The ones among us who don’t have to worry about mundane things such as food, clothes or a roof over our heads, have a bit too much time on our hands. Some of us sit in our air-conditioned drawing rooms, thinking about saving something or the other. Some are arrogant enough to want to save the planet.

Ride along: Biking regularly keeps you fit, and even helps the environment. Hemant Mishra/Mint

We seem to live in denial. We think that the consequences of the mess created by us, the citizens of the world, will show up in some distant future or might not even affect us at all. But it is affecting all of us; right now, right here. To make any worthwhile impact on these issues, we need to start from an individual level. We need to move the emphasis back to saving ourselves, because that itself is going to be a massive project. Only an individual, fit in both body and mind, is even remotely capable of thinking of a fit environment, leave alone taking any actions for it. Also, the more individuals do their physical activity outside, the better they connect with their surroundings. This individual change then spreads through society.

A very good example of this is Bhaskar Rao, commissioner for transport and road safety, Karnataka, who picked up running in early 2009 with Runners High, a runners’ organization in Bangalore. Rao was 104kg before he started running; he is now 84kg.

Rao, who also started cycling in 2009 and is now chairman of Riders Cycle Foundation, finds cycling a very practical physical activity to address India’s traffic woes. He believes cycling will also help people to become healthier. Thanks to his initiative, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike has granted Rs4-5 crore for cycling tracks. He plans six-seven pockets in Bangalore, with 30-35km cycling tracks in each.

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During the assembly elections last year in Bihar, chief minister Nitish Kumar launched a scheme to distribute bicycles free among girls. Following in his footsteps, on 18 February West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee announced that 33,000 cycles would be distributed free among girl students of class IX in the districts of North and South 24 Parganas. Obviously, they have their own reasons for doing this, but there is a trickle-down effect in terms of improving the health of these young girls, and even the health of the environment.

I think we need to change the culture more than anything. The 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi didn’t really change the culture of sports in India, but I witnessed something amazing last month. On 6 February, I noticed that a walk had been organized by CanSupport, “Walk for Life: Stride Against Cancer", starting from the same venue where I do my weekend running—Nehru Park. I directed a few people in the correct direction just before I took off for my run. I didn’t realize at the time how many participants there would be. On my way back, I saw a mixed crowd running, walking, skating, cycling, and even on superbikes. There were over 4,000 people from all walks of life, representing different age groups and professions: students, executives, cancer survivors, medical professionals, caregivers, celebrities, bureaucrats, politicians and diplomats, all taking part in the Walk for Life.

It showed me the power of individuals. When they come together to take a stand, they are far more powerful and effective than any institution. To me, that in itself is a revolution. On 20 February, the Mawana marathon was held in Delhi without any marketing initiatives. It was announced only on running forums meant for serious runners. It was fascinating then to see over 100 full marathon (42km) and over a 1,000 half marathon (21km) participants.

These numbers show running has come of age in India.

I know there is still a lot more to be desired, but we should do our bit to contribute to the change that is now necessary. Let’s make it a truly public-private partnership, where the beneficiaries are not limited to a select few.

Rajat Chauhan is a practitioner of sports and exercise medicine and musculoskeletal medicine, and CEO of Back 2 Fitness.

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