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‘Healthy lifestyle shouldn’t mean living in misery’

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A Law graduate of the Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, Aminadab Allen Adegboro also holds a Master’s Degree in the same field from the Queen Mary University of London. Having been admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, she began her legal career in 2008 as an Associate at Solola & Akpana. As a member of the Corporate Commercial Group, she worked on several novel and interesting transactions, rising to the position of Senior Associate before leaving in 2016. Aminadab co-founded the law firm of Adler & Bethel, a commercial law firm based in Abuja, Nigeria and served as its pioneer Managing Partner. She has attended several leadership courses and was a participant at the London Citizens Leadership & Community Organising Training Programme. She subsequently retrained as a Chef, obtaining a diploma in Culinary Arts from Ashburton Chef Academy, Devon, United Kingdom. She is also a trained Coffee Barista having obtained a diploma from the Specialty Coffee Association Europe. (SCAE). In 2017, Aminadab embarked on a career change as she sought to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams by building a business around her passions for healthy food, beverages and sports. As a trained Coffee Barista, she knew that coffee was an integral part of the cycling subculture with café stops during rides. In time, her love for cycling, food and coffee birthed a cycling themed restaurant/café called Pitstop Lagos, a cycling, and fitness inspired restaurant for all wellness enthusiasts to relax, replenish, recharge and network. As a young girl, she was active in track and field in school. However, her personal health challenges, particularly hormonal imbalances, required that she had to remain physically active. In time, she picked up road cycling and became a keen recreational cyclist.
In this interview with MARIA DIAMOND, Aminadab spoke on hormonal imbalances, especially among women and how to manage the situation through a healthy and active lifestyle.

Let’s talk about Pitstop Lagos, what was the idea behind the initiative?
Pitstop Lagos is a lifestyle place, a one-stop hub for cyclists, runners, walkers and enthusiasts of all sporting activities that promote wellness. It has a bicycle and accessories store, a bike repair workshop, a watt bike cycling room and a restaurant/café. It is a mix of everything; a combination of all my passions together and the vision is to encourage people to live an active lifestyle.

Science has shown that the human body is not meant to be sedentary; you have to move around. So, it’s important for us to be active. There are so many medical conditions that can be prevented by just living an active lifestyle and eating decently. The whole idea is to build a community of active citizens that promotes healthy lifestyle choices.

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We are health entrepreneurs and the focus is to bring value to our stakeholders. We support our community through their wellness journey; the idea is to get as many people as possible active. If it’s walking, running or cycling, just move; don’t sit in one place. For us at Pitstop Lagos, we have helped create a Pitstop community, which organises group rides in a safe and fun environment. We employed local elite riders just to support our people in their cycling journey. So, it’s like giving back to society in our own little way. We are irrevocably committed to creating an ecosystem around the wellness industry.

Beyond the direct employment being offered, every part of Pitstop Lagos is being used to facilitate the training and empowerment of the people in our community. There’s a deep coffee culture in cycling, so normally, whenever people go out for cycling, there’s always the fun part of making coffee stops and also to grab breakfast. I figured there was a gap in the market, which is specific for wellness enthusiasts and decided to grab it. We call ourselves the one-stop shop for all wellness enthusiasts, not just cyclists but runners, swimmers, golfers etc. We just wanted a place that can be identified as home for the fitness people.

When it comes to cycling, are there specific bicycles meant for lifestyle wellness?
I always tell people that approach me about making lifestyle changes through cycling to just get on any bike and ride it. For wellness enthusiasts, the first thing would be if they wanted to explore off road or road cycling. For the former, they use a category of bikes called mountain bikes, whilst for the later; we use road and hybrid bikes. There are a wide range of bicycles in each of these categories made from various materials such as aluminium, carbon, steel and titanium. In addition to the bicycles, you would require some accessories to ensure your safety, comfort and enjoyment of the riding experience. So, we ensure to adopt the best safety practices and we advise all riders to wear a helmet before hitting the road. I should, however, correct one misconception; cycling is a grassroots sport. Whilst you need specific equipment to engage in it, it is not an inherently expensive hubby; there is something for everyone.

What are the major health benefits of cycling?
Cycling is an endurance sport that provides innumerable health benefits and there are various studies to show that cycling leads to significant reduction in health care cost to society. It is beneficial in building our aerobic capacity and our muscular endurance. In essence, cycling is good for our lungs, our hearts, our immune system and musculoskeletal system.

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In addition, cycling has been shown to promote several hormones that are critical to our wellness, such as the feel good endorphins, dopamine etc. As we all know, cycling has been proven to be useful in both preventing and managing several conditions like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol etc. Cycling, both indoors and outdoors, is a useful activity for people undergoing rehab and physiotherapy whilst recovering from physical injuries. In terms of our general wellbeing, cycling is an effective exercise for maintaining our body weight and keeping our mental alertness.

As a woman, you had to deal with hormonal imbalance, is this common with females? At what point were you diagnosed and how did you handle it?
Hormonal imbalance is a condition that needs to be managed. It is mostly hereditary and the truth is, there are no magic drugs that can take it away. You have to make a complete lifestyle change. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder in 2014.  Medically, the cause of PCOS still isn’t well understood, but involves a combination of genetic and environmental factors. You just have to manage it by being physically active; watch your diet and make a conscious effort to eat clean.

What are the major side effects for women with hormonal imbalances?
Women react differently; there are several symptoms of hormonal imbalances especially PCOS. There is obesity; some people have major acne on their faces, menstrual irregularity, excess facial hair growth, anxiety, extreme mood swings, depression and infertility. We are all different and our bodies would react to these issues differently. There are women who suffer from PCOS and are fertile; they have kids; you hear stories of women who even get pregnant without knowing. So, it totally depends on the level of hormonal imbalance you are dealing with and how the individual body reacts to the condition.

What do you think younger women with the condition can do differently to manage it?
I am not a medical expert, so I would put a caveat on this. But my personal experience suggests to me that the best way to manage this health condition is to make better lifestyle choices. Hormonal Imbalances are mostly genetic, so if you make smart life choices, you can beat it or at least minimise the negative effects. My one advice to young girls and women generally is to engage in physical activities. Find something you enjoy doing and try to make it a lifestyle. Even if you’re going on a 30-minutes walk or more, be consistent about it. Count those steps, just move, don’t be sedentary and it will all come together.

The active cycling lifestyle you adopted was a breakthrough, take us through the therapy of cycling and the difference it can make for women with hormonal imbalances?
For me, it was cycling, for others it could be walking, running, swimming or just about any other sports that gets us moving. However, cycling is a non-weight bearing activity; there is a minimal impact on your joint. Cycling releases your happy hormones, it clears your head; it’s like a complete therapy. After I picked up cycling, there was a lot of improvement in my physical well being, even in the regularity of my menstrual cycle much to the amazement of my doctors.

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This was mentally liberating, knowing that I could do something about the condition and live a near normal life. Of course, there are added bonuses of those feel good hormones any time you workout. Cycling has worked for my mental state and has drastically reduced my PCOS symptoms.

What category of people patronises the cycling section of Pitstop Lagos?
We have a massive cycling group in Lagos and it is still growing. Different categories of people visit us at Pitstop Lagos… men, women, old, and young. In fact, about 40 per cent of the cyclists I know are in their 50s. At that age, people are still making efforts to invest in themselves by adopting an active lifestyle.

Interestingly, during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, we had quite a number of people pick up cycling. The pandemic actually opened a lot of people’s eyes to the importance of building their immune system, as it is one of the several ways to fight the virus. People got bicycles, accessories and did indoor cycling sessions in the comfort of their homes.

You also campaign for healthy food as a remedy for health challenges, what is your definition of healthy food in this part of the world and to what extent can food really make a difference?
I say to people that you are what you put in your body and if you treat your body right, it would deliver to you optimal wellness and performance. Nigeria foods are extremely nutritious and very organic. Some people believe that healthy food has to be boring and bland, this should not be the case. Greens are very important and there are ways that you can actually eat your greens and not feel miserable. Our meals are carefully selected, well prepared, well portioned and are loaded with all the nutrients that are beneficial to your health.

Nigerians love spice, but we must also understand that Lagos is a very cosmopolitan city and there is a melting point of culture, which includes food. So, our vision is to create a fusion using food grown and prepared locally to deliver the best to both our Nigerian and non-Nigerian customers.
 
There’s this presumption about food that when it’s tasty, it’s not healthy, and when it’s healthy, it’s not tasty. What’s your take?
We consider that unusual combination of healthy and yet tasty as our unique value proposition. Most of our customers, who have embraced the wellness lifestyle, are also food lovers, which is very important because food is a social thing. The fact that you’re living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy life. Having a healthy lifestyle should never mean a sentence to be miserable for the rest of our lives. The dining experience is very integral to our culture and we believe it should be sustained and enhanced and the only way to do this is to offer healthy but delicious options.

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Would you say there is a gap in the market of healthy food?
I believe there is massive movement towards healthy living, which has reflected in the food and beverage industry.

If anything, this pandemic is also speeding up the process. We are becoming more organic and adopting sustainable practices. What we are witnessing with the move towards healthy eating is not a fad. Amazingly, young people are also becoming more aware, especially because these days, you see people in their early twenties that are diabetic or hypertensive. It is indeed relieving to know that even the younger generations are rectifying these issues with efforts to live a healthier lifestyle by eating right and adopting an activity to keep them fit.

More so, this is going to improve the economy as people are now thinking outside the box and being extremely creative with our local ingredients. They are picking up the foodstuffs you ordinarily wouldn’t attach any importance to its health significance and making fantastic organic meals out of them.

Having switched from practicing law to entrepreneurship, are you returning to legal practice soon?
I was in private legal practice for about a decade and I believe that it really prepared me for what I’m doing now. Yes, there was a career switch for me and the idea is to have several careers in one lifetime. I was fortunate to have practiced in a firm that was very entrepreneurial, which fed my own interest in entrepreneurship. Everything that has happened led to me pursuing a career in the wellness space and not the legal space. I feel very lucky to have built a business around my passions and to have an incredible team of talented folks to work with.

I do not see myself returning to full time legal practice, but you know what they say, never say never. However, if you ask me right now, I would tell you that I am fully committed to what I am doing and I totally love it. The switch has never been about the money for me; it’s been all passion. I have met a lot of interesting people through cycling and also through my business. I am deeply involved in the grassroots, and these are things I would not trade for anything. For me it’s a major achievement.

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How much has COVID-19 affected your business? What has changed and how are you handling it?
Globally, restaurants have taken a massive hit during this pandemic; some restaurants have closed, a lot of job losses and supply chains completely disrupted. For us at Pitstop Lagos, the pandemic posed a near existential threat given the timelines we opened our doors for business and when the pandemic happened. We had to shut down in March 2020 and did not re-open until November 2020. However, the biggest challenge we set for ourselves was to keep the entire team during this difficult period without laying anyone off.

We also seized the national lockdown opportunity to make the changes we needed to become compliant with the COVID-19 protocols. Another challenge is operating at 50 per cent capacity after we opened in November. We had to adjust to accommodate lesser people and work really hard to keep our staff and customers safe from being exposed to the pandemic.

What’s your advice for women who have passion for a new career or business but afraid of taking the step?
Don’t over think it; plan and go for it. The only thing the market rewards is risk. Once you birth the idea, try to think it through, have a plan and really commit to it. You have to work hard, you have to be all in; there are no limits and our possibilities are infinite.

Actively seek mentors and try to tap into the experience of those who have tread the path you seek to walk. There would be setbacks and challenges, but as the old Japanese proverb says, ‘fall seven times, rise eight times.’ Finally, for small businesses, people matter; you need a team to succeed. Find good people, surround yourself with talents and grow with them.

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