The importance of a structured approach in developing the fitness industry in Tanzania
By Israel Saria.
In the last ten years the gym industry has grown enormously in the West as a fashionable way of developing fitness levels. In countries like Tanzania this is also starting to happen with new gyms opening up, particularly in Dar es Salaam . Where the industry is newer, as in Tanzania, it is very important that the government works to ensure there are minimum standards in terms of how gyms operate, that gym instructors have qualifications that have been tested and awarded by a professional body, and that there is a licensing system. It is also important that people using gyms adopt a sensible approach to fitness and ensure they do not exercise in a way that could be negative to their health rather than positive.
There are many dangers and risks associated with the absence of such standards. Instructors may have very different levels of skill and expertise, equipment may not be used properly, people may be encouraged to start fitness programmes that may not necessarily be suitable for them leading to medical problems or injuries. Bad examples of gyms may bring down the name of the more professional ones through people having bad experiences. When joining a gym, people need to be confident that the instructor has been trained and can advise on what is an appropriate fitness programme for the person, given their age, medical background and level of fitness and that an appropriate fitness programme is developed. Problems arising in this area could lead to compensation claims down the line as the industry becomes more developed. The gym instructor needs to be trained in ensuring that previous medical conditions are declared by the new user, that the user is advised to get doctor’s advice in the case of possible risks (e.g. previous heart conditions, back injuries etc) and that this is written down and agreed when the person registers as a gym member. Instructors need to be trained in basic health assessment, e.g. heart rate, blood pressure and Body Mass Index.
It is also important that those wanting to get fit themselves act sensibly. As the popularity of gyms grow – and the fitness industry in general – so too does the competition between people to reach extreme levels of fitness (kujaza misuli kama Fulani), sometimes at considerable cost to their health. There are various examples of negative effects of over exercise, some of which were set in the Evening Standard of 3 December 2002:
“Weight-bearing exercise is linked to increased bone strength, but do too much and it can have the opposite effect – intensive aerobic training has been linked to a fall in bone density in women, as a result of low oestrogen levels. This is a particular problem for child gymnasts and ballet dancers, where intensive training and low body fat in childhood delay the onset of periods, or in athletes who train to the extent that their periods stop. At milder levels the reduction in oestrogen is generally beneficial – leading to less PMS, and lower breast cancer risk.
We know that running can help prevent arthritis, but there’s a limit. A British Medical Journal Study of 2,049 Finnish athletes found that endurance and sports athletes had a higher incidence of osteoarthritis, as a result of increased wear and tear on their joints. The BMJ’s advice? Prevent premature osteoarthritis by treating injuries.
Sports scientists have found “overtraining syndrome” is a problem not just in Olympic athletes, but in domestic sports people – in the US , it is said that 10 per cent of college swimmers “burn out” every year.
“Overtraining syndrome” is a form of chronic fatigue, and is linked to intensive work and inadequate rest periods (sprinters are less likely to suffer from it because they train with large amounts of rest). Symptoms include depression, loss of appetite, increased anxiety and irritability, fatigue; sleep problems (in more than 90 per cent of cases) and frequent minor infections.
Overtraining raises cortisol levels and suppresses the immune system.
The advice to anyone suffering from the above symptoms is to take a break: the only known cure is rest, but athletes who fail to do that generally find they take six to 12 weeks to recover from chronic fatigue.
Regular running can cut your risk of heart disease by 50 per cent, but do too much, too soon and it can be deadly. An American study found that heart attacks and strokes triggered by tough workouts have trebled since 1980.
The key is to increase cardio vascular demands gradually – blood pressure can more than double in intense exercise, so you need to allow your body time to adapt to these changes”.
The Tanzania Ministry of Health should aim to bring some coordination to the gym industry and link up with professional bodies setting standards in the fitness industry so that there can be effective regulation and proper appropriate use for all concerned.