Tip-Top Shape: Common Problem Areas for South Asians

South Asian Body ProblemsLong gone are the days when our grandparents could do a few morning stretches and remain in ‘tip-top shape.’ Unfortunately, with the wide array of [high-caloric] foods that we have today, combined with your basic desk job, maintaining optimal health and shape means paying attention to not only what we eat, but also how we incorporate fitness into our everyday lives. It’s not always easy finding the perfect balance, but I’ll work with you to find fun and engaging ways to add a fitness punch into your lives. So climb aboard, and let’s get into tip-top shape together!

Recognize Your Body Type

Did you know that research has shown that South Asians tend to have more fat in their trunk areas as opposed to their limbs? This phenomenon, referred to as “central obesity,” predisposes the South Asian community for a variety of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. Also, as a result of this body type, the most common problem areas (for both men and women) tend to be flabbier midsections and skinny legs.

Cardio is Key

Like many of us, you probably make it to gym a few times a week in the middle of your busy schedule. You may squeeze in some cardio, but less often have time to focus on abs or muscle strengthening exercises that really target these problem areas.

There is good news, though! Cardio is one of the best ways to help reduce excess fat and eliminate the flabby part of your belly. (You know that part our parents were able to hide under loose salwar tops and kurthas, but we just simply can’t hide in our skinny jeans — I’m talking to the ladies AND the gents here!) All you need is a few quick adjustments and you can multi-task even while you are at the gym.

Multi-task for Maximum Benefit

Typical ab exercises like those using the medicine ball or classic crunches work all muscle groups, but cardiovascular exercise such as running, biking and jumping rope can also help tone the midsection, when the right posture and form is used. This involves consciously engaging your core muscles and tightening your abs while doing a cardio workout. Doing so not only helps maintain balance throughout the exercise but also builds muscle.

Engage Your Core

The best way to engage your core without mistakenly sucking in your stomach (yes, there is a difference) is to think about the feeling you get in your midsection when you’re laughing or coughing. Technically when you laugh or cough, you project your stomach outwards, which tightens the muscles around your abdomen. When your entire body feels stable and the muscles around your stomach feel nice and contracted, you will know your core is properly engaged.

If you’re a runner, with the right form, you’ll not only engage and work your core, but you might also actually run faster by using your core muscles to propel yourself further.

Similar principles apply for biking: Engaging the core will help you push through a more powerful ride. One thing to keep in mind though, bikers, is that the core muscles are not as effectively engaged on a recumbent bike (the ones with low seat and a back rest). To really work those muscles in your midsection, an upright bike is preferred (those are the ones also most traditionally used in spin or cycle classes at the gym).

Strengthen Those Legs!

Now, onto the skinny leg phenomenon that plagues many South Asians. Good news there — because cardio can help with that, as well! While developing strong muscles will take time, you can integrate some simple changes into your cardio workout that will get you results you need.

While biking has proven more effective for bulking up, running can also get you on your way to stronger, more muscular legs. Next time you are on the treadmill, slow your pace down and kick up the incline to challenge your calf muscles. Or, if possible, cut your running time down and do some squats and lunges, instead, to work your lower half. These simple exercises will help you maintain the same level of calorie burn as cardio and while simultaneously working your legs.

Of course, no exercise is good on its own. Maintaining the right balance of diet and fitness is the only way to keep these problem areas in check. Nonetheless, you have to start somewhere — so get moving, and I’ll meet you at the gym!


Anu Ashok

Anu has become an expert in fitness through the pursuit of her passion of working out. Whether it is running the marathon or taking the hottest fitness class at the gym, she is constantly exploring the best ways to get fit. Have a question? Email Anu at gymratchaat@gmail.com .

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  1. Great article! I’m definitely a victim of central obesity and skinny legs phenomenon 🙁
    I’m glad to now know there is something I can do to get me into shape.

    • I think we are all victims of it! Or at least some version of it. These simple tricks are easy ways to target those areas and conquer the phenomenon – so keep at it!

  2. Too bad I can’t wear my baggy night-dress around everywhere! You’re right – skinny jeans are unforgiving but have the potential to be flattering. Thank you for the tips and reminders – I especially need to remember to engage my core while running and spinning.

    • It is too bad we can’t wear nightdresses or salwar tops everywhere! Keep that core engaged during you runs and rides and I promise you will see a difference. Bring on the skinnies!

  3. These are very helpful tips!! I suppose shuffling through the last 5 minutes of a run isn’t the most effective. Must remember to engage the core.

    Looking forward to your next article.

    • Shuffling the last 5 minutes isn’t the worst thing, since it is always good to cool down. If you are feeling sluggish towards the end, I would recommend slowing down your pace but raising the incline to make the most of those last few minutes of your workout.

  4. So that’s what you call it – central obesity.

    • Yes that’s what you call it! Midsection weight is one of the hardest places to lose. The right combination of diet and exercise is the only way to see a difference!

  5. Tina Marie says:

    This is a great article, Anu! I love the fact that you point out that we all need to learn to accept our body type, because that is the first step in getting in shape and learning how to lose those love handles! Do you have any tips on cross training and how I can incorporate that into my regular routine?

  6. Yes, you are right. Understanding and accepting the body type and working on particular exercises that help target the problem areas the first step towards staying in tip-top shape. I promise to cover cross training tips in a future column so stay tuned!

  7. Krithicka Raghunathan says:

    Great article, Anu! You hit the nail right on the head.Pot belly and spindly legs are the curse of the South Asians. I would also add thunder thighs to the list- particularly for the women. Target-specific, core-strengthening exercise will go a long way to help some of us South Indian Maamis get into shape! Personally I think , we should first stop wearing salwars and sarees which conveniently cover our excesses adding to our denial. Once we are truly aware of our body, the motivation will hopefully arrive. That is why we need people like you in our lives. Keep up this good work!

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