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WHO: World’s fittest country with 94 percent physically active people

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By BBC – Uganda is the most physically active nation in the world, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization.

The World Health Organization report on physical activity, which categorized Uganda as one of the most active countries in the world, probably had people like them in mind.

About a quarter of the world’s population don’t get enough exercise: Photo / Courtesy
Changing lifestyles
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The study, tracking the level of physical activity around the world, found that only 5.5 percent of Ugandans had an insufficient level of activity.

Mozambique, Tanzania, Lesotho and Togo too are also doing quite well.

In comparison, people in Kuwait, American Samoa, Saudi Arabia and Iraq seem to be living highly sedentary lives. About a quarter of the world’s population don’t get enough exercise. Most inactive nation is Kuwait – 67 percent of adults are not active at all.

The research findings note that, generally, people in low-income countries seem to integrate a sufficient amount of physical activity in their lifestyles, unlike those in wealthier countries.

Poor and walking

The poorer people are, the more likely they are to use modes of transport, or be in an occupation, that involve physical work.

However, the study, an analysis of self-reported national data, doesn’t explain why Ugandans are more active than other countries with a similar level of income.

Even in low-income countries, more people are getting into formal employment, spending long hours at the office, buying cars and eating more fast food, meaning Uganda might become less healthy as they become wealthier.

An estimated 70 percent of the population work in agriculture, the study findings ring very true and a hoe is the ultimately weight management machine.

Kampala is not a fitness-friendly city. There are hardly any green parks, most roads have no pavements, and many cars emit the same amount of fumes as a grass hut on fire.

Walking or jogging demands some bravery. If you are lucky to find a walkway, you have to watch out for open manholes, and boda bodas (motorcycle taxis), which will push you off the pavement and top it off with insults.

Motorists will not be shy to drive you into the storm-drain, in which you have to jump over plastic bags that look very suspiciously like “flying toilets”.

Still, over the last couple of years, joggers, mostly the urban elite, have increasingly appeared on the streets

Uganda’s first cycle lane

On 7 July, President Yoweri Museveni launched the National Day of Physical Activity, which will be marked annually. But it will take more than a presidential gesture to keep Uganda active.

The country may be celebrating the WHO study, but Uganda is rapidly urbanising.

In the next couple of decades, there are likely to be fewer 67-year-olds still fit to till the land, and more people behind the wheel in traffic snarl-ups.

Roy William Mayega of the Makerere School of Public Health did a study in the peri-urban areas of Iganga district, east of the capital, in 2013. He found that Ugandan lifestyles are changing.

“We found that 85 percent of the participants were physically active. We assessed blood sugar and weight as well. The 15 percent who were not sufficiently active were twice as likely to have diabetes and high blood pressure as those who were active,” he says.

For now though, most Ugandans are keeping fit without fancy gadgets to count their daily steps and monitor their calorie count. But the country will need a national consciousness and the right infrastructure, to retain its top-shape position.

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