Chest-thumping aside, what advances have been made in the last few centuries in "disciplines" of Yoga or Ayurveda? The same Asanas, more or less the same breathing exercises, and yet the Indian middle class is notoriously unhealthy. The trifecta of lifestyle diseases: High BP, Cholesterol and Diabetes has spread to epidemic proportions in most Indian cities. This despite our self-congratulation about our "healthy diet" (it is anything but), and our Ramdev-esque acrobatics and nail rubbing in the morning.
Yoga and Ayurveda are somehow considered disciplines invented by some holy sages with long beards. So they attract veneration rather than scrutiny. We remain resistant to western methods of fitness and continue to regard Yoga as the best of the best.
Having studied and taught Yoga at many places in India, it is my conclusion that it is little more than stretching and calming exercises. Vigorous and muscular yoga is primarily an innovation when Yoga was to be marketed to the west. Yoga as it is practiced in India is geared towards joints and flexibility, and perhaps balance. It is not a recipe for strength or for cardiovascular health.
Our dietary experimentation, once again in the footsteps of holy men, has been severely limited. Gandhi experimented with not having milk, Morarji Desai tried something a little different, and Indian diet continues to be rather traditional and resistant to evolution. Perhaps the fact that most meals are cooked at home, and families eat together has something to do with it. Also, poverty. Fitness is an activity or an interest available to a person who has achieved a modicum of prosperity and can choose what to eat and to spend an hour or two everyday exercising to become fitter. Such a class of people used to be just elites in India, only now the middle class is getting to that level of prosperity.
(There are other obstacles too. I wanted to buy an Olympic weightlifting bar for myself in Hyderabad. There was no place which was selling it. Most sport shops were carrying dumb bells weighing at most 15kg. There were no locally produced good quality gym accessories or diet supplements. I ended up buying ON Gold Standard Whey for $18 per pound in India. It costs $9 per pound in the US.)
Contrast this with the plethora of innovations related to diets and fitness regimens in the West. We might decry their "immoral" culture, but there are so many choices available to a person seeking to become fitter and to eat better in the West. Most of them are well-known or are detailed in an inexpensive book. There are of course marketing schemes peddling wonder weight-loss drugs and lose-30-lb-in-30-days miracle weight loss programs, but there are hundreds of valid programs and regimens available.
Go to any modern gym, there is a bewildering array of choices (including Yoga!). There are new cardiovascular and weight training machines being invented and assimilated, and new understandings about our metabolism, cardiac health and muscle gain are driving ever fresher training routines.
Just consider the various programs available for strength training: Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5x5, PHAT, Doggcrapp, WS4SB, 5/3/1 variants, German Volume Training, Convict Conditioning, Greyskull LP, Crossfit, ...
Similarly, in diets, one sees juice diets, vegan diets, gluten-free diets, lactose-free diets, Paleo diets, bulking/cutting programs, Atkins (low carb) diet, and so on.
Even if I don't follow a particular program, I am happy to see innovation in fitness and diet, and I wish people in India, who can afford it, start taking fitness and diet seriously and get healthier.
Our traditional medicine and exercise regimes may not be the best for all aspects of our health. I find that Crossfit comes the closest to describing the goals of a great fitness regime.
I have taken this list from http://www.crossfitkmsf.com/my_weblog/2009/08/10-elements-of-fitness.html
1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance- The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
2. Stamina - The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
3. Strength - The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
4. Flexibility - The ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
5. Power - The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
6. Speed - The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
7. Coordination - The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
8. Agility - The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
9. Balance - The ability to control the placement of the body's center of gravity in relation to its support base.
10. Accuracy - The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.