A study by the medical journal The Lancet says that Indians are among the most active people in the world, with only 15.6% of us being inactive. That is quite a shocker — I thought we were a rather laid-back nation. All that nagging by fitness enthusiasts to make us get up and run around seems to be working.
Could the data be wrong? Topping the laziness list is the Mediterranean island of Malta, with as much as 71.9% of its population being inactive, preferring to sit around and gape at the sea. Saudi Arabia is also high on the list, but that’s because all they do is loll on their sofas while telling their Indian and Pakistani minions to dig for oil in their backyard. At number 8 in the sloth list is Britain, where the only physical exercise that the inactive 63.3% of its people do is to raise their glasses at the local pub. No surprises there. Micronesia, comprising thousands of islands in the Western Pacific, ranks sixth. The average Micronesian probably spends much of his time on his hammock on the beach, sipping the local equivalent of feni. Perfectly logical. But what clinches the issue is Lancet’s discovery that 40.4% of Pakistanis are inactive, which means we beat them hollow in the fitness league. Nope, nothing wrong with the study.
The most hyperactive nation in the world is Bangladesh. Only 4.7% of its population is lethargic. I concede the sight of so many Bengalis sprinting around, lifting weights and sweating at the gym makes Bangladesh one of the top ten places to visit before you die, but do we really want to be like Bangladesh? And why, if we’re so fit, do we do so badly at the Olympics? Simply put, all that exercise is making us too tired.
That is why our economy is going down the drain. The most active country in Europe is Greece, with its inactive population at 15.6%, the same as India’s. We all know the Greek economy is a shambles. Contrast our neighbour Bhutan, which, with an inactive population of 52.3%, has the proud distinction of featuring in the lazy top 20. The Bhutanese peasant, getting up early to tend to his yaks, takes one look at the mountain, reckons it’s too steep to climb and settles down on his porch to watch the sunrise, muttering the old Zen saying: “Sitting quietly, doing nothing/Spring comes/And the economy grows by itself.” The upshot: Bhutan’s per capita income is much higher than ours.
Clearly, we must exercise less and relax more. How do we do it? I confess that we — the 15.6% inactive Indians — are unsure whether to help. After all, having the other 84.4% run around does have its advantages, although looking at them is rather fatiguing. But let us, in the national interest, cast selfish reasons aside.
A dedicated couch potato needs a TV, potato chips or popcorn, beer and a couch. If people are going outdoors, there must be something wrong with either the TV programmes, or the couch, or the snacks or the beer. We need to improve them. But drinking beer leads to frequent trips to the bathroom, which increases activity. You could solve that problem by having bigger bathrooms, equipped with a fridge, a TV and a couch.
Lastly, consider our prime minister. If you look carefully at him in Parliament, you will notice he barely twitches a muscle, concentrating instead on burning the least possible amount of calories. He must be our role model.
Manas Chakravarty is consulting editor, Mint
Views expressed by the author are personal