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What is going to Kill You?

Inactivity, Stress, Sugar, Belly Fat — take your pick

This is not clickbait. I do not earn money by writing in Medium and I never intend to. This is something I wanted to write triggered by a lot of premature deaths that are happening around us/me.

Something or the other will eventually kill us all. And that’s fine. But, this is for you. Far more people are dying prematurely in the modern era than ever has been. And every time a person close to you dies, be it a friend, a neighbour or relative dies, you are carrying part of the person with you. The living carries the dead with them. And as you age, I believe this burden and this pain keeps increasing. And this pain is really the worst when the death is premature.

Or if it can be avoided, like the meaningless wars and terrorist attacks. Every Sunday I run to the memorial of Major Sundeep Unnikrishnan; a soldier killed in the Mumbai 26/11 terror attack. Like many, those memories are a burden we carry around, irrespective of which religion or region. All the innocent dead are our dead. The world has become more connected now than ever before. As is the case now where people getting killed in the senseless war in Ukraine, and you see the pictures and read their stories. And it becomes part of you.

But this is not about war or other such terrors, not even Covid; this is about the everyday mundane and innocuous; those things that you are not aware, of but lethal in the long run. As mundane and as forgetful as a spoon of sugar you put in your daily tea or coffee.

No this is not another article about diet or about eating one or two bananas or apricots or coconuts; the world has enough and more advice on these. These are the things I saw happen to people who were close to me and some whom I knew from a distance; and which seems to keep repeating everywhere.

I am in my middle age and death is hitting me from all sides - a neighbour, a renowned heart surgeon, about fifty years, who dies of a heart attack in his own consulting room; another under forty who dies of a blocked artery (cardiovascular disease) when he was so close to achieving all his dreams; another under fifty who died of undiagnosed lung disease; and then the many with diagnosed heart diseases and liver problems due to either drinking or obesity and bad lifestyle or both. The latter cases, though a tragedy, cause not that much pain; as it is a choice they made; and it was clear all along.

Along the way, are also some relatives of the older generation, who have touched near a hundred years of a healthy life, and many more of such who have lived above ninety years. And those that lived long, strangely had the hardest life, mostly in agriculture and farming and no luxuries, no smartwatch that keeps track of every heartbeat and footstep, or sleep cycle. No, nothing; they lived mostly in times when even electricity was not there in their villages. But that is a more complex topic and for another day.

Everyone knows the primary causes, HeartAttack, Diabetes, Cardiovascular disease, Cancer etc; and also the second level causes like Smoking and Drinking. I am skipping the primary causes here; as it is common knowledge.

It is always the second, third and fourth level causes that go unnoticed and become lethal over time. And the best results could come from long term management of these effects.


There is no escaping that most people now have a sedentary lifestyle and work. Even blue-collar workers have more mechanical automation than before. Also, two years of living under Covid has severely increased the inactivity levels. The number of heart-related deaths seems to be increasing rapidly. Many people have stopped their routine walking and yearly health checks for about three years now. Along with that ordering out and the rise of binge-watching.

Inactivity could be Lethal! Get Going, at least do a full body checkup once a year and heed to what the data of the tests shows you.


This again is a Level 2 type of knowledge. Everyone knows that stress is bad. Very few have an idea how bad it is. Stress kills.

The Fear of Something is usually worse than the thing itself. Anyway fear and stress can not improve anything EVER. I have seen things that are real problems, become real disasters due to stress. Stressful decisions are usually flawed.

Stress is highly lethal and highly underestimated.

So it is easy to say, don’t be stressed; that is the least effective advice ever uttered; similar to don’t be sad; or don't be X. Those who suffer these are in that state essentially because they cannot be NOT stressed or angry or sad.

At least not in the current plane where they see and feel only certain things and think certain thoughts.

The solution here is hard and the solution is only found at a deeper level. Sometimes at a very deep level. Parents who discover that their child has some problem; it’s extremely stressful. I have been through it a bit, but it turned out to be not a problem after some time, and I was really stressed during those months.

Remember this and repeat; there is nothing that stress does other than make things worse, and there are things much worse where stress could lead you and your family. The solution sometime’s, could be just Acceptance. Sometimes life gives you a hard deal and there is nothing that can be done but to Accept, or life takes away and you have to Let Go.

But then there is the huge stress due to indecisiveness. Knowing X should we go ahead with Y. Knowing that the scans are telling X should we go ahead with the pregnancy. Should I do this or that? Let me give an example from my life. A rather silly one, but just illustrative.

Here is another valuable lesson; the silliest thing can sometimes drive certain people to utter despair; so don’t take it lightly if someone confides you with some worry that you think is really silly. Unfortunately, I had the misfortune once of listening to a friend’s problem coping with his work and not understanding how really affected he was; only to subsequently visit him in a psychiatric ICU. No, I don’t mean to shock people with details like such. But this is just one of the many such cases. I had another who walked all the way from one city to another, so many kilometres, just because he could not bear that a teacher was hard on him; and this was in college and he was a pretty hefty guy. Stories like this abound; if you are patient enough to listen to another’s problems. People are very fragile and brittle inside than many think.

People are very fragile and brittle inside than many think. Repeat this many times.

I was about to marry a girl and I was engaged to her. Everyone was pretty happy. And I was happy seeing everyone happy, and initially happy myself. But I started getting an uneasy feeling about this, after some time; as she seemed slightly, very slightly to be not really wanting it. To break off or not was the question :) And though it seems silly now, the younger and more inexperienced me was stressed to the limit. The solution came in the form of Principles. Yes, these are a handy bunch; keep some in your kitty; as you can use them if you don't know how to decide. A principle broken is a no-no; there is no compromise then and it is then easier to take hard decisions.

Do you want to sell your shares or hold on, and take the most obvious loss that this war will bring? My investing principle tells you that an investor has to stay invested in good times and bad; My investing principle tells you that you can claim the reward, only if you are willing to take the risk, the risk that you may also lose all in the endeavour. And then it is easier to decide. Not that this is a good financial principle, but it is MINE, and I am willing to stand by it. It could be even the worst financial principle to have, but just an illustration of how some Principles can help in reducing the stress of indecisiveness.

As for the girl; it was inconsequential; since she was not so keen, she showed it while interacting with my family and that was reason enough to break off among others. If I had overlooked that and other many such ‘hints’ for the immediate comfort, to avoid confrontation, to not ‘rock the boat’; then I was set for a very long time of mutual discomfort. The best principles usually are the ones that put other people first and it may look the worst for you initially; but usually will turn out to be the best in the long term.

Sugar, Sweet Poison

I came aware of this Evil thing trying to fight my recurring headaches about fifteen years back. I came to know that this was a recent discovery by men.

Sugar and its various forms are pretty cheap and NO surprise makes everything sweet obviously. Huge companies and industries are prospering just dishing out coloured and sweetened water/base with the cheapest produced sugars.

And since it is so cheap, available and addictive, creating a deadly combination, contributes to obesity and diabetes in a large section of the population.

And diabetes is one of the major causes of death in India; and possibly in other countries. If this is not aggressively controlled after onset, it leads to a MULTITUDE of other problems; silent heart attacks, that cardiac surgeon was diabetic and managing with insulin and died of a heart attack. It causes increased blood pressure increase which increases the amount of cholesterol deposited in your arterial walls — as well as damaging arterial walls (atherosclerosis) increasing the chances of fatality via Cardio Vascular disease.

WHO recommends you to limit your daily intake to 10 per cent of your total energy needs and around 6 per cent by the American Heart Foundation. Basically all the carbohydrates you eat add up to this count; and I could suggest that for adults who eat a normal diet, even a spoon of sugar is a spoon too much

Try cutting down on direct and indirect ingestion of sugar and simple carbohydrates (ex more wheat instead of rice, more brown rice instead of white rice etc) to see the marvellous benefits in your health.

Belly Fat

I came to know of this recently; how it was tied to heart attacks. Most people are aware of obesity and its harmfulness. Many are not aware of a much wider problem staring at us, belly fat.

From the American Heart Association

“ More recent data highlight abdominal obesity, as determined by waist circumference, as a cardiovascular disease risk marker that is independent of body mass index. There have also been significant advances in imaging modalities for characterizing body composition, including visceral adiposity. Studies that quantify fat depots”

And here is a more readable explanation; but the crux of the matter is this. If you think you are not obese; if you think you are relatively fit and have belly fat; think again- you are carrying an official marker of heightened risk; something every life insurance companies now measure for policy risk assessment. No friend, you are way off; Time to move, and while you come back from the long walk; try to resist the temptation of the extra sugar in your reward treat or drink.

Finally, something or the other; or maybe someone or the other will kill us all. But from our side, we need to make an effort for others to reduce the mistakes. To reduce the burden of pain on others.




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Alex Punnen

Alex Punnen

SW Architect/programmer- in various languages and technologies from 2001 to now.

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