OPINION: Covid fears spur investments in outdoor exercise facilities
By Jeremy Gitonga
A silver lining in the dark clouds of the Corona pandemic lockdown has been a marked rise in the number of people engaging in outdoor exercising.
There are manifestly more people jogging or walking in the morning and evenings in Nairobi’s estates than ever before. From the serene suburbs around Kiambu road to the rapidly congesting Kileleshwa and Lavington, hordes of city residents are hitting the road for leisure and fitness. Similar scenes are, to a smaller extent, replicated in other major towns.
The same craze has hit public opens spaces. In Nairobi, the Arboretum neighbouring State House and Karura Forest that is sandwiched between Kiambu and Limuru road are crowds’ favourites. To a lesser extent are Uhuru Gardens and the Ngong racecourse along Lang’ata and Ngong roads respectively. In these spots, you will find all manner of exercisers: from professional athletes to fresh air seekers running away from the lockdown fatigue.
Exercise is good for anyone. The body of evidence supporting the fact that any physical activity undertaken regularly is good for a healthier, happier you is overwhelming. Workouts improve blood circulation, help develop stronger bones and muscles and mitigate stress by reducing cortisol, the stress hormone. These advantages can help boost immunity to a horde of diseases and slow down the onset and the impact of many others.
Like other shared spaces, gyms have been hard hit by the Corona pandemic. In Kenya and many other countries, sports and fitness facilities have been among the amenities ordered closed by authorities to contain the spread of the virus. Even when the lockdown has been relaxed to allow for their reopening, regular enthusiasts would be wary of rushing back to the gym – for good reasons!
By their very nature, indoor gyms carry more than an average risk of spreading the Corona virus. They are essentially confined spaces shared by several people. The levels of physical engagement demand active inhaling and exhaling. There is an inevitable generous sharing of equipment by sweaty hands and bodies. Even with the most stringent of precautions, the spectre of courting the virus looms large.
In the fight against Corona, the same voices warning against congested places such as gyms also preach the importance of regular physical exercise. Health pundits pontificate on physical fitness correlation to higher chances of surviving the virus if infected. Exercise is also regarded as critical in managing obesity, diabetes and hypertension, the triumvirate of conditions that seem to exacerbate the potentially fatal devastation wrought by Corona.
So what is a one to do? A viable option for a fitness enthusiast lies with outdoor exercises. There are diverse platforms to undertake this. It can be that morning or evening walk on the side lines of public roads. It can be on purposed public recreational spaces such as the Arboretum or Karura forest as indicated above. Alternatively, it can be in custom-made privately-owned exercise trails that deliberately fuse leisure and health needs.
The latter is gaining traction with health-conscious homeowners and tenants. With working from home increasingly becoming a reality of future employment and occupations, a 360 degrees environment that caters for all work-and-live needs is graduating from luxury to essential. This includes facilities for outdoor exercises and nature trails.
Investors are already moving in to meet rising demands. A number of middle to high-end gated communities are purposely providing for this. Almasi Villas, Riverside Estate and Tatu City, all in Kiambu County are good examples of this trend.
Tatu City has arguably taken the game a notch higher by engaging World athletics champion Lornah Kiplagat in designing its trails and fitness. The long-distance ace is also its health and wellness ambassador. She has been invited to come up with fitness and wellbeing circuits snaking through 5,000 acres of undulating land of pristine coffee plantations and natural and manmade lakes and dams.
Tatu City offers its residents and visitors the options of hitting any of its various trails based on individual preferences. For instance, one can opt for the 3km-long Coffee Trail or the 7km distance dubbed Tatu Trail. Those sufficiently enthused can hit the 8km-long Kijani Ridge Trail or indulge in the whole gamut of the 15km-long Picnic Trail that traverses Unity Homes, Lifestyle Heights and its two international schools: Crawford International and Nova Pioneer. As an open city, Tatu City’s trails are open for all to enjoy, meaning you don’t have to live at Tatu City to exercise there.
Scientists are agreed that exercising outdoors renders more benefits than indoors. The benefits are attributed to the freshness of air meaning a better presence of oxygen whose intake fuels the body muscles. If you add the natural resistance from wind, air and irregular terrain with other nature elements, you will end up working out comparatively harder and longer. The net effect could be a fitter, healthier and happier being.
Outdoors are also known to generally lessen anxiety especially for those averse to sharing limited spaces with ‘strangers.’ Being out in the sun is also good for the intake of vitamin D that is essential in regulating calcium and phosphate that are essential for healthy bones, muscles and teeth.
Taking your fitness regime outside also comes with the benefits of less disruption. Depending on the setup, there are likely to be less person-to-person interactions common with gyms. The time otherwise spent on pleasantries and small talk can be expended in an actual walk or run. Even when accompanied, it’s unlikely you will stop just to talk or check that WhatsApp message.
Some trails are also designed in such a way that, short of making a U-turn, once began, they must be completed. This is deliberate. It is informed by behavioural studies that acknowledge the natural human beings’ inclination to shortcuts, minimalism and lethargy.
Being outdoors also tips the scales on visual gratification. Walking or running past trees and green vegetation is, of itself, immensely refreshing. It beats the aesthetics likely to be found in the confined walls of the best designed indoor gym. Whether undertaken as the first thing in the morning or as a sundowner indulgence, your will likely finish that workout feeling better with yourself than spending similar time scrambling for air with sweaty faces.
The author is the Managing Director, Maven Design & Build Ltd, a Kenyan-based construction consultancy