’Exercise is one of the antidotes for any kind of sickness,’ fitness expert says
Mr. Okechukwu Akas, the proprietor of Genesis Fitness, Lekki, Lagos, is a certified trainer and physiotherapist by profession. In this interview with Juliet Umeh, NHO correspondent, he sheds some light on the benefits of exercise, the attitude of Nigerians’ towards it and why he ventured into the business. Excerpts:
Why did you choose fitness as a career?
I didn’t choose the career rather, the career chose me. Formally, I was a project manager but at the same time I was using fitness as a hobby. I never thought that I was going to go fully into this. It was one of those things that a friend looked at me and said why don’t you make career out of this and that’s how it all started.
How long have you been conducting fitness exercise?
I have been doing this for about 30 years.
How many times in a week is one expected to do fitness exercise?
The average training or fitness exercise should be between three to four days in a week to have effect on your physiology.
What are the common initial complains of those you are training?
We have what I look at as two categories of clients or people who come to the gym. The first category are those people who want to fit into clothes or who want to lose weight or something like that. These are the people who are prompted by maybe they have a function or festive that they want to get into. They will just hurry to come in to lose what I call “water weight.”
The second category are the people who are mandated by circumstances, may be the doctor says they have a life threatening condition and they need to shed some weight. Also these are the ones I believe have longevity because they are forced to change their life style and stuff like that. Also, there is another category that needs life style change. For some reason or the other they feel that they need to make a life style change. Those are the few categories that I have encountered in this profession.
Can you say there are positive changes in following the training?
I will say about 70% see the positive change. Again for many people, your body is going to change once you begin to involve yourself in some kind of training, you will see the body change.
Can you specifically outline the changes?
The first change that you see when one begins to get involved in physical activities for people who have low stamina, endurance level increases, that is the first thing you see. The second thing that you see is maybe there’s a change in the physiology, may be the shape or something like that. Those are the things that they probably see. The third thing that they see is, these are the ones that need life style change, you see the entire body structure conform and change to different level.
What were some of them weighing before and now?
Ideally about a kg for a week is what is visible or recommended because you don’t want to have somebody engage in abrupt drop of weight because if you are weighing about 150 pounds or 70kg or thereabout if the change occurs rapidly it’s hard for the person’s body to adjust to it. From my perspective, I believe that two pounds a week is what is required and most of them really achieve that within one month, they will see the change in the body even if it is not weight dropping, they will see an effect in the exercise.
For most of them what can they do now which they couldn’t do before?
To be honest with you most people who engage in exercise are people that have insomnia. Most of the insomnia problem that they have before is reduced or even some of them are solved. Or some that their energy level is high and makes them to feel good with chemicals in the body. Those that have blood pressure issue can manage it effectively with exercise. To me exercise is one of the antidotes for any kind of sickness.
Can regular exercise reduce visits to the hospital?
Cases have proven that. As a matter of fact some of the chronic issues that we have from your cold to whatever, exercise is known to reduce or even eliminate. As a matter of fact, medicines are not permanent solutions to any illness. They are only temporary they are actually supposed to jump start you. In the western world, I worked with a lot of doctors there, many of them, assuming that you come to them for a back pain or something like that or a high blood pressure patient, they will tell you to go for an exercise because they will give you the medication and many of them that are genuine will tell you that medication is something that will hold you until you do the right thing and that right thing is life style change which include that you exercise and eat right.
So you are actually saying that it can help someone to drop drugs for those who were on drugs for one condition or the other?
Exercise has been known to reduce or stop people from taking regular medications.
What are the health/physical/emotional advantages of keeping fit?
Keeping fit makes you feel good firstly. Some of my clients, their physic look good, people comment on it, everybody likes something or person that looks good. When you look good it boosts your credibility and at the same time, it raises your self esteem. So emotionally, yes you feel good and you are happy that you wake up and you engage in an exercise because you see people commend you. So emotionally, yes you are balanced; it raises your self esteem.
Are there other advantages?
Health wise, exercise have been known to reduce your chronic illness like cold, because it elevates your immune system, it strengthens your immune system so that whenever you have illness at least the life span of the illness will be shortened. I can only tell you that since I migrated back to this country, many times when you have severe cold most people will spend about one weeks but I tell you one thing, may be about a day or two I’m up. That is when I get the most severe ones which I rarely I do. So if you engage in exercise, you watch the rate or frequency of your illness will be shortened or even eliminated at some cases.
Are there health conditions which can make a person not to be fit for exercise or rather, who is not fit to do exercise?
Yes, first and foremost I always tell people to liaise with their doctor; your doctor will tell you the level that you can engage in. That’s why it is important that you find a fitness trainer that understands the dynamics of your health. In our facilities, we ask people to fill out forms, through that form we will be able to find what and what we can do and cannot do. With the form we will be able to capture whether the person has health issue and we get back to the doctor and that will allow us to see whether the person is going to be involved in low level, mid level or high level exercise. It is very important that your trainer know. In the western world, most people that are in the hospitals or old are allowed to get into some form of exercise. It might not be your typical exercise but it is exercise that they do to help them live long.
How can you describe Nigerians attitude towards fitness training?
Well one thing I can say is that we’ve come a long way because I remember when I started about four five years ago in this country, you rarely see people who are into physical exercise. I remember what led me into this was that I came home and my brother in-law who happens to be a diabetic patient died from kidney problem. The rate at which we have people having diabetes in this country is alarming and it is because of their lifestyle. So because of that, I decided that I must make a change and people frowned at me that I came in to engage in this and not something else.
Nigerians’ attitude to fitness training is changing and I think it has a lot to do with doctors who advice people that it’s not only you coming to us; you need do something for yourself as well. In the west, if you come in, they won’t give you any medication until you run the test. Yes, Nigerian society is growing, fitness awareness is growing. You see people in open park, Lekki Bridge, Ikeja, stadium, people are getting involved.
But we are still not there because the small gain we made in fitness I think has been eroded by the advent of process food in this country. We are embracing the process food when the west is actually moving from process food to organic.
Compare the patronage between week days and weekend.
We have more people on weekends but we tend to have more people in the evening too because these are the people that are back from work so they need to get may be an hour or two in their training. At weekends, we tend to have people who don’t have the time during the week days but they decide that ‘if nothing, let me do two days which is Saturdays and Sundays or holidays.’ We get more people in the weekends.
How lucrative is this business?
The issue with fitness industry is this, it’s capital intensive because of the investment that is made into it. An average equipment costs a lot of money. In most of our gym there is a top up line. Here at Sangotode Jonaith gym, we have the best of the equipment which is life fitness. An average life fitness equipment which is club series or treadmill is more than N22 million for one. So it’s not easy to get into fitness business. The cost of starting it is high. The future is bright when it comes to fitness in this country because an average person understands the benefits of being active, so there is hope.