SAET - South Asian Exercise Trial


Photo by Greg Ehlers, Simon Fraser University


The aim of the South Asian Exercise Trial (SAET) is to test the efficacy of a standard aerobic exercise program and a culturally acceptable Bhangra dance exercise program on body fat distribution and cardiovascular disease risk factors in post-menopausal South Asian women.


Previous research in our lab has shown a higher prevalence rate of diabetes in the South Asian population at nearly 10% while White and Chinese populations had prevalence rates of 5.3 and 4.8% respectively. In addition, the incidence of heart attacks is two to three fold higher in the South Asian population compared to White and Chinese populations and is on the rise. The higher disease burden in the South Asian population is of primary importance to Canada due to its growing diversity. The Canadian population on the whole increased by only 5.4% in 2006, and yet the South Asian population in Canada increased by 38%.

Inner abdominal fat, which surrounds the abdominal organs, is associated with higher health risks and was found to be greater at a given amount of total body fat in South Asians. This is known as the 'thin-fat' body type whereby South Asians were observed to have a greater amount of inner abdominal fat, a higher percent body fat, and a lower lean body mass than the White population.

Little is known about the benefits of exercise in the South Asian population. However, it is well established in the White population that exercise is beneficial for; increasing muscle mass, maintaining or reducing body weight, reducing risk factors for diabetes and heart disease and that it specifically targets the high risk inner-abdominal fat. Of concern is the low level of physical activity participation among South Asians s in New Zealand, the UK and Canada when compared to the White population. This low engagement in physical activity has been shown to explain over 20% of the excess heart disease deaths in South Asians. Exercise can benefit the community through improved health and social connectedness and have great impact. The South Asian community is growing and yet it is lacking the specialized cultural focus that would allow physical activity to become an integral part of ones lifestyle.


The purpose of this research is to study a standard (such as treadmills and stationary bicycles) and a culturally-relevant (Bhangra) exercise program in post-menopausal South Asian women. South Asian origin refers to individuals who have grandparents from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. We are focusing this study on post-menopausal women as body fat distribution may change with menopause and affect heart health. We are interested in seeing how 12 weeks of these exercise programs affects levels of body fat (specifically abdominal fat) and heart health compared to participants who are asked not to exercise. This information will allow us to determine appropriate exercise programming for post-menopausal South Asian women.


Participants are recruited from the Surrey community. The total sample consists of 75 post-menopausal South Asian women who have a waist circumference greater than 80 cm, are able to understand English, are not currently physically active and who are weight stable.

At baseline and 12-week follow-up, participants have their inner abdominal fat, lean and fat mass, cardiovascular risk, aerobic fitness and physical activity assessed. Following the baseline assessment, patients are randomized to a non-exercise control group, standard gym-based exercise program or a Bhangra dance program. The non-exercise control group do not adjust their physical activity levels and are given the option of completing one of the exercise programs at the end of the study. The exercise intervention groups attend one hour exercise classes 3 times per week over the course of the 12 week intervention at a Surrey community center.

Progress to Date

Data collection for this study has been completed and analysis is under way.