July 26, 2022
The sun is setting over Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Dinaz Kureishy’s family is out for a walk. Bellies full from dinner, the three of them — Dinaz and her parents — talk at length about everything from politics to family history. They’ll be back at it one or two other times this week, led most often by her father, who immigrated from Pakistan in the 1990s. For Kureishy, a 24-year-old engineer, these strolls were an indelible part of her childhood memories.
“Ever since I can remember, we’ve been going on walks,” she said.
Kureishy’s family isn’t the only one promenading in the neighborhood. For example, 57% of South Asian Canadians report walking regularly, which is nearly 20% more than the next most popular category of exercise. A viral tweet about “authentic South Asian exercise” not being yoga, but South Asians walking around their neighborhood “at 0.00000003 miles per hour” has over 11,000 likes. Shatapawali, meaning “100 steps after a meal” in Marathi, is a longstanding Indian tradition.
But despite a love for the daily stroll, South Asians don’t regularly engage in other forms of exercise. A U.K.-based study found that only 18% of foreign-born and 30% of British-born South Asians play sports or exercise, and government data revealed that 50% of British Asians exercise compared to 61% of all Britons. According to experts, patterns are similar in other parts of the diaspora. “South Asians in the United States tend to do less exercise and physical activity,” said Dr. Namratha Kandula, professor of medicine at Northwestern University. “So it seems like walking is the one [activity] that they do engage in more.”
So how did the evening walk become such a pivotal part of the South Asian diasporic experience? And what sets it apart from other forms of exercise?