The Fit India movement which Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched recently complements other initiatives like Swachh Bharat and the campaign for a plastic-free India, which are socially oriented and also offer health and economic benefits and well-being for individuals and the community. Initiatives that focus on health, personal cleanliness and civic and community hygiene are welcome. They help to maximise the benefits of development and spread them wider in society.
Modi said fitness has been an integral part of our culture, but technology has thrown up new challenges, and there is indifference to fitness issues now. Technological advances have made life easier, but they have reduced the scope for walking and manual work. Physical fitness culture has suffered, health standards have fallen.
Lifestyle diseases like diabetes and hypertension are rising as a result. The burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are caused by physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles, is growing and is now estimated to account for 60% of the deaths in the country. In the past, older people were more prone to chronic diseases, but the younger sections are susceptible to them now.
In India, the onset of NCDs is now as early as 45 years, a full 10 years earlier than in developed countries. The threat is not just from lifestyle changes but from habits like tobacco consumption and environmental degradation. Physical activity is a means for the prevention of chronic diseases, for treatment and rehabilitation of patients and for building immunity against other kinds of diseases. The WHO has estimated that 30% of cancer incidence can be avoided with lifestyle changes.
While the advantages of physical fitness are known and evident, India is in a contradictory situation of the simultaneous presence of increasing lifestyle ailments and the challenges that can be attributed to poverty, backwardness, illiteracy and lack of access to healthcare. For large numbers of people, subsistence is more important than fitness, and so the message of fitness will be relevant only when the basic needs of food, water and clean air are ensured and there is access to affordable healthcare.
So, the fitness movement should best be seen in association with anti-poverty programmes and other social welfare schemes. While all citizens should try to live a fit and healthy life, there is also a major responsibility for governments and public authorities to create a congenial environment for it by taking steps to reduce environmental pollution, providing open spaces and other facilities for recreation and encouraging policies that promote physical fitness culture.