An apple a day will not keep this doctor away. Instead, you might meet Dr. Jega Murugesan on running routes and races.

The 32-year-old medical doctor depicts the perfect picture of health as a medical doctor. Despite his busy schedule at the Taiping hospital caring for his patients, the Ipoh-born carves time out for a run and even to take part in the KLSCM VR 2020 run.

Dr. Jega was recently appointed as one of the medical doctors in the medical team for Paralympic Association of Perak under the Malaysian Paralympic Council for the paralympic games, which has been postponed to 2022.

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ToughASIA scheduled a check-up with Dr. Jega to find out why he puts on his running shoes after setting his stethoscope aside.

ToughASIA: How and why did you get involved in running?

Dr. Jega: I dabbled in the world of running in the middle of 2019. Coming from a background of football and team sports, I started to realise that amassing a group of 10 players more often than not proved to be a gargantuan task. Football being my regular mode of exercise suddenly became a rarity. Hence, running immediately piqued my interest simply because of its convenience.

Running is something you can do anytime, anywhere and is one of the most basic form of cardiovascular activities with benefits for nearly every part of the body.

You can literally go right outside your door and start at the track, park, the trail behind your house, or even hop on a treadmill.

My motivation grew further when I signed up for my first run in a competition – 15km run organised by Columbia Asia hospital and Taiping Road Runners (TRR) in July 2019 to help combat stroke. This got me started in training with running groups namely PPMIKI led by Coach Gunasegaran, ZKRC Taiping (Zul Kenya Running Club) led by Coach Zul and TRG (Taiping Runner Generation).

In a nutshell, when you have a great group of friends who share the same passion with you – that gives you a goal, a direction, a purpose and ultimately the desire to continue to learn from each other and progress in the name of health and sport.

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Dr. Jega with running buddies in Taiping

ToughASIA: Does your passion in medicine or health influence the runner you are today?

Dr. Jega: Yes. Exercising is a powerful lifestyle choice. Being in healthcare allows us to take cognisance of the fact that common chronic and metabolic diseases can be prevented early.

Physical activity is a modifiable risk factor that lowers the risk of acquiring these conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, cerebrovascular disease, obesity, depression among many others. These risk factors are modifiable because they can, in theory be changed. Ultimately, I believe everyone has a responsibility towards one another to make this world a better place.

ToughASIA: Do you mind sharing your favourite warm-up and cool down routine ?

Dr. Jega: My warm-up routine comprises of a 3-5 minute very easy jog followed by dynamic stretching mobility to stimulate muscles, tendons and increase range of motion, drills and 6 x 100m strides (for moderate to high intensity sessions).

Dynamic warm up (4 minutes) – each for 30 seconds :

  • Arm circles
  • Downward dog with alternate toe touches
  • Standing leg swings (front)
  • Standing leg swings (across)
  • Squats
  • Hip open and close the gate
  • Walking lunges
  • Calf raises
  • Iron cross (lying down)

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Like-minded running buddies give you a goal, a direction and a purpose.

Drills spanning 30-50 meters each. Aim is to incorporate at least 4 of these drills before each session:

  • Ankling
  • High knees
  • A skip
  • B skip
  • Heel kicks
  • Butt kicks
  • High knee skip
  • Lower leg kicks
  • Duo skipping (forward-side-forward)
  • Cariocas

Cooling down process – 10 minutes of static stretching to restore muscle balance, yoga poses to promote blood flow, improve flexibility and few bodyweight strength exercises.

ToughASIA: What is your best practice to replenish your body and recover from your training sessions or races?

Dr. Jega: For recovery, it is important to consider the level of activity, frequency and type of exercises. For active recovery which is to increase blood flow and dissipate lactic acid accumulation, I do gentle jogs, walking and yoga. Swimming, pilates, foam-rolling among others can be performed too.

For passive recovery, good rest with adequate sleep, good hydration and good nutrition are paramount. A well-balanced diet focusing on macronutrient ratio such as 50/30/20 (Carbs/Protein/Fat) or 40/30/30 can be incorporated with meals spread evenly throughout the day. RDA of protein for endurance sports can be adjusted accordingly at 1.2 to 1.5g of protein per kg of body weight. Balance is key.

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Dr. Jega ran his first marathon at the Penang Bridge International Marathon 2019.

ToughASIA: Where are your favourite running locations and routes? How often do you run?

Dr. Jega: When I am in Taiping, the iconic Taiping Lake Gardens beckons. Back in my hometown of Ipoh, the polo ground and the padang becomes my running ground.

I aim for at least 4-5 sessions per week if the coast is clear from work and home commitments. The American Heart Association recommends adults should do at least 150 min (2 h and 30 min) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity which equates to 30mins of exercise/day, 5 times a week. Be that as it may, time management is crucial for each and everyone of us to to aim for work life balance.

ToughASIA: What is your proudest achievement or moment in running?

Dr. Jega: My happiest moment was completing the distance of 42.195 KM Penang Bridge International full marathon being my debut and virgin marathon in 2019. It would not have been possible without the guidance and help from my beloved running teammates and friends.

I made the mistake of overzealously registering for the distance having only trained 2 months for the distance and never done a half marathon event before as well, as it was a late entry and both the half marathon and full marathon were priced the same. Looking back at it when I crossed the finish line, I swore to myself after the full marathon that I would never make a crazy decision like that again!

I would like to reiterate that achievements are just the affirmation of our hard work, sacrifices and effort. For me, the awareness and motivating others to take up running as a sport and lead a healthy lifestyle goes beyond any medal we receive.

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This medical doctor not only talks the talk, but runs the walk.

ToughASIA: What are your thoughts on virtual runs? We saw that you participated in the KLSCM VR 2020.

Dr. Jega: Virtual events are a great way to keep the community engaged, staying motivated and practice safe standards of sport. The races and events maybe virtual but the running is always real. Given how things have unfolded this year, I believe we have to keep abreast with technology and innovation.

I signed up for KLSCM VR 2020 in the 5km category and completed it yesterday. It was my first attempt at the distance and it was intense.

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ToughASIA: What keeps you going into 2021 and beyond as a runner?

Dr. Jega: To be healthy, happy, continue to learn and serve with passion and keep moving forward with our beloved community. I believe that helping others is the way we help ourselves.

For me, running is always challenging because the biggest rival is always going to be ourselves. We are our own competition. There is no greater sense of satisfaction than what we get from setting a personal goal and conquering it. When we accomplish hard things, we realise that we have the strength to not let anything get us down.