More Africans hit the gym

Becoming more and more aware of the health risks they are facing, Africans have started to change their lifestyles.


With the increase in sedentary lifestyles and carb-heavy diets, Africans are getting concerned about their health and in particular the dangers of obesity. Africa has one of the fastest-growing obesity rates in the world, largely due to a growing urbanised population that works in offices, drives cars and eats Western-style food. The number of diabetes patients in Africa is expected to rise from 12.1 million to 24 million by 2030. The African Development Bank predicts that chronic conditions such as hypertension, obesity and cancer will account for nearly half of the deaths on the continent within a decade. 
This led to a significant increase in the number of Africans attending gyms. “In the lower-income brackets or people living in rural areas who are constantly walking or working in the fields, their diet hasn’t really changed in modern times,” says Phillipa Pepera, owner of Pippa’s Health Centre in Accra. However, in the cities and amongst the middle classes, health imperatives are forcing people to change their ways.
When Pippa’s Health Centre opened in 1997, there was nothing like it in Accra. “When I first started, all my clients were expats. Then we started to see repats, and now I would say it’s about a 50/50 split between Ghanaians and foreigners,” she explains. 
Mike Lafarge, who owns a women-only gym in Dakar, says that attitudes have changed. “The Senegalese idea of the good life used to be eating well, sleeping well and not over-exerting oneself. But they were suffering. Now people are turning to exercise for a healthy heart or to deal with specific medical conditions.”
Jared Okachi, manager of the upscale The Arena gym in Nairobi, explains that people see the gym as a practical way to get fit: “They can wake up early, get a work-out in and then get on with their daily duties.” Awareness of the benefits of exercise is not confined to wealthy Kenyans, he says.
Gyms have made a concerted effort to market to a broader customer base. In a quest to bring in lower-middle-class customers, South African chains like Virgin Active and Planet Fitness have launched no-frills branches where memberships are 75% less expensive. For those who cannot afford the sometimes steep membership rates there are other options, from free aerobics classes on the beaches of Dakar to makeshift “pop up” gyms across Accra.


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