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Overseeing Kenya’s first health and fitness center

Source: Coastweek

educating Kenyans to the benefits of joining
a gym and exercising on a regular basis— at
least three times a week for 45 minutes

SPECIAL REPORT BY XINHUA CORRESPONDENT Ben Ochieng

NAIROBI (Xinhua) — Richard Davies is credited with opening the first health and fitness center in Kenya following his return to the country in 1981 after completing his studies abroad.

It was during the time that the whole of the Western world was becoming extremely health-conscious as people gradually became more aware of the stress of the day-to-day living as well as the problems caused by the increasing popularity of fast foods.

“More and more people began to realize that they had to pay a little more attention to their body in the form of diet and exercise if they wanted to continue to enjoy life. At the same time, I was under the impression that Kenya had somehow remained isolated from the problem and that Kenyans were continuing to enjoy a healthy lifestyle,” Davies told Xinhua on Tuesday at Nautilus , Kenya ’s oldest health and fitness club in Nairobi .

“However upon returning to Kenya to work, I discovered that not only was the concept of exercising to keep fit and healthy foreign to the average Kenyan, but there was also a total lack of facilities such as a gym or health club for Kenyans to use and thus keep in shape.”

Davies said this horrified him as he had come to realize the necessity of exercising on a regular basis, the sort of exercise that he points out did not mean simply going for a run on the road, but instead using properly designed heavy duty exercising equipment in a suitable environment and under supervision of qualified instructors.

“With all this in mind, the idea of opening up a health and fitness center in Nairobi was conceived and having made the decision with the backing of my family, I placed an order for 20 Nautilus Commercial Machines and Exercise bikes.”

A suitable workable area was constructed in the former showroom of the family motor business and in September 1982, the first health and fitness center in Kenya opened, and it was no longer a dream but a reality.

Davies said his next step was to educate Kenyans as to the benefits of joining a gym and exercising on a regular basis—at least three times a week for 45 minutes.

“The people who needed to exercise most of all were not necessarily the world famous Kenyan athletes who did have access to first class training facilities abroad and who were under the supervision of their coaches, but rather the average Kenyan businessman and woman who were hard working and who either could not afford or else did not have the time to join expensive sports clubs and play tennis and squash.”

Davies said it was these Kenyans who were already beginning to suffer from heart and various stress-related problems as they struggled to catch up with the Western way of life.

“It was these people who were beginning to be outlived by their parents who did not spend their time driving everywhere in the city of Nairobi but instead lived in the countryside where they did a lot of walking and manual labor, ate the correct foods and thus lived a healthier lifestyle.”

Eventually, through word of mouth publicity, complimentary trial memberships, lectures at universities and various corporations, the realization of the benefits of supervised workouts in a professional gym, and on a regular basis became apparent to more and more Kenyans and slowly but surely membership at Nautilus increased and not only did they join once but have continued to rejoin on a regular basis, some for more than 20 years.

More equipment was purchased and the gym moved to a larger premise with more facilities including an aerobics area.

This was followed by the realization that a fit and healthy staff meant increased productivity and so the idea of corporate membership became popular together with that of joint or family memberships as husbands and wives joined and worked out together.

Presently Nautilus caters for over 300 members, many of who work out between 5 a.m. local time and 9 a.m. before they face the rigors of the day.

With one machine going for about 5,000 U.S. dollars, the money that was pumped to acquire the 20 machines for the venture is quite enormous.

A variety of exercises are offered on a regular basis at the health and fitness center where since inception, Davies has been running the gym with a qualified team of eight instructors who provide assistance and supervision in training on the machines and also conduct the classes.

Kare Mune, who has been working out at Nautilus since 2002, says she has never regretted her decision to join the health and fitness center.

“When I enrolled, I was weighing 90 kg and have since trimmed the figure to 73 kg. I do not diet, no junk food; just normal eating and have kept off medicine thanks to my training regimen.”

She describes working out as a lifestyle and encourages fellow women to join the fitness culture, saying it makes one more alert, stronger, full of energy and reduces stress levels while making one to discover their own self.  

Khan Noel, who for the last four years has been taking his charges through the paces as an instructor said when a new member joins the center, they have to know the goal the new member is aiming at.

“There are those who come to lose weight, others to gain weight and others for muscle toning, therefore it is imperative to know their purpose.”

He said a trained instructor should make a member do the right procedures to avoid injury while at the same time advises exercise adherents to take energy-giving foods and plant proteins and consume foodstuffs with high fiber like bananas, bread and oatmeal before a workout.

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