- Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, respiratory disease, and diabetes, are the leading cause of death globally and are emerging global health threats.
- However, regular exercise can improve cardiovascular health, muscular strength, and flexibility while reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
- From fitness apps and wearables to online fitness resources and communities, technology is making workouts more accessible, engaging, and effective than ever.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, respiratory disease, and diabetes, are the leading cause of death globally and are emerging global health threats.
In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted that Africa would see the highest increase in death rates from non-communicable diseases over the following ten years.
According to a 2022 WHO fact sheet, 17 million people die from an NCD before they turn 70 annually. These premature deaths account for 86% of the deaths in low- and middle-income nations and 77% of all NCD-related deaths occur there.
Sadly, by 2030, non-communicable diseases will reportedly be the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, surpassing communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional (CMNN) diseases.
Why is there a rise in NCDs in Africa?
Several factors, including an ageing population, inadequate healthcare infrastructure, and restricted access to early detection, prevention, and treatment, have contributed to the rise in NCDs on the continent.
Besides, poverty and inequality in Africa frequently result in a lack of access to healthy food choices, risk-free exercise environments, and quality healthcare services, making NCD prevention and management more challenging.
Rapid urbanisation in Africa has caused lifestyle and dietary shifts, with more people consuming highly processed foods high in salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Technology advancements have also led to a rise in sedentary lifestyles and a consequent decline in physical activity levels.
However, regular exercise can improve cardiovascular health, muscular strength, and flexibility while reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
But before we dig further, we must understand the difference between physical activity and exercise.
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What’s the distinction between physical activity and exercise?
According to the WHO, physical activity includes all skeletal muscle-driven movements that require spending energy, including those performed while working, playing, performing household chores, travelling, and participating in recreational activities.
This explains why a sedentary lifestyle decreases physical activity, raising your risk of developing an NCD. On a weekday, for instance, I typically spend eight hours at my computer screen and only rise from my bed or desk to eat or take toilet breaks.
Because I spend at least six hours daily sitting or lying down without engaging in much physical activity, I lead a sedentary lifestyle.
How long do you typically spend working in your office if you don't work from home? Sitting in a car or bus doesn’t count as physical activity. Unless you walk or ride a bicycle to your workplace, you need to do more physical activity.
Weekly, WHO recommends that adults between 18 and 64 years engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both.
Adults should engage in 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, or the equivalent, for additional health benefits. They can also dedicate two or more days a week to performing exercises that target muscle groups.
Consequently, whether you work from home or have a 9–5 schedule, it would help if you incorporated physical activities into your workday.
"Physical activity" and "exercise" should not be used interchangeably because exercise or a workout typically refers to a structured, planned, and repetitive form of physical activity with a predetermined objective, such as increasing muscular strength, enhancing cardiovascular fitness, or losing weight.
Why is exercise important?
Studies have shown that regular exercise lengthens life.
A Harvard University study revealed that people who engaged in the minimum recommended amount of physical activity reduced their risk of early death by as much as 21%. Per a different study, regular exercise can extend a person's life by three to five years.
Regular workouts can strengthen the cardiovascular system, increase bone and muscle mass, increase flexibility, and lower the risk of developing chronic diseases.
Running or cycling, for instance, can help strengthen the heart and lungs, lowering the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions. Exercises that increase bone and muscle mass, such as weightlifting or resistance band work, can reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Have you ever worked out and felt so relaxed and stress-free? I have, and workouts have proven to improve mental health by reducing stress, depression, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. They also help to elevate your mood and enhance cognitive function.
For instance, incorporating yoga or mindfulness meditation into a workout routine can help lower stress and anxiety.
Regular exercise can lower your risk of obesity by helping you burn calories and increase your muscle mass.
Aerobic exercises like jogging or swimming can help you burn calories while helping to build muscle mass, which burns more calories even when you're at rest.
Because they get better and longer sleep, people who exercise regularly feel more rested and energised.
For instance, light exercises, such as yoga or strolling, can improve your sleep, whereas vigorous ones, including weightlifting or sprinting, can lengthen it.
Despite these benefits, many people fail to exercise because their schedules are too busy with obligations to their families, jobs, and other activities.
While some people may not have the means to exercise, others don’t have access to sports facilities, gyms, or other resources that can support the activity. Also, some may struggle to stay motivated, especially if they don't enjoy it or see immediate results.
Others may not know how to exercise well or comprehend the advantages of exercise. Chronic pain and mobility issues are two of these conditions that can make exercising difficult or uncomfortable.
Besides, others may experience anxiety or self-consciousness when exercising in front of others or in public, which can keep them from beginning or maintaining a routine.
Interestingly, technology is helping by addressing the obstacles to exercise and promoting healthy living.
And now, there is no reason not to exercise
In recent years, technology has fundamentally changed many facets of our lives, including how we approach physical activity and fitness.
Additionally, there has been a rise in interest in exercise regimens and fitness in Africa as more people become aware of the advantages of regular exercise for their physical and mental health.
At the same time, technology has advanced quickly, significantly impacting Africa's fitness space. It has been playing a pivotal role in revolutionising the way people exercise and stay fit. But how?
- Personalised workout plans
Individuals can access personalised workout plans crafted to meet their unique needs and goals.
Fitness apps and wearables can track several health metrics, such as heart rate, sleep patterns, and steps taken, and use that data to create personalised workout plans.
Some smartphones, including Samsung, do this. You don't need to download any additional apps. Simply visit "Samsung Health" to begin monitoring your health metrics. Also, Apple Fitness+ is available in the Fitness app if you have an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV.
Fitness tracking devices such as fitness bands and smartwatches are becoming more widely available in Africa. Apple Watch is one such example. You can also download other apps, such as Google Fit if your smartphone does not already have them.
You can use this to stay motivated, track your fitness levels, and plan effective workouts.
You can have workouts tailored to your needs via these plans based on several variables, including fitness level, age, and health. A personalised fitness approach can help you achieve better results and ensure safe and effective workouts.
- Online classes and information
The COVID-19 pandemic, which temporarily forced the closure of many gyms and fitness facilities, was a factor in expanding online fitness classes and resources on the continent.
Africa now has access to virtual fitness classes taught by instructors around the globe due to online platforms and video conferencing apps.
Because more people can now participate in fitness classes outside their immediate surroundings, more people have access to fitness information, eliminating the need for a fitness coach, which may be costly.
Africans can access workout routines, exercise videos, and fitness advice via several fitness apps, websites, and social media platforms, allowing them to learn about nutrition, different exercise techniques, and general health and wellness.
Because of smartphone penetration and Internet connectivity on the continent, this information empowers them to make informed decisions about their fitness goals and strategies.
Consequently, you don't have to go to a gym to exercise. YouTube has a wealth of information, including exercise videos for every type of exercise. You can do this before you leave for work or after you get back. You should be motivated by your health metrics.
Additionally, you can look up resources by searching for keywords like "exercise," "aerobics," and "workout" on any social media platform.
- Online communities
Technology has also contributed to the growth of online fitness communities in Africa.
Fitness enthusiasts can now connect, share tips, and support one another in their fitness journeys on social media platforms, online communities, and forums dedicated to fitness.
These online communities provide a sense of motivation, encouragement, and accountability, which can be crucial in maintaining a consistent workout routine. Online fitness communities also promote a sense of belonging and community by fostering a positive atmosphere where people can support one another, share successes, and work through obstacles.
- Home workout equipment
Technology has made it simpler for many to set up their home gyms through affordable and compact workout equipment.
There are now many options available for people to exercise in the comfort of their homes, ranging from resistance bands to portable exercise machines. It helps those without gyms or fitness centres where they live.
There is a growing selection of fitness equipment designed specifically for Africans' needs and budgets, ranging from reasonably priced home gym setups to locally made fitness gear.
Depending on your exercise type, your home gym can include a yoga or exercise mat, resistance bands in different weight ranges, a stability ball, a step bench or a box, an ab wheel, gliding discs, or a jump rope.
If you’re conscious and don’t know how to get started, you can watch online resources while using your workout equipment.
How to plan a workout schedule
Planning a workout schedule that you can stick to can be difficult, but with the right strategy, it is possible. Here are some tips.
- Assess your fitness level
Identifying your current fitness level is a crucial first step in creating a workout schedule to meet your needs and goals. You can determine your level of fitness in the following ways:
Monitoring your heart rate while you exercise is one way to evaluate your cardiovascular endurance. Wearing a heart rate monitor or using a fitness tracker will allow you to determine your heart rate.
You can also run for 12 minutes as part of a 12-minute run test to gauge your cardiovascular endurance.
You can gauge your level of muscular strength by doing exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, or squats and counting how many repetitions you can perform. To test your muscular endurance, perform workouts, such as planks, wall sits, or lunges, and time how long you can hold the positions.
To measure flexibility, sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you and extend your reach forward to perform a sit-and-reach test.
Use tools like skinfold callipers to calculate your body fat percentage to determine your body composition. You can also gauge your general health and risk of chronic diseases using measurements like waist circumference or body mass index (BMI).
You can practice exercises like standing on one leg while closing your eyes or walking heel to toe in a straight line to test your balance and coordination.
- Set realistic goals
Setting attainable goals comes after assessing your current fitness level. Your objectives should be challenging but doable in a reasonable amount of time.
- Create a balanced routine and start slowly
It's crucial to choose exercises that work with your strategy, so plan your workouts and integrate them into your daily or weekly schedule. Choose a time that is convenient for you.
It's crucial to begin slowly and build up to a higher level of intensity over time. It will make it easier to stay on your workout schedule and prevent injuries.
- Mix up your workouts and track your progress
It's crucial to vary your workouts to prevent boredom and plateauing. Try new exercises, increase the intensity, or incorporate new activities.
You can monitor your progress by keeping a record of your workouts and monitoring your fitness level. Doing so should keep your motivation high.