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Exercise ‘craze’ grips Nigerians

By Chukwuma Muanya and Adaku Onyenucheya
13 September 2018   |   4:18 am
Until now, some Nigerians did physical exercises basically to shed weight and to get fitter. But the trend has changed.

• Doctors recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily to prevent, treat, manage chronic diseases
• WHO to end NCDs with Global Action Plan 2018-2030

Until now, some Nigerians did physical exercises basically to shed weight and to get fitter. But the trend has changed.

More Nigerians, young and old, have adopted different exercises on regular basis because doctors are now recommending physical activities to prevent, treat and manage chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, kidney disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer, among so many others.

Little wonder one can now see advocates at every nook and cranny of the country sweating it out

An enthusiast, Mr Samuel Ojekere, 64, is a retired police officer from Edo State. He resides in Gowon Estate, Egbeda, Lagos State. He is seen every morning engaging in one form of exercise or the other.

Ojekere said since he started exercising in 2012, he had never visited the hospital nor pharmacy store for one form of illness or the other.

“Police work would not permit me do exercise, but when I retired, I decided to go into sports and exercise and since I started, I have never known the address of hospitals or pharmacy, neither do I have contacts of doctors nor nurses,” he stressed.

The retired police officer, who looks like one in his late 30s added: “You have to prepare for your tomorrow starting from today. If you don’t take care of your body today, disease will take over.”

When The Guardian went round Lagos, not only were youths doing the exercise, both the elderly and children were also seen exercising in the early hours of the day, sweating it all out.

Another enthusiast, Mr Ikechukwu Okafor, who would be 42 years this month, is seen with his two children within the age range of six and four, jogging in the early hours of Saturday morning, said exercising had been his daily routine since he discovered the health benefits.

“I started exercising for a very long time, even while I was in secondary school. So, I am used to it. It makes me look younger, fit and smart. I don’t fall sick easily, I see most people complain of their health – malaria, typhoid and the rest, but is not the same with me,” he said.

On why his children were exercising with him, he said: “I have taken them for like three times and I saw their performance and the benefits on their health. So, I have been taking them along with me.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had recommended that children and adolescents aged five to 17 years should do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily, noting that an amount greater than 60 minutes daily will provide additional health benefits; and should include activities that strengthen muscle and bone, at least three times per week.

According to the WHO, regular and adequate levels of physical activity improve muscular and cardio-respiratory fitness, bone and functional health, reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer and depression as well as reduce the risk of falls, hip or vertebral fractures. It is also fundamental to energy balance and weight control.

A student, Amaka Okeke, from Anambra State, as a teenager weighed 120kg. This is an unusual weight for a girl of her age, which is a sign of obesity.

She felt bad; couldn’t relate with her peers because of her size and the jocular remarks she got from the public. She preferred staying indoors to avoid such remarks, which she said affected her mentally.

Okeke, who is now in her early 20’s decided going into exercise after she discovered the benefit, and was determined to lose weight as quickly as possible.

She said: “I started exercising in late 2017, but I got very serious this year because I wanted to lose weight and be fit. I used to be scared of checking my weight because of my size. There was a time I checked and I was weighing 120kg. But when I took this exercise serious, I was 98kg, but lately I have really not checked since I have lost enough weight.”

According to series of studies released in British medical journal, The Lancet, physical inactivity causes one in 10 deaths worldwide, putting it on par with the dangers of smoking and obesity.

Specifically, Harvard researchers say, physical inactivity, which caused an increase in deaths from coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancers among other Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD), caused more than 5.3 million deaths yearly, worldwide.

The Lancet publication also ranked physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for death globally.

The paper suggested that more than 5.3 million deaths could be avoided each year if all inactive people exercised and reach a weekly target of 150 minutes or more of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking.

“We tried to estimate how many deaths would be avoided if all the inactive people in the world became active,” says I-Min Lee, head of the team that published one of the papers at Harvard Medical School.

Lee and her team analysed data on deaths from four major illnesses that are already linked with lack of exercise, which include, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer and breast cancer.

From this, they calculated that if everyone reached their weekly exercise targets, about six per cent of those who died globally from heart attacks would have survived, as would seven per cent of those who died of type 2 diabetes, and 10 per cent of those who died from breast or colon cancer.

Similarly, WHO stated that about seven in 10 deaths yearly are caused by NCD, as more than 15 million people between the ages of 30 and 70 die from the disease, which major contributing agent is physical inactivity.

According to the WHO, half of the premature deaths from NCDs occur in low and lower-middle income countries and more people are increasingly affected.

Nigeria also accounts for the burden of these health conditions. The Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) said more Nigerians are now living with NCD with about 415 million people having diabetes, while the International Diabetes Foundation stated that there were more than 1.56 million cases of diabetes in Nigeria.

Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, at the Nigerian Heart Foundation (NHF) 2016 National Summit, had said that NCDs were responsible for 63 per cent of all deaths globally, out of which Nigeria accounted for 27 per cent.

“It is well documented that unhealthy diet, tobacco use, harmful alcohol intake, and physical inactivity are the major clustering risk factors for the development of cardio-vascular and other NCDs,” he said.

Although, there are indications that these figures are expected to double by 2040 if measures are not put in place to address the issue.

Also, the WHO stated that people who are insufficiently active have a 20 per cent to 30 per cent increased risk of death compared to people who are sufficiently active.

It noted that globally, one in four adults were not active enough, while more than 80 per cent of the world’s adolescent population was insufficiently physically active.

According to a study entitled, “Exercise is medicine: a call to action for physicians to assess and prescribe exercise,” published in the Physician and Sports Medicine, “engaging in regular physical activity is one of the major determinants of health,” as it demonstrated the benefits of exercise in the treatment and prevention of almost every common medical problem seen today.

Exercise is also as crucial to the well-being of people with depression, a new research suggests.

Depression has been linked to higher probabilities that someone will develop heart disease and chest pain as well as several other chronic medical conditions, including obesity and chronic kidney disease.

Scientists at the University of Texas suggested that exercising early in life and maintaining it often could protect both the mental and physical health of patients battling depression and facing heart disease risks.

Study co-author Dr Madhukar Trivedi, of the University of Texas, Southwestern, United States (U.S.), said: “Appropriate treatment for patients with these conditions may be exercise. Although, maintaining a healthy dose of exercise is difficult, it can be done. It just requires more effort and addressing unique barriers to regular exercise.”

Further studies also showed that physical activity and cardio-respiratory fitness have immediate effects on children’s and young people’s brain development, function, academic performance, as well as their intellect.

However, positive effects of exercise can also help develop important life skills, boost self-esteem, motivation, confidence and can also strengthen or foster relationships with peers, parents, and coaches.

Meanwhile, to address these health challenges and reduce the burden of deaths globally, international bodies have initiated several strategies.

The WHO recently launched a new Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030 – More people active for a healthier world. The plan sets out four objectives and recommends 20 policy actions that are feasible and applicable to all countries.

The WHO Member States in Resolution WHA 66.10 agreed on a voluntary global NCD target for a reduction of 10 per cent in physical inactivity by 2025 and the new global action plan extended this target to 15 per cent reduction by 2030.

The “Global NCD action plan” provides a road map and a menu of policy options for countries to take in order to attain the nine voluntary global targets, including that of a 25 per cent relative reduction in premature mortality from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory diseases by 2025.

On the level of exercise, WHO recommends that adults aged 18 to 64 years should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of both.

For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or equivalent; and muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on two or more days a week.

Also, the WHO said those with poor mobility should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls, three or more days per week.

According to the WHO, the intensity of different forms of physical activity varies between people and in order to be beneficial for cardio-respiratory health, all activities should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.