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Fitness poster girl

Friday, 3 January 2014 - 2:02pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
Adrenaline junkie, traveller, adventurer and fitness enthusiast are words that best describe the outdoorsy actor and activist, Gul Panag. Diipti Jhangiani in conversation with this westcoast resident.

You are one of the few super fit women in the celebrity circuit. How did you come to be this way?
Image is a by-product of who we truly are and fitness or adventure is a function of who I am. How I came to be the way I am–my first memory at the age of 4 or 5 is that of my father, who is from the army, heading out for a run at 4.30am. All holidays involved road trips from point A to point B and we always camped outdoors with tents pitched up and the works. In fact if we did not go to the mountains during the holidays, I got my parents to pitch a tent in the field. Fitness and adventure go together, meaning you cannot carry load while on a trek if you have a poor back. Also, while you are outdoors you explore the surroundings­–such activities almost always lead to amazing adventures. 

How did biking and aviation happen?
My journey with biking started at home too when my father was posted in Patiala. A cousin happened to leave his bike back at our place, requesting me to start it every day just so it worked. I did that judiciously until I thought, “Hey, I am starting it, why not take it out for a ride as well.” My parents did not stop me, so went ahead.

For that matter, aviation too is linked to Patiala. There used to be a small flying club on the way to college, it was just a field hanger and each time I saw those planes I said, “Wow! I want to fly this.” But it was very expensive. Years later I married a pilot.

It is ironical but earlier I did not have the money, and later, once I started working, I did not have the time. It requires serious study. Even as a hobby pilot there are a lot of technical details that demand your attention. Then last year I closed a film in Punjab, that is when my husband pushed me to go for it, “Take a month off, if you won’t do it now, then when,” he said. So now I am a student pilot, just a month away from getting my pilot license.

About your journey through fitness, tell me how did running happen?
I started running when I was 15. When my father told me to start running, I asked him, “But why do I need to run, I don’t need to lose weight.” He replied, “You exercise so that you never gain weight, stay fit.” So I started with a good three miles everyday. Then the endorphins kicked in and I began to like the feeling. It reached a point when I was the only girl in school to outrun the boys in a race. So I have been running for 25 years now. 

Do you have a set regime?
I believe you cannot be rigid about your workout; it is good to have a flexible approach to fitness. I try running five kilometres every alternate day and I do not set a fixed time for it. I like to be a morning run person but if I have had a late night then I go around midday. I combine endurance, strength, flexibility throughout the week; weight training for strength with 2 days of stretch. I believe you must make use of your fitness, think about it, you must be able to run for your life in case of an emergency. If you work eight hours a day and are not tired at the end of it–that is fitness for me.

Basically the human body knows how to run, all we need to do is start walking first. I have maintained my fitness levels and weight for years now but every once in a while I run with weights strapped to my ankles just to remind me how it feels to be even that tad bit on the heavier side.

Do you see a change in people’s attitude towards fitness?
Urbanisation and prosperity can lead to a number of lifestyle diseases. To answer your question, most people have the money for luxury but do not have the time to keep themselves fit for it. Thankfully people are now realising this and waking up to the cause of fitness; events like marathons and cyclothons are a huge push to this cause. Working out just for the sake of it is no fun, so a small percentage who are active in the fitness circles are going for more challenging goals like the Comrades run, which is a 80km ultra marathon, or the Iron man, which is a well-known triathlon. This gives them purpose and a spirit of challenge.


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