It’s Saturday morning and I’m standing in the middle of Osterley Park, west London, between my mum and dad, getting ready for the weekly park run. My dad is jogging on the spot, my mum is doing the same. I am thinking how do I get out of this? Both of them are full of energy, encouraging me to get warmed up. All I want is a chocolate and nice masala chai – my favourite spicy tea. I hear the countdown, getting nervous now, and off we go. My dad has sped ahead and with his hand he signals to me to keep up. Behind me is my mum. I can’t go anywhere, they are both watching me and I will have to finish this run stuck between them. Finally, we get to the finishing line and I’m shattered. My dad can do a 5km in 33 minutes. I can barely do it in 45. My mum and I walk and run together.
Later on my dad will encourage me to do some skipping, and Mum will get me hula-hooping. This, along with their nutritional advice, has been my daily routine for the past six months. Who needs expensive personal trainers when I can turn to Mum and Dad?
Last year I had a health scare; I found a lump on my neck. After a scan it turned out to be fatty tissue, which isn’t harmful but unless I lose weight, or I have surgery, it could get worse. My parents said to me: don’t get surgery, let us train you and you’ll feel much better. I was tempted to take the easy option and have it removed. But I also thought, maybe this is an eye-opener and a wake-up call for me to start getting fit.
Over the years I’ve noticed how well my parents manage to look after their health and how healthy they seem in their 70s. I had never bothered to follow their example or been that curious about the secret of their good health, but then I realised what a great resource they could be.
I would look at them both, so slim, strong and healthy – much more so than me – and think, how will I ever get to be like them? I’m constantly impressed by their resilience. They have never taken any sick days from work, unless they really needed to. They don’t need to visit the GP much. Their habits are ingrained and it works for them.
Part of their success is how efficiently they control what they eat. Their diet is extremely healthy and they stick to it. For breakfast, it’s porridge; lunch is salad or a wholemeal sandwich with butter, turmeric, garlic, raw onion and black pepper. Dinner is boiled vegetables, or sweet potato, or lentils, or kidney beans. Both of them were born in India and grew up eating fresh, unprocessed food. My dad is a retired bus driver, and my mum still works part-time as a sales assistant. My dad started skipping at the age of six and my mum has won fitness competitions at the gym. They are seriously hardcore.
In this respect, I was the complete opposite. I hated fitness and was very lazy, so our first step was to come up with an exercise regime that suited all three of us. As a bit of a lightweight, I had to start off slow. My dad told me what exercises I needed to do and designed my daily routine: I rise early in the morning, do some sit-ups and breathing exercises and then go for a run, which includes jogging, walking and skipping. Later on in the day, I’ll go for a long walk. I also eat less and drink more water. I have just one masala chai a day, and avoid crisps and fried food. My parents have also given me some traditional Indian remedies, featuring things like fennel seeds, cardamom, cloves and turmeric, which has been used for years as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
It hasn’t been easy – sometimes I feel like I am in the army when I hear them shouting at me. Yet training has bought us closer together. On the whole I would say they’re militant, but in a caring way. When my dad told me I should eat more raw ingredients – including onion, garlic, cumin seeds, turmeric and black pepper – my jaw dropped; I thought “seriously?” When he told me to stop eating milk chocolate and switch to dark, I tried it – I felt sick but I took his advice. But I’m slowly changing. For something sweet, my mum has a handful of dried sultanas or one date a day, and now I follow her example.
I was in a dark place before I started my regime because of the pandemic, being unemployed – and also turning 40. I needed help with my mental health, and my parents were a beacon of light. Through this training regime they’ve designed, I have structure in my life.
Last year, my dad became a social media sensation as “the Skipping Sikh”. He started a skipping challenge in lockdown and raised thousands of pounds for the NHS. He’s now a mini celebrity and admired by people worldwide with thousands of followers on social media.
This year my mum became “Hula Hoop Kaur”, and I see how they inspire the world, especially the younger generation in the Asian community who all tell my parents that their own parents never exercise.
Their standards are high and I have a lot to live up to – following their example makes me aware that I really need to improve my willpower. It’s not easy being Punjabi and saying no to samosa, onion bhajis and all the Indian sweets. Our food isn’t always very healthy, so I know I need to be more mindful of this when I am out with friends. It is these lifestyle changes I’ve introduced that have made a real difference to my mental health.
Now I can feel the benefits, exercise has become a bit of an addiction. It’s a gamechanger; I feel more positive, and I want to help others – especially Asian women in their 40s who are at home, feeling dispirited. My parents have shown how exercising with simple things at home is possible; even a jog and a walk can help you stay healthy. They say the balance is 80% diet and 20% exercise.
I have a long way to go. My parents’ fitness levels are still far higher than mine, but it’s an incentive to keep going. A few years ago, my dad told me I should follow his exercise and diet routine and I didn’t listen to him. Now I realise it’s never too late, and slowly I’m catching up.
Life is very different for me these days – I realise it has to be if I want to be as healthy and youthful in my 70s as my parents. My dad is up each morning around 4am to pray and after that he does sit-ups, as well as skipping; my mum’s routine is similarly active. I see strength in their example. I, too, now wake early, do my sit-ups and drink a warm glass of water. Thanks to their encouragement, I put exercise at the forefront of my life – and everything else follows.
The Kaur regime
I start every morning with 10 minutes of sit-ups on an empty stomach. I skip for three minutes, then have one glass of water and then, an hour later, one black coffee.
I exercise for 30 minutes each day. I make sure at least 10 minutes of my activity increases my heart rate.
If I want to build on this, I try another 10 minutes of sit-ups before bed.
Our family’s 80:20 ratio means that we believe 80% of keeping fit is down to a healthy diet. The remaining 20% is down to exercise.
Wherever possible we stick to raw food – spinach, broccoli, red pepper, cauliflower, carrots – otherwise we only lightly cook things like sweet potatoes.
I treat myself to dark chocolate but avoid milk chocolate.
We cut out frying and instead we brush food with olive or avocado oil and roast or grill it.