In recent years, the role of women in Indian society has expanded enormously. They remain the anchors of home and family while also becoming drivers of domestic wealth creation and national economy. Since the economic liberalization of the early 1990s, several business sectors such as banking and financial services, IT and media have not only seen greater participation of women but also the emergence of several inspirational women leaders.
Yet, what has remained unchanged is their attitude towards personal health and well-being. If anything, the many roles women play leaves them with lesser time and mental space to look after themselves. As a result, women especially in urban India, are susceptible to an alarmingly big array of lifestyle-related health risks. Instances of burnout, diabetes, hypertension and cardiac problems are now rather common among women in their thirties.
A recent World Health Organization (WHO) research found that 44 percent of Indian women were insufficiently active physically. Other studies showed that urban women were in more dangerous territory. Only 14 percent of urban women were physically active; 35 percent consumed a high calorie diet; and 51 percent were overweight. Urban living has been consistently reported as a risk factor for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. This association seems more pronounced with an increase in socioeconomic status, higher education, lesser levels of physical activity, and higher calorie diet among people living in urban areas.
Taking time out for themselves to engage in physical activity, fitness, or sport is important not just for women, but also their families in the long run.
Time to break free of cultural barriers
Several cultural factors conspire to keep Indian women away from conscious physical activity aimed at improving health. Firstly, the feeling that has been handed down through generations that women need to be there first for their family, and they themselves are pretty low on the list of priorities.
Second, women ignore physical activity because it is felt that the rigours of keeping the household running is so physically demanding that it makes the need for health-focussed physical activity redundant. As lifestyles patterns and diets change, it may no longer be true.
According to the WHO, physical activity has been associated with improved psychological health by reducing levels of stress, anxiety and depression. This is particularly important for women who demonstrate an incidence of depression that is reported to be almost double that of men in both developed and developing countries. It has also been suggested that physical activity can contribute to building self-esteem and confidence and can provide a vehicle for social integration and equality for women in society.
Despite this, physical inactivity is generally more prevalent among girls and women than many. It may have become even more exacerbated during the Covid-19 enforced lockdown. Many factors hinder the participation of women in physical activity and their access to health care:
- The income of women is often lower than that of men and therefore the cost of access to physical activity facilities may be a barrier
- Women may continue to require the approval of male or senior members of the household who control household resources to be able to take up any physical activity
- Women often have a workload in the home and care-giving roles for other family members which may limit the time available for them to engage in physical activity
- Women who have limited mobility may be unable to travel to health centres or physical activity facilities
- Cultural expectations may restrict the participation of women in many forms of physical activity
Fitness makes for smooth physiological transitions
Physical fitness for women becomes all the more important considering the big impact the physiological changes over time have on their mental and physical wellbeing. Puberty and menopause are the two most crucial transitions in a woman’s life. During the latter period, it is vital that they adapt their lifestyle to manage the transition in the best way possible and avoid premature aging and developing the common symptoms and diseases that come with it, like osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
In the run up to menopause, the levels of oestrogen and progesterone decrease dramatically. These hormones are important to balance the health of a woman’s body. Oestrogen, for example, helps keep the bones healthy and maintain optimal cholesterol-levels in the blood.
Post menopause, a rapid loss of bone and muscle mass takes place. Ergo, it’s a phase when exercise becomes all the more crucial. At a more youthful stage, thanks to the impact of media and peer pressure, the idea of fitness for women gets centered around the objective of weight loss. But there is so much more to physical activity than reaching the optimum weight.
Weight loss is not all
For most people, weight loss is the main motivator for getting into shape but adding a healthy dose of physical activity to your lifestyle does so much more than that. Here are some benefits of exercising that you must remember:
Makes bones stronger: Undertaking load bearing exercise will work your joints and maintain bone mass, minimizing the risk of osteoporosis.
Improves stamina muscle mass: Weight training will strengthen muscles and keep metabolism high, making it easier to go about doing everyday tasks more efficiently.
Enhances mood: Physical activity if done regularly, can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp, even as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and may even help you sleep better, so you can wake up happy!
Keeps mind active: Exercise is important for improving overall quality of life including mental health. It helps you become more productive and improves overall mental performance. Moreover, physical activity improves cognitive function, potentially reducing the risk of developing cognitive impairment later in life.
Gives you glowing skin: Regular exercise improves blood flow, controlling the production of acne-inducing testosterone hormones like DHEA and DHT. Moreover, exercise makes you sweat, which unclogs pores and helps clear up your breakouts, helping your skin detoxify.
Increases longevity: According to a study by CDC USA, people who are physically active for about 7 hours a week have a 40 per cent lower risk of dying early than those who are active for less than 30 minutes a week, barring age, ethnicity, shape or size.
Incorporating more physical exercise into your life is the same as improving one’s diet: the changes must be realistic, achievable and sustainable. Women can start by looking at their current lifestyle to assess where and when they could add more physical activity. No matter what your age, it is never too late to include physical fitness into your life, and reap its benefits in the long run.
Without physically and mentally strong women, India’s ambitions of an economic and spiritual leap forward would remain a pipedream.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.