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Neetu Singh Neetu Singh
When Neetu Kapoor (neetu Singh)–the 70s Bollywood heroine–accompanied her husband Rishi on stage for the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony recently, a lot of people (mainly women who want to age well) watching her on TV were quietly envious.

Those who remember her in Kabhie Kabhie, Deewar and Amar Akbar Anthony can see that the comfortably plump Neetu Singh of yore is a new person today: she’s lost weight, has a healthy glow on her face and looks genuinely happy (touch wood!).

Neetu may have given up films 28 years ago after she married Rishi Kapoor, but she chose not to give up on herself. She took charge of her family’s health and her own–with single minded, missionary zeal.

What’s best, the breakthrough came via the prevention route: cutting risks, eating healthy, exercising and having a bright outlook on life!

Neetu’s story is at once inspiring and practical. Her health routine is rooted in science, yet she has imbibed the best from every stream and created her own path.

As we get ready for our cover shoot, Neetu casually mentions turning 50 this year. She can see we’re incredulous. “OK,” she smiles, “I am 50, but a good 50.” Let’s find out how.

You’ve lost weight, look happy and your skin glows. What’s your story?
(Smiles) Prevention is actually the key for me. I believe that one should try and prevent ailments that overwhelm you in middle age (high BP, high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart problems) rather than treat them with medicines later. I have learnt from many things. For instance, I have seen my mother who’s overweight, has diabetes, high BP and a knee problem.

Neetu’s home cures She’s suffering because she (and perhaps a lot of people in that generation) did not lead a healthy life. I have watched her and decided I did not want to age like her.

I took my health–and my family’s–in my own hands. Here I am fighting my genes. And I believe (with the right approach) you can do it!

Of course, I first got into fitness in a big way to deal with my husband’s weight problem. A lot of people would say that he was beginning to look overweight on screen.

I was desperate to find ways to help him. I started reading up and then slowly, even before I realised it, I was on the path of health myself.

How did this transformation happen? Did you follow a weight–loss regime?
Actually I tried all kinds of fad diets and weight–loss programmes in the beginning but found that they didn’t work. You must make health a way of life. Keep track of what you put into your mouth and how much. Beyond the age of 30, I took the health route and it all fell into place. Five years ago I started training with Bharat Thakur for yoga. And I was under the supervision of nutritionist Dr Vijaya Venkat for two years. She was fabulous. A combination of different exercises and eating right did it for me. In fact, I used to get a healthy dabba from Dr Venkat every day for a while, but now my cook has learnt how to prepare healthy food. We no longer enjoy oily, overcooked food.

Neetu with co-star Amitabh Bachchan Neetu with co–star Amitabh Bachchan
What are your health mantras?
Today my mantra for good health is simple: eating healthy and exercising. I try my best to stick to my health routine. What’s more, I find stuff in my kitchen. I’ll give you an example: to cut the risk of diabetes, I take a pinch of cinnamon and tulsi leaves first thing in the morning every day.

And I find that my sugar level is a little lower than it should normally be. My doctor is very happy that my good cholesterol is up and I have managed to keep my bad cholesterol down. And this is no thanks to medicines!

Also now that I am going through menopause, I make sure I eat suran (elephant yam or jimikand) which has estrogen, veggies such as broccoli, mushroom, peas and fish for sure, in addition to exercising.

Actually, food is the key to good health: what you put into your mouth shows up on your skin. If you are healthy from within, it shines through. This is why five helpings of fruits and vegetables is a must for me every day. This ensures proper blood circulation and supplies the body with adequate water. Of course, there is yoga and meditation which add to the benefits.

How do you stay on track?
A. It’s a question of attitude really. You have to be determined to follow a regime. I’ve incorporated every principle of healthy living into my routine. I do half an hour of yoga (with surya namaskar) every day, no matter what, and I walk a lot. You must make small changes in your life if you want to keep fit and healthy. It’s amazing what you can get used to if you decide to make up your mind about it. There was a time when I used to go to KT Galaxy (a popular movie theatre in Mumbai), hide and eat three or four samosas at one go (they were delicious). Now, I can’t even look at samosas!

I am proud to say that my children have grown up healthy too. In fact, my daughter Ridhdhima is now my health guru. She is a very sensible eater and has a lot of self–restraint. She shares with me health tips that she’s picked up from reliable sources ever so often.

Ranbir my son (who is a star in his own right) is also a healthy eater. When we go out for dinner as a family, he often encourages me to break my resolve. “Come on mom this is really good, here, just have one bite of this dessert,” he tells me. I smile and hold back. And to be honest, it’s not that difficult either.

Bride Neetu with husband Rishi and brother-in-law Rajeev Bride Neetu with husband Rishi and brother–in–law Rajeev
What’s your fitness routine?
My fitness routine is a combination of walking, yoga for half an hour and working out at the gym three days a week. Actually I am not big on gym workouts because going over is a hassle (you need to change, get into your car and all that jazz). However, when I do, I focus on weight training, dumb–bells and leg stretches.

But walking is like bathing for me–I need to do it every single day for 1 1/2 hours. I have actually created a walking path inside my home. I plug in my iPod (and listen to up–tempo Hindi remixes) and walk single–mindedly. I ignore all distractions (phone calls, people talking) and focus on my walk.

I do yoga half an hour every day for maintaining the balance and flexibility of my body. Meditation and pranayam are also very important and I practise them daily.

Tell us about your daily diet?
I have tulsi leaves, cinnamon powder and ginger first thing in the morning, followed by celery and apple juice, a natural detoxifier. This is followed by regular tea with skimmed milk. I eat fruits in a way that negates the sugar (papaya with lemon, pear with rock salt, apple with cinnamon powder). For breakfast I have a porridge made out of Kellogs’ allbran cereal with skimmed milk and a sprinkling of kaala til and a teaspoon of alsi (flaxseeds). Lunch consists of two vegetables, a salad and a katori of dahi. Sometimes followed by chicken and/or fish (patrani machchi or grilled chicken). In the evening I have 5 almonds and one walnut and Rajgir ki chikki which is good for the bones along with regular tea.

At 7 o’clock I take Isabgol which is something I’d recommend to everybody as the key to good health. A good clean stomach is very important for a healthy system. Isabgol is recommended thrice a day after each meal but I take it once in the evening. I enjoy an evening soup (either broccoli, tomato or vegetable soup) and eat dinner at 8.30 or 9 which may be paneer made from skimmed milk or anything that is cooked in very little oil. No ghee or butter for me. And I avoid animal fat at all costs. Sometimes I eat fi sh or grilled chicken for dinner. If I’m hungry later in the night I have a besan chilla (a pancake made with chick–pea flour) which is rich in protein.

Nothing deep fried is made at home, no one likes it. No paayas or biryanis either. Of course, when we have guests we offer the normal Peshawari food but otherwise we use minimal oil to cook.

How do you pick your food while eating out?
I make it a point to eat at home before I leave. But if we go to a restaurant I may indulge once in a while. I mostly pick Oriental food (steamed fish and sushi). I prefer vegetarian food and love greens.

When abroad, I order a lean steak sometimes. In India, it’s a good idea to ask for tandoori chicken when eating out. But I would never eat run–of–the–mill party food. In fact, if you think about it, Indian food, chosen rightly can be really healthy with all the fresh veggies, seasoning (chaunk) and turmeric, which has terrific anti–ageing properties.

I avoid fatty, oily or fried stuff because it adds kilos and inches over a period of time. I never eat at weddings because that’s not the kind of food I want to eat. Ice creams, mithai and stuff like that are completely out for me. And I don’t even crave them. When we are at a party, my husband looks at my plate to see what I have taken and this perhaps makes him avoid bad food. I must say he also makes it a point to go to the gym regularly.

Neetu’s day

Any no–nos as far as food is concerned?
I avoid sugar, maida, white rice (refined foods) and make sure not to use too much salt. Even our rotis are made of a mix of jowar, bajra, millet, soya. We don’t eat dhuli hui daal but go for rajma, chana, lobia, these are good for roughage.

The secret of your glowing skin?
It comes from what goes into the system. You look good from the outside if you are healthy from within. If your blood circulation is good, your face glows. Any exercise that makes your skin sweat–swimming or dancing–is good for you. Drink enough water, but not too much, that puts pressure on your kidneys. The fluids in the body must come from fruits that make your complexion glow. I do not go for facials. Nor do I ever use oil in my hair. Given my healthy diet I don’t need to. I just wash my face, tone and moisturise. Also I use a scrub to clean my face sometimes. I use home–made packs like multani mitti, but these are less important than your food intake.

Neetu Singh believes in eating simple and healthy Neetu Singh believes in eating simple and healthy
How do you de–stress?
Yoga and meditation are great stress fighters. Exercise also helps by releasing good hormones. Apart from that my dogs are my big stress busters.

I bathe them, talk to them, play with them. Meditation is of great help. When you turn your mind inwards and away from the world, it works wonders! I do it every day.

Happiness seems so elusive. What makes you happy?
Look, I am happy (touch wood) because I know exactly what I want out of life. I have got it and I am contented. I started out as a child artiste and worked three shifts in the studios every day, without a break. Between the ages 13 and 21, I did over 52 movies. I had no childhood or youth. So when Rishi popped the question I decided to hang up my boots for good at 21. Nothing gave me more happiness (I even returned producers’ advances) because that was what I wanted. Many people ask me if I want to return to films. But this is my life and this makes me happy.

I focussed on my family and bringing up my children. And now, leading a healthy life gives me a lot of pleasure. Simple things like bathing my dogs, ironing clothes and oiling my kids’ hair give me pure happiness. I like to call people over for dinner and see the smile on their faces when they enjoy themselves.

I am great friends with my mum–in–law and sis–in law. Also, I have a close circle of friends who I go out with often. Just yesterday I was out on a ladies’ night. And then, my exercise is my meditation. When I walk in the morning I sing, dance and jump. My husband wonders if I have gone nuts, but I guess he lets me be as he can see the joy in me!