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Why young women are prioritising fitness

An increasing number of women over 30 years are opting for an active lifestyle, owing to a shift in mindset that believes ‘self-care is not selfish’

Pilates instructor Shagufta Rahman
Pilates instructor Shagufta Rahman

A few days back, a certified fitness coach tweeted that Indians must stop normalising an attitude of indifference that made it “look like they’d given up on themselves even before turning 30”. If they are married, it gets even worse, she went on to say, as physique, healthy diet, skincare, physical activity and grooming "take a backseat". Almost immediately, there was a flurry of responses. Most were in agreement. I, however, think that change is afoot.

As a millennial who is nearly touching 40 and has a child, I see a growing number of people in the similar demography—women in particular—who are becoming more conscious about health. There is a definite shift in mindset which subscribed to the notion that once of a certain age, self-care is almost selfish, especially if you are a mother.

Shagufta Rahman, a Mumbai-based Pilates instructor, said that she has observed an increasing number of women enquiring and taking up Pilates over the last few years. Pilates is a form of strength training with specific breathing techniques. “Most of my students are women and almost 80 per cent of those are women in the 35-40 plus age bracket. Many are married and have children,” Rahman says.

Also read: Shy girl workout trend is helping women gain confidence in the gym

Across the globe, polls have stated that millennials—those born between 1981-1996—are more proactive in staying fit and have made health a priority in comparison to the generations preceding them, that of their parents and grandparents. In fact, the term ‘healthy’ is now often interchangeably used with the more all-encompassing ‘wellness’. Health is a state of being, of physical, mental and social well-being, while wellness encompasses a holistic lifestyle that includes spiritual well-being, is positive and affirming.

In 2022, global market intelligence and research agency, Mintel, found that 43 per cent Indian millennials are spending more on healthy food and snacks, 41 per cent are spending more on activewear and 36 per cent on in-home gym equipment. Exercising is no longer defined with a singular objective of losing weight, or keeping diseases at bay—it is multifaceted, with mental well-being, fighting stress and anxiety weighing in.

Rukmini Das, a work-from-home mom of two toddlers from Ahmedabad, said that yoga helped her with postpartum recovery. “Postpartum recovery can take time. Everyone has their own journey but for me, because I am a private person, it was all very internal. I could not share much with anyone about what I was going through,” the 38-year-old mother of twin boys said. This is when Das’ neighbour who is a yoga instructor suggested she give it a try.

“Pre-baby times, I’d take regular walks plus hit the gym thrice a week. But as a new mother, yoga suited my pace. It helped me feel that I was in control of my body and mind, and that is exactly what I needed. For me, good mental health tops everything else that exercise has to offer,” she said.

Also read: Where getting fit is all about fun and games

Putting themselves first

Guwahati-based yoga instructor Peenaz Farooqy, similarly shared that she has many women coming to her for post-natal yoga classes. One of them is a mother who started just two months after childbirth. “Like any other new mother, she was severely sleep deprived and wanted to do yoga to tide over the feeling of lethargy and stiffness. So I began with light stretches, restorative poses and long meditation,” Farooqy said. 

Yoga instructor Peenaz Farooqy with students in her studio in Guwahati
Yoga instructor Peenaz Farooqy with students in her studio in Guwahati

“I see an overall increase in awareness when it comes to fitness and wellness. 95 per cent of my students are women, in the age group of 24-40. Another reason to be factored in here is the increase in lifestyle diseases. One in five girls nowadays has PCOS,” Farooqy said. PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, is a hormonal disorder in women, said to be triggered by lifestyle and environmental factors.

Some attribute the rise in interest and awareness to the pandemic, when the country went on a lockdown to prevent the spread of covid-19. Staying in, with time to spare, people chose different activities to ‘constructively’ spend their time. Some of these activities turned into active interests like gardening has been for me. For 35-year-old Dipti, it was Zumba, a fitness programme that involves cardio and dance. “I began taking online classes to learn something new and stay fit,” she said. But over time she began enjoying the classes so much that she got certified as a Zumba trainer herself. “I left my corporate job for some consultancy projects instead. And I became a full-time Zumba instructor,” Dipti, whose daughter is four, said. She now teaches both offline as well as online.

Online classes, which became a way of life during the pandemic, have offered a way out to address one of the biggest challenges that women students, in particular, face: of consistency. “Women more than men tend to miss classes owing either to household emergencies or because their children need them. With online classes, some of this challenge can be circumvented because they can do their exercise sitting at home, and at a convenient time,” Rahman said. Her weekend classes are therefore packed.

Flexibility, however, is not just a gender-based need. The pandemic is behind us but it did open up a world of possibilities. With packed schedules that barely leaves enough personal time, commuting through traffic to your fitness instructor’s studio may not always be a viable option. Virtual exercise routines, fitness apps and AI-based workouts that enable one to do their fitness routine at their convenience are becoming popular. According to an article published in the World Economic Forum, India had the highest rise in downloads of fitness apps in 2020—at 157 per cent. According to IMARC, a market research firm, India’s fitness market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.6 per cent between 2021 to 2026.

So to go back to where we began, have we stopped normalising looking a certain way after hitting, say 35-40 years of age? Especially if we have kids? No. It still gnaws at me if I prioritise my daily walk over my daughter’s class project with a, “It can wait for an hour”. But the intensity of that gnawing has reduced, definitely by a massive margin, from what my mother must have experienced when she was in my shoes. It’s the conditioning, but the tide is turning.

Azera Parveen Rahman is a writer currently based in Bhuj, Gujarat.

Also read: For successful weight loss, embrace failure


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