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Rethinking Resolutions

Jan/06/2024 / by lindsey-galloway

Ring in renewed wellbeing this year with tailored health steps for the busy South Asian woman. Here are 7 specific goals that experts say can help improve your year ahead.  

The same refrain echoes from gyms to living rooms every January—“This is the year I’m going to lose weight, exercise more, and transform my health.” But all too often, the typical New Year’s Resolutions fail for a host of reasons, especially when those goals are not specific enough. This can also include cultural considerations that don’t include the unique experiences and lifestyles of South Asian women. 

That’s why we put together a list of seven important health resolutions for the year ahead that specifically impact South Asian women and their families, and how you can go about achieving them. 

1. Aim for 150 Minutes of Movement a Week

Even if it’s just 20 minutes a day, a little bit of movement can go a long way into helping your heart and overall fitness. Research suggests that not only are South Asians more likely to suffer from heart disease and diabetes, those diseases can have an onset of up to 10 years earlier than the general population. 

But studies including MASALA (Mediators of Atherosclerosis in South Asians Living in America) show that staying active can lower that risk. While genetics play a role, Laeeque says lifestyle changes make a big impact. “Our heritage or ethnicity is a risk factor we can’t control that does affect our fitness,” explains Hina Laeeque, founder of Empowered Fitness. “So it is even more important for us to be active and also focus on not only strength training, but also cardiovascular workouts because of our risk for heart disease.”

Studies show that South Asians may need an additional 20 minutes of exercise to get the same benefits as a Caucasian population, but that doesn’t have to be a burden. The occasional walk can help lower the risk significantly. “I always recommend people to be walking at least three to four times a week,” says Laeeque.

2. Examine Your Stress Triggers

Between family expectations, discrimination, and trying to balance eastern and western cultures, anxiety is common among South Asian women. Stress not only can take a mental toll, but can also contribute to other health issues like high blood pressure and diabetes. Try keeping a journal to identify your stress triggers, then finding healthy coping mechanisms, whether it’s taking solo nature walks, practicing yoga or other gentle movement, or talking to a therapist.

3. Boost Your Vitamin D Intake

Research has found that South Asians in the diaspora may be struggling with staggeringly low Vitamin D levels. According to one study of more than 6000 South Asians living in the UK, more than 50% of the population have a severe deficiency and only 8% of people had sufficient levels of Vitamin D. While symptoms can feel minor, such as general tiredness, overtime this deficiency can lead to more major health issues like osteoporosis. 

Food can play a major part in helping, but it can mean altering existing patterns. Many traditional South Asian diets aren’t particularly high in Vitamin D. Adding fish can help. Research found that the Bangladeshi diet, which includes more fish, contributed to lower deficiencies compared to those living in other South Asian countries. Oily fish and fish liver oils have high levels of Vitamin D. 

You can also take supplements to help boost your levels. The National Institutes of Health currently recommend 15 mcg (600 IU) for adults age 19 to 70. Look for D3 as it may increase levels in your blood for higher and longer, and take with a meal or a snack that includes some fat, as it’s a fat-soluble vitamin.

4. Be Direct with Your Docs

General health guidelines don’t always apply one-to-one for South Asian women. For instance, South Asians face higher diabetes risks, so preventive screening should start sooner—and you may have to ask your doctor more directly. The American Diabetes Association recommends Asian Americans get screened for diabetes at a body mass index (BMI) of 23, instead of the BMI of 25 recommended for the general population.

Don’t rely on common blood tests thresholds either. Screening research can typically be based on people of European descent. Levels that indicate diabetes may be lower for South Asians. For example, hemoglobin A1C levels above 6.5% often signify diabetes. But for South Asians, levels between 5.7% to 6.4% could also warrant follow-up testing.

If your result falls in the gray area, request additional screening. Being proactive with your doctor about diabetes testing ensures you get the care you need.

5. Manage Your Mental Health

Cultural stigma often prevents South Asians from seeking help for mental health issues like anxiety and depression—and this can be doubly so for women. “South Asian communities are often collectivist and family-centered with a hierarchy that promotes the collective family interests over individual interest,” said Anjali Gowda Ferguson, Ph.D., LCP, a culturally responsive psychologist. “This messaging suggests that focusing on the self may be inconsiderate of larger community demands. Women may receive messaging that this focus is selfish or unnecessary.”

Instead, it can be helpful to reframe this, to ensure taking care of ourselves can help us better take care of others. Like putting your oxygen mask on first in an emergency, there’s no shame in ensuring we’re in our best mental state before we can reliably help others. By focusing on understanding mental health and various conditions, it can be easier to pinpoint when something feels awry. 

6. Get Your Family Health History

While it can be uncomfortable to talk to your family about their health history, the information can be life saving when it comes to lowering your risk for the same diseases, or spotting early warning signs of diseases that might run in the family. 

South Asian families often have a history of diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease, and knowing what age those were diagnosed can help you get screened earlier and make lifestyle changes for the better. It can also be helpful to ask about diseases that may have once been stigmatized, like breast cancer. 

Stanford clinical psychologist Dr. Ranak Trivedi has found that there can still be stigma in openly talking about breast cancer among South Asians, but normalizing asking about it with family with a non-judgmental approach can start to open the doors. Not only can this provide a place to offer support to family members who may have struggled in silence, but it can arm you with important health history that can lead to early detection and management. 

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How to Make Your Resolutions Stick

While making resolutions is easy, sticking to them all year round is considerably tougher. One study found that while 52% of people were confident about their ability to reach their resolutions, only 12% achieved them a year later. 

To help raise this percentage, we sought out advice from Hina Laeeque, Certified Personal Trainer and founder of Empowered Fit, where she works with South Asian women to be their strongest selves. Here she shares the advice she gives to her clients to help them reach their biggest fitness dreams.

  1. Write down your goals. Research shows that writing down your goals helps to achieve goals up to 50% compared to those that do not write down their goals. Try a SMART goal- Specific, Measurable, Action Oriented, Results Oriented and Time specific
  2. Know your “why.” Losing weight is a vague goal. But, aiming to lose 10 pounds so that you have more energy throughout the day is a great start to a more specific goal.
  3. Break your goal down into smaller parts. Ask yourself what you can do each week consistently? What can you start doing today to move you towards your goal?
  4. Have an accountability partner. Involve your family or friends, share your goal with your spouse, get out for walks with your kids. 
  5. Check in on your goal regularly. Every 2 weeks or monthly, check in with yourself. We often have big intentions at the start of a new year, but then forget about the goal 30 or 60 days later.
  6. Make it enjoyable. You are more likely to stick to a goal that you enjoy! IF you love walking, incorporate that into your workout plan. Or, habit stack by coupling 2 things together such as listening to your favorite podcast while workout out. 
  7. Enjoy the journey. Health is a lifelong process. Don’t forget to treat yourself. 

Find example exercises and recipes at empoweredfit.ca

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