The myth of the physically unfit Indian

India farmer Image copyright AFP
Image caption Indians are among the most physically active people in the world

Are Indians some of the most physically unfit people in the world?

Well, doctors will tell you that with the country riding a diabetes and heart disease epidemic, most Indians are physically unfit. As the middle class swells, more Indians are leading desk-bound sedentary lives in cities, where pavements are scarce and there is no culture of walking. Fat-rich diets don't help matters.

But an exhaustive new study by the medical journal Lancet measuring global physical activity explodes the "myth" about the unfit Indian. The study measured physical activity in adults - aged 15 years or older - from 122 countries, comprising over 88% of the world's population.

India, according to the study, is agile and kicking. Only 15.6% of Indians were found to be physically inactive. The British (63.3%), Japanese (60.2%), Italians (54.7%), Irish (53.2%) and Americans (40.5%) were found to be more physically inactive than Indians.

Is it any surprise that Indians appear to be more physically fit than their counterparts in more prosperous parts of the world?

Not really. As the study suggests, physical inactivity is more common in countries of high income than in those of low income. In high income countries, physical activity dwindles as people use more technology and are less engaged in labour-intensive work.

In India, where the overwhelming majority of people are engaged in back-breaking farming, it is little wonder that they are more physically active than their counterparts in more prosperous countries.

More women (18.4%) in India were found to be more physically inactive than men (12.7%), perhaps pointing to a society moored in traditions where men work and women look after the home.

So which, according to the Lancet study, is the most physically active country in the world?

No prizes for guessing this, but yes, it is Bangladesh where only 4.7% are physically unfit.