The COVID-19 global pandemic is rapidly changing the way that we live. Suddenly, large numbers of people are working from home, leisure facilities are closed, and we’re social distancing from our family and friends. The benefits of a good diet and physical activity for health are widely known and understanding how to build some physical activity into your new stay-at-home reality can help keep you healthy, calm, and connected.
This week we'd like to introduce you to someone who knows a thing or two about physical fitness, exercise, and diet. A former England Rugby League International, who also captained the Pakistan Rugby Union team - Dr Ikram Butt.
Naz: Hi Ikram, it is great to chat to you. We do not really see many Asians playing rugby, if any! How did you get into rugby?
Ikram: I was extremely fortunate to have a very encouraging family who supported me in everything I did. My father was very sporty himself and it rubbed off on to us kids. I was introduced to rugby at primary school and have been playing ever since. I got my big break when I signed for Leeds Rhinos as a 17-year-old, which launched my professional playing career spanning over 13 years gaining international honours for England at rugby league and my mother country, Pakistan at rugby union.
Naz: Ikram you have written a book. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Ikram: Yes, that is right. It is an autobiography called ‘Tries & Prejudice.’ If you want to find out about my journey through rugby as a proud British Muslim and British Pakistani and the challenges I faced on and off the pitch, then you should read this.
Naz: Now that you have retired from rugby, how important is it to you to stay fit and healthy?
Ikram: Old habits die hard. I cannot go very long without feeling that I need to hit the gym to dust the cobwebs off and get a good sweat on to feeling reenergised. I will be honest with you; I love to eat. My mother was a great cook, and we were spoilt as kids’ cos she would make us anything we wanted to eat. It was not a problem back then as I was training every day. Now that I am retired from playing professionally, I can’t get away with eating huge amounts as I used too without piling on the pounds.
Naz: What advice would you give our readers on how to eat well and stay healthy during Covid-19 restrictions?
Ikram: If we are finding ourselves increasingly isolated in our homes, we should take the opportunity to engage with those self-isolating with you. We can keep active in many different ways. When gyms are closed, we can keep ourselves physically active by going out for walks, going shopping for the elderly, have a quick game of hide and seek with your children or grab a paint brush with your partner to repaint that bedroom wall. It does not matter what you do, how much you do or how you do it, any increase in physical activity accompanied by increased connection to those around you will benefit your physical and mental health. Just because we are at home does not mean we have to eat all the time. Instead of eating the usual fried foods and getting too many take outs we should take the opportunity to try new and more healthy recipes.
Naz: You mentioned the importance of physical health and diet. What about mental health?
Ikram: Now more than ever we need to take care of our mental health and wellbeing, not only our own but of those who live alone or have pre-existing health issues. We gain short mental health benefits from each bout of activity, so doing even small amounts is worthwhile. Physical activity of any intensity is good for your mood. It does not matter what type of activity you choose. Different forms of exercise, walking, cycling, dance aerobics, yoga all trigger positive mental health benefits. If you are unable to go out, changing your normal activities to something that you can do indoors will help your mental health. For example, replacing your normal cycling activity with an online dance aerobics class will also help maintain your aerobic fitness, while replacing it with yoga will help with strength, balance, and mental health. Anything is good, but more is better. This means that whatever your starting point, doing a bit more activity will help to combat social isolation and anxiety.
Naz: Ikram it’s been lovely chatting to you. Any final words?Ikram: We are facing very uncertain times and we do not know when things will get back to normal. The best we can do to get through this pandemic is to be patient, follow the guidance we have been given to stay safe. The sacrifices we will make now will benefit us in the long term.