Fitness in India

Gina writes:

Over the last 4 years or so, Corey and I have made conscious effort to balance the sedentary nature of our office jobs with purposeful exercise. We've done various things, depending on the weather and our interests - aerobics classes, hiking, running, foregoing the use of our car, walking our dog more often. When we were placed to work in India for 2 years, I was curious about what our options would be for physical fitness.

If you know anything about fitness in India, it's probably that Indians do yoga, right? Actually, I've found that the Indians that I know are usually AWARE of yoga and know a few poses, but that the actual practice of yoga is confined to the upper class, the people that actually have the time (and interest). During our in-country training in Delhi, we volunteers had the opportunity to take part in a yoga class every morning in the nearby park. Though it sounded like a great opportunity, I'm a realist (with horrible balance) and did not see myself getting up at the crack of dawn, especially when I knew I'd be overloaded with orientation and acclimation. Corey did participate and enjoyed it (and I enjoyed the extra two hours of sleep after his alarm went off).

We are extremely fortunate to have a well-maintained running track just a 5-minute walk away from our house. (Picture taken from a rooftop near our house.)

From December to April, it was a great option to go running there a few mornings per week. The downside for me was that there were always 20-30 guys there, unabashedly staring at the lone white girl panting around the track. After a few months, I stopped going, not so much because of the staring, but because I just will never be a morning exerciser. I can't get lazy butt out of bed earlier than necessary. It gets dark at around 6 p.m. year-round, so evening exercise outdoors is not a viable option. Corey stopped when it got too hot in May and June. Then the rainy season started and it's usually too muddy. (Sidenote: Jackie, I miss running home from work with you like you wouldn't believe. Love you!)

This picture was taken after Corey and finished our first 5K. Jackie Jones made this awesome sign for me and cheered like a crazy woman as I crossed the finish line at Heinz field.

I downloaded a few documents detailing aerobic and strength training workout routines, but it wasn't very motivating to stare at a piece of paper to find your next exercise. Over the period of a few weeks, Corey downloaded an entire aerobics video workout (TaeBo Cardio with the one and only Billy Blanks). For the past few weeks, we've been following that video 3 times per week. If we do it immediately after work, we still have plenty of free time and the extra benefit for me is that the cold shower is not quite so bad. Funny story, we were talking about this video at work and one of the girls asked to see it. Corey showed her and she had never seen anything like it. Eventually, 5 girls were crowded around Corey's computer, giggling and punching the air. Some of them have copies now, but we'll see if they actually do the workout.

Fitness Mentality in India
The physical activity spectrum in India is loaded at the two ends. Millions of tribal and other poor people work for hours and hours hauling bricks, smashing rocks to make gravel, and plowing their small plots of land by hand. At the other end, middle and upper class Indians don't have to do physical labor to make a living and may think of this as a mark of status (albeit subconsciously). Lack of physical activity means you've "made it" in the world. Among the general public, people walk to and from the market regularly, but there is very little discussion or thought about exercise just for the sake of staying healthy, losing weight, or having fun. Especially true among people our age (mid to late 20's), the idea of exercise is just not something that is on their radar. My purview is only of Koraput, though, so tell me if you disagree.

In any case, this spells danger for the future of India. Just like in the U.S. 4 or 5 decades ago, farms and factory jobs are decreasing, portion sizes are remaining the same or increasing, and junk food is available everywhere. India's rates of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are already on the rise. Is this development?