Are you fit enough to outrun a hippo?
Modern living has made a growing number of us Africans overweight, slow and, frankly speaking, lazy… and in these days of liberalized sports betting I wouldn’t put my money on the average city slicker in Lagos or Nairobi outrunning a hippo, any better than the man in this picture.
If you didn’t know, hippos kill more people every year than any other animal – lions included! Probably not where you live; but they do, in some parts of the world… in boat “accidents”, by running them down, etc.
As Africans in 2017 and beyond we have many more monsters to run from than the ungainly hippo in fact – and all of them serious killers! Take your pick – high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, cervical cancer, obesity… And so, we have now run out of reasons why we shouldn’t work out and work hard to stay fit and healthy!
At the end of the article I will be giving you 5 compelling reasons why any African, rich and poor, should be doubly concerned with staying fit and healthy… and why you should die at a ripe old age.
But first, how come Africans, who can least afford it, are developing all these “modern” diseases?
One reason is that we are eating more and exercising less and less.
Some months back I decided to participate in a research study funded by the Welcome Trust (UK) and I discovered that I’m pre-diabetic and that my blood pressure is abnormally high.
It is now estimated that by 2020 46% of Africans will suffer from high blood pressure. The causes are easy enough to see. We have abandoned our much healthier traditional diets and cooking for fast food and Western-style cuisine; more and more Africans are leading sedentary lifestyles; we are consuming more animal products and meat (eating like lions), as well as too much refined sugars, alcohol and cigarettes… and then you have the genetic factors…
And the solutions?
That’s tough! Actually the situation is bleak. Given that the health systems in most African countries are broken, and set to get overstretched in the face of projected population overgrowth, prevention is going to be critically important.
Prevention; as in regular exercise, diet/lifestyle revision, and lots of education…
In this article I want to concentrate on exercise and fitness. Specifically why you want to stay fit… and die very oldJ
We all know that exercise makes you fit, but fit for what?
If the question was “Money makes you rich; but rich for what?” most of us would have a list of hundreds of benefits/rewards in just minutes. In fact when it comes to making money a benefit or reward is always the driver or motivator for waking up every day and getting to work…
You have to make money to put food on the table. And to save for a nice car, or a nice home… Or a holiday…Or an education…
With exercise and fitness unfortunately most people fail to set goals… or to see any. If you are exercising to participate in an upcoming marathon, that’s a goal, and you would “train.” Professional athletes in fact train once or twice a day even when they aren’t exactly preparing for a competition. It’s like putting money in the bank…
The rest of us who are not athletes, exercise, and getting fit, is something we can put off altogether… because there is no goal or reward attached.
But the truth is that the human body wasn’t made to sit still for long. We were not designed to become couch potatoes… to watch TV for hours on end… or to sit and work at a desk from 9 to 5.
Human beings evolved over thousands of years in an environment that required us to move constantly… to find shelter, to look for food, and to keep ourselves and our families safe from predators.
It’s only in the last one hundred years or so that we’ve eased into livelihoods and lifestyles that allow us to be sedentary. And it can be argued that our bodies probably can never evolve to adapt to this new environment.
Besides, as science keeps proving, activity has a very real effect on our brains and well-being… on stress and our energy levels. Exercise releases a number of hormones that make us “feel good”. I guess in the old days when we were “hunter-gatherers” that this was nature’s way of keeping us motivated “to not quit the chase.”
And this may be why, when it comes to energy, our bodies, if they don’t use it, they lose it. You have to constantly use and then replace your energy… through activity, followed by rest and good nutrition.
If you don’t, you will start noticing that your energy levels gradually drain away. Otherwise couch potatoes would be the most energetic people around!
But in real life we find that if we do not constantly use our energy we instead feel tired and lethargic. A point comes when the slightest amount of effort is just too much for flabby muscles to sustain (the point when, jokes aside, it could be realistically said of someone that s/he can’t lift a finger!)
And if, in addition, we are under stress… at work, or stressed by a difficult relationship, unemployment or job loss, delayed salaries, poverty, etc… then the energy loss and the stress affect us even more intensely.
Fit for what? Of course we all have different lifestyles, and so, different people require different optimal fitness levels. There are those who want to be fit enough to enjoy the excitement and sense of accomplishment that comes with taking part in, and finishing, a marathon.
These days marathons are popular for all sorts of causes… raising money for a cancer ward… or to buy equipment for the disabled… or funds for something or other. If I felt I could run 10 kilometers and come back in one piece, I would, and should, join and support these good harambee-style projects…
But you don’t have to be fit for a marathon. For most of us it should be enough if you are fit enough that you can go for a 2-mile walk, alone or with friends, without getting puffed.
Here are 5 compelling reasons why any African should be very much concerned with staying fit and healthy in 2017 and beyond:
- The great majority of Africans can’t afford health insurance… and maybe you are one of them (I certainly am). Who do you think will pay the bill if you came down with a stroke for example, or a heart attack? Spare your children… or your parents!
- If you are like me, you can’t count on your government taking good care of your kids if you should die young, or get incapacitated. In civilized countries children belong to the government… and their upbringing and nurturing is guaranteed if their parents died. Where I live, I wouldn’t trust the government with the cat’s food…
- Your so-called “thrifty genes” are working against you 24/7… which explains why so many Africans can very easily put on excess weight when the going, and the eating, gets good! We were designed to run like cheetahs!J
- A healthy mind lives in a healthy body. Africa faces the toughest economic, political, and social challenges and it’s going to be “all hands on board” from now until old age if we hope to succeed and leave our children a better world than the one we currently live in (where our youths are, quite literally, “dying” to get to Europe in search of better opportunities). You don’t want to go “missing in action”… or to miss the action! We can’t afford to quit the chase…
- Where our African economies are headed we are going to depend more and more on Harambee-style projects. Kenyans perfected these community crowd-funding distress-response drives. At this rate it looks like we are going to have to crowd-fund for anything from sanitary napkins for our schoolgirls, to surgery in India, and cancer machines for our referral hospitals (remember those marathons?) We are going to have to run…
Now you know why you need to live to be 100 years! The stakes are high… and getting higher for us educated Africans. If you do nothing else, share this article…
This being our flagship piece of content at LifestyleAfrica.org, maybe it’s in order to embed our value statement here.