Treadmill and all its gory glory

The constant thud underneath your feet. The constrained space. The monotony of going nowhere fast. Running on a treadmill can certainly feel like torture, but did you know it was originally used for that very purpose? In the words of Conor Heffernan, know the bitter tale of a treadmill.

It feels like hours have gone by, but it’s only been eleven minutes, and you wonder, “Why am I torturing myself? This thing has got to be considered a cruel and unusual punishment.”

Actually, that’s exactly what it is, or was. You see, in the 1800s, treadmills were created to punish English prisoners. At the time, the English prison system was abysmally bad. Execution and deportation were often the punishments of choice, and those who were locked away faced hours of solitude in filthy cells.

So, social movements led by religious groups, philanthropies, and celebrities, like Charles Dickens, sought to change these dire conditions and help reform the prisoners. When their movement succeeded, entire prisons were remodeled and new forms of rehabilitation, such as the treadmill, were introduced.

Here’s how the original version, invented in 1818 by English engineer Sir William Cubitt, worked. Prisoners stepped on 24 spokes of a large paddle wheel. As the wheel turned, the prisoner was forced to keep stepping up or risk falling off, similar to modern stepper machines.

Meanwhile, the rotation made gears pump out water, crush grain, or power mills, which is where the name “treadmill” originated. These devices were seen as a fantastic way of whipping prisoners into shape, and that added benefit of powering mills helped to rebuild a British economy decimated by the Napoleonic Wars. It was a win for all concerned, except the prisoners. It’s estimated that, on average, prisoners spent six or so hours a day on treadmills, the equivalent of climbing 5,000 to 14,000 feet. 14,000 feet is roughly Mount Everest’s halfway point.

Imagine doing that five days a week with little food. Cubitt’s idea quickly spread across the British Empire and America. Within a decade of its creation, over 50 English prisons boasted a treadmill, and America, a similar amount. Unsurprisingly, the exertion combined with poor nutrition saw many prisoners suffer breakdowns and injuries, not that prison guards seemed to care. In 1824, New York prison guard James Hardie credited the device with taming his more boisterous inmates, writing that the “monotonous steadiness, and not its severity…constitutes its terror,” a quote many still agree with.

And treadmills lasted in England until the late 19th century, when they were banned for being excessively cruel under the Prison’s Act of 1898. But of course the torture device returned with a vengeance, this time targeting the unsuspecting public. In 1911, a treadmill patent was registered in the U.S., and by 1952, the forerunner for today’s modern treadmill had been created.

When the jogging craze hit the U.S. in the 1970s, the treadmill was thrust back into the limelight as an easy and convenient way to improve aerobic fitness, and lose unwanted pounds, which, to be fair, it’s pretty good at doing. And the machine has maintained its popularity since. So the next time you voluntarily subject yourself to what was once a cruel and unusual punishment, just be glad you can control when you’ll hop off.


Why is it important to eat seasonal fruits and ditch the cold stored ones

Seasonal fruits and their benefits are known to us as our grandmas and grandpas often told us about them but what tops our list when we go out fruit and veggie shopping is an array of fruits that are placed over shelves from ice-cold chambers as they are preserved for off-season consumption. One of them is apples. It is sold throughout the year with a shiny layer of wax to preserve crunch and freshness. We often underestimate the abundance of nature and go in for more expensive and better looking produce, which is not only not in harmony with nature, it is also heavy on your pocket. I will elaborate why seasonal produce, fruits in particular, are a great choice and add up to your immunity and well being.

Fresher: seasonal produce is always fresher than fruits stored in cold storage that lie in an icy chamber for months together before being considered for selling. Apples, pears, grapes, California oranges are some examples that people often buy in all seasons because they look good due to the chemicals applied on them and they cost more.

Cheaper: because it is seasonal, it will always be cheaper. Fruits like jamuns, starfruit, jujubes, etc. are not intended for a year-long sale, which means no shortage in the market. When farmers harvest abundant produce in season, the cost of the produce goes down. There are lesser transportation charges as the produce is available locally.

Nutrient rich: when fruits are consumed immediately after harvesting, they are higher in nutritional value like anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C, folate and carotenes, that reduce when stored for a longer span of time. Off-season fruit is also low in phyto-nutrients.

After seeing the pros of seasonal fruits, it is vital to talk about the kinds of seasonal fruits and their benefits.

Jamun (black plum) – Jamuns are packed with vitamins and minerals like  iron, manganese, zinc, calcium, sodium and potassium. The Gallic and tannic acids present in jamun are powerful antioxidants that fight disease. People suffering from diabetes swear by this fruit and consume not only the fruit, also its bark, leaves and seed.

Water melon – A fun fat-free delight, this fruits is high in water and fiber. An excellent summer fruit, water melon helps control body temperature, inflammation and blood pressure. Rich in Vitamins like A, B, C, water melon has high concentration of lycopene.

Mangoes – The king of fruits and everyone’s favorite, mangoes are indeed a juicy delicacy. Mangoes are sweet but have low glycemic index. This fruit is packed with selenium, Vitamin A, E and C. It helps fight inflammation and is high in anti-oxidants.

Jujube (ber) – My favorite! This fruit fights cancer, it strengthens immune system, aids in weight loss, promotes healthier skin, improves digestion and is packed with Vitamins.

Star fruit (kamarak) – extremely low in calories, it is high in Vitamin C. Star fruit is rich in antioxidant phytonutrient polyphenolic flavonoids. It is a good source of B-complex Vitamins such as folates, riboflavin, and pyridoxine (Vitamin B-6). Small amount of minerals and electrolytes like potassium, phosphorus, and zinc and iron are also present.

Peach – The peels and the pulp of peaches possess antioxidant properties that help boost skin health, fight cancer and obesity. Peaches are rich in phenolic and carotenoid compounds, which possess anti-tumor properties. To add to it, it has a delicious taste to it.

Strawberry – Strawberries are storehouses of several nutrients. The fruits help improve eye care, aids in brain function, provides relief from high blood pressure, arthritis, gout and various cardiovascular diseases. It boosts immunity.

There are several other seasonal fruits like guava, cherries, plums, grapes etc. Remember to have them all when they are harvested and restrain from eating cold stored fruits to optimize health. The next time you want to have an apple this season, ditch the idea and grab a bowl of black plums or jamuns or grab a guava.

Hair loss and why men can’t do much about it

I am a keen observer and one of my recent observations is women losing hair, especially from the front. Men often suffer from male pattern baldness and men you cannot actually do much to reverse it, despite claims made by products and companies to regrow hair, not much can be done. But women losing hair in their 30s is something that made me research the internet spending hours scanning and reading reports and some conclusions I made that make sense, at least to me.

To start with, one of the biggest fears we have as we age is losing hair. ‘Aw snap! Look at my hair brush’, is a common expression we all have very often. Men tend to look at themselves in the mirror and freak out seeing a receding hairline but the fact is that in humans, men tend to lose their hair sooner and more frequently than women. Cashing on these fears, the hair-care industry is booming despite showing any significant results.

Did you know that human body also loses hair but it goes unnoticed. Maybe because the intensity is low and body hair does not appeal to us as hair on scalp does.

History and evolution

Monkeys are our ancestors and all mammals are covered in body hair unlike humans, who aren’t covered in fur for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that hair on our body makes it harder to cool the body. Human ancestors travelled long distances on foot in scorching sun and often needed to cool their bodies but were unable because we had excess body hair, which reduced with time. Sweating is the most effective form to cool down the body and fur present on the skin makes it hard to sweat. Therefore, humans evolved and started losing the fur over the course of generations.

It is not only the human species that lose hair, primates and other mammals also experience thinning of the hair.

Some theories by experts as stated by The Guardian:

In evolutionary terms, when ‘man’ became the hairless ape it coincided with the discovery of fire, which selected the less hairy cavemen as they were less flammable. So, it could be construed that as ‘man’ became older and generally slower in his reactions that his hair disappeared in order to prevent any hirsute horrors. Therefore, balding men have a genetic advantage that may now be redundant. Also, baldness may confer an aerodynamic advantage when swimming, chasing prey or potential mates. –C Jackson, Tseung Kwan O Hong Kong

A well-polished bald male head was often used by tribes of cavemen to blind predators. As a result every cavemen hunting group of 8 had one bald member, and thus thousands of years later 1 in 8 men experience early onset of baldness.

Females, by contrast, rate their hair highly because it is a way of attracting the attention of a potential mate. Therfore, baldness is much rarer in females than in males. It all comes down to how much energy the body is prepared to invest in any particular attribute. You may wish that it would invest more in your hair, but unfortunately the investment decisions were taken millenia ago and programmed into our DNA. All you can do now is grin and bear it. Or wear a wig. – Les Reid, Belfast UK

Apart from these theories, there is one observation that prevails, i.e. Vitamin D deficiency. Lack of Vitamin D leads to hair loss and a majority of us are deficient in Vitamin D. Vitamin D is also vital for prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other conditions.

Due to indoor office jobs and almost no exposure to sun, we are facing acute shortage of the sunshine vitamin. There are other factors like thyroid disorders, medications, stress etc. responsible for hair loss. Lack of iron is another cause that lies undetected as we do not go in for detailed medical tests at regular interval. Lack of iron also leads to dry hair, rough texture and scanty growth of hair.

Next time a hairdresser tries to woo you at a salon, tell him to get the basics right. You can have the hair you had as a child or a teenager with proper nutrition. Go in for shampoos that contain no suplhates, parabens, salts and dyes. And again, this information might be useful for women only and men, please put the blame on your ancestors, who thought hair aren’t important to look good and this fact is so deeply rooted in your DNA that you can’t do much about it except taking it in good stride.