Discovering the pleasure of keeping fit outdoors and avoiding being cramped up in a sweaty room that dents your bank balance is about to become a new reality for residents of Gaborone and ,eventually , the rest of the nation.
This is if the Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture (MYSC) Thapelo Olopeng’s words are anything to go by. The minister officially opened the popular Gaborone Block 7 Fitness Park this past Thursday, February 20. Olopeng said the decision was reached following reports of high demand for access to the facility – the first of its kind in Botswana.
“Based on the success of this project, we have made a decision to rollout similar facilities to other parts of Gaborone and the country at large. This will be achieved through partnership with our stakeholders and the proponents of the initiative,” the minister said.
Studies have shown a significant number of Batswana get less than the minimum recommended amount of physical activity many of whom do not undertake any form of leisure time physical activity.
This, experts have said, has contributed immensely to the growth of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
“We are all aware that non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, obesity and cardiac complications are increasingly becoming the leading cause of mortality in our country,” Olopeng said. “Therefore, we need to promote physical training and fitness to improve our health.”
A study found that 5, 3 million of the 57 million deaths recorded worldwide in 2008 could be attributed to physical inactivity. The study found that if physical inactivity could be reduced by just 10 percent it could avert some 533,000 deaths a year; if reduced by 25 percent 1.3 million deaths could be prevented.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 23 percent of adults aged 18 and over globally were not active enough in 2010 (men 20% and women 27%). In high-income countries, WHO says, 26% of men and 35% of women were insufficiently physically active, as compared to 12% of men and 24% of women in low-income countries.
Speaking at the launch in Block 7 Olopeng said engaging in physical activity by the youth could also help reduce juvenile delinquency. “Physical training and fitness activities can also serve as a means to direct the abundant energies of our young people into socially acceptable activities,” the minister said, adding, “This will help reduce incidences of alcohol and drug abuse.”
He said the Constituency Sport Tournaments under his ministry are part of the ministry’s initiative to promote physical fitness. “When Leatile Sithole came knocking at our door for support, we had no doubt that the project had a lot of potential. We supported it because of its value and contribution to maintaining active and healthy lifestyles among the citizens of Botswana,” Olopeng said.
Sithole, popularly known for his motivational speaking, is the brains behind the Block 7 Fitness Park. He said the whole project (from inception to construction) took two years to complete. “It took some real convincing before the sponsors could agree to come on board and support the project,” he told the gathering, most of who were regulars at the park.
Sithole described the high levels of obesity among Batswana as a tragedy. “The park will go a long way in helping those who cannot afford gym fees,” he said. He said there are more than two hundred regular users of the outdoor park, situated in Block 7 along the Western Bypass.
Aptly, Symphony Health is part of the sponsors for the fitness park. “We might be the new kids on the block but we realised the importance of playing a role in this initiative,” the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rose Tatedi said. She said physical health also promotes productivity in the workplace. “If people took physical activity more seriously we (Symphony Health) wouldn’t be paying out so much for medical expenses,” the CEO quipped.
According to WHO, physical activity levels often correspond with the gross national product.
“The drop in physical activity is partly due to inaction during leisure time and sedentary behaviour on the job and at home,” the report says.
In 2013, the World Health Assembly agreed on a set of global voluntary targets which include a 25% reduction of premature mortality from Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and a 10% decrease in insufficient physical activity by 2025. The ‘Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases 2013-2020′ guides Member States, WHO and other UN Agencies on how to effectively achieve these targets. A sector specific toolkit is under development by WHO to assist Member States implement actions and achieve the targets.
Locally, Olopeng said his ministry will be announcing details of a National Fitness Program in due course. “The program is intended to accelerate mass participation in physical fitness activity,” he said. The Block 7 project is sponsored by the Gaborone City Council, National Development Bank (NDB), MYSC, and Symphony Health.
No costly membership, open 24/7, outdoors, accessible to anyone and with varieties of exercise equipment built to withstand even the most rigorous weather conditions, the Block 7 Fitness Park is definitely what the doctor ordered.