Also, see to it that you are taking care of not just yourself but also of the loved ones around you.