Kigali becomes an exercise hub once every week

Friday August 05 2016

Rwanda public servants work-out during a car free day in Kigali. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

It’s Friday 2.30pm in Kigali and as everyone is “warming up” for the weekend drinking and eating sprees, civil servants have all the reasons to leave work early and go for fitness activities.

The physical activities start at 3pm and go in into early evening, and every government employee is supposed to participate unless deemed otherwise by their direct supervisors.

While many use this day as an excuse for leaving work early and indulging in their own pursuits, some institutions especially at ministerial level have kept a firm grip on activities of this day.

At Amahoro Stadium in Remera, for example, a handful of the Kigali-based civil servants head to their meeting venues where they meet in small groups according to institutions. Some are clearly overweight.

Even without professional instructors most of the participants can be seen stretching and jogging. “I like jogging because it’s unregulated and one works out until they are really tired. This has kept me fit and strong,” says Fabien Ndagijimana.

On this day, the stadium is basically free for these groups to do general sports unlike in the private fitness clubs and gyms where one deals with professional machines, instructors and has to pay for the facilities.


Fear of lifestyle diseases

The fear of lifestyle diseases due to lack of exercise has seen an increase and leading to popularity of health and fitness centres in Kigali, each attracting an average of 50-60 people per day.

Depending on the location and facilities, one can pay between Rwf500 and Rwf5,000 per attendance, or a subscription that ranges between Rwf12,000 and Rwf45,000 per month in public health clubs.

Hotels go for between Rwf9,000 to Rwf15,000 per day and Rwf50,000 to Rwf200,000 per monthly subscription.

While big hotels have also thrived on this business as they charge exorbitant fees compared with privately-owned gyms, some hotels in Kigali have not adopted such additional services to suit the current trend especially among foreigners.

Most of the foreigners find it hard to book a hotel room at a price above $50 without gym facilities especially during the recent African Union Summit which saw thousands of visitors booking rooms for more than eight days.

“I don’t do gym every day but with the hectic work at the AU summit, I would like to. But my hotel doesn’t have the services and I have paid a lot,” said Lucy Muchoma a reporter for Xinhua.

Some former gym goers say that besides the benefits of physical workouts and meeting up with professional colleagues or social class, they dropped out due to lack of professional health advice.

Diane Birori, 32, joined a fitness club with hope of losing weight but left two years ago after discovering that nothing was changing.

“Fitness is essential to weight loss but with time I discovered that there was nothing changing and while in the gym, the trainers have many people and they handle them as a group which makes it difficult for specific attention,” Ms Birori said.

Resorting to jogging, Ms Birori says that she has seen improvement in her weight loss bid and this helps her to keep fit and avoid some of the lifestyle diseases which most of her colleagues face today.

She parks her car at home and jogs for between two and three hours with a group of ladies.

“This has helped me to be physically flexible and fit unlike others who go to the gym and keep eating fatty foods and drink beer due to lack of professional advice, she said.

Medical tests

Dr Flavien Ngendahayo, a medical practitioner, lecturer at University of Rwanda, College of Medicine says that some of the gyms and health centres have medically trained physiotherapists who can deal with lifestyle disease related cases but this is not enough.

“Before anyone goes to the gym or fitness club, we always recommend that each, especially those above 45 years, first go for a full medical test. This way a case can be handled by a trained physiotherapist otherwise it can be dangerous,” Dr Ngendahayo said.

Dr Ngendahayo says that these issues can be avoided if Rwandans cultivated an early sports and exercising attitude and changed their indiscriminative eating habits for healthy eating habits.

The WHO has said that 80 per cent of adolescents worldwide do not get enough exercise, Rwanda’s health ministry has warned that lifestyle and non-communicable diseases are the next “proximal killer machine” due to reluctance and low uptake of the sporting culture.

For example official statistics indicate that in 2011, 29 per cent of registered deaths were caused by non-communicable, this grew to 36 per cent in 2014, while 60 per cent of deaths are caused by NCDs globally.