The Challenge of Exercising in Nairobi

Nairobi is not the easiest place to keep fit. There are lots of gyms popping up but there are very few places you can get out in the fresh air. We have Karura Forest which you can walk or run through, for us it’s a 30 minute drive away. If you’re into tennis there’s a number of courts to hire. Some people risk their lives biking. I think Nairobi has one actually hockey field but it’s under construction. We have the only ice skating rink in East Africa and costs $10 for a one hour session.

 

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My faithful runners have kept me going for 5 years

So there’s not a lack of variety of things to do, you just need to have the budget and time to drive to where you need to go. Liz plays soccer (we call it football here) on Saturday mornings and she’s just discovered volleyball on Friday nights.

For me I like to run.

I like getting out there as soon as the sun rises and it’s safe to be out there by myself. This means the earliest I can go is 7am. Because we’re close to the Equator the sun starts rising at 6.30am, every day and it’s pitch dark by 7pm.

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Normal 7am traffic

I’ve never been a fast runner, in fact it’s probably more jogging than running. I’ve dubbed it my ‘granny shuffle’.

It’s not exactly easy to run here though. Hundreds of people are walking on the side of the road to get to work. 85% of Nairobians rely on public transport. That means they walk as far as possible to reach a bus to take them to work. The average person spends 1 – 2 hours each way to work. That means I have to run in between people, and most don’t move over.

There are very little footpaths in our area. You simply walk on a dirt track on the side of the road. More footpaths are being built which is great, but not around us. I try and run on the road when it’s clear but with the condensed traffic it doesn’t happen much. Some idiot on a local building site decided to put the broken tiles and bricks into a shallow ditch that suffices as a path. It’s really dangerous whether you are walking or running. It’s easy to twist an ankle.

 

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The ‘footpath’

Buses are my biggest annoyance. The other morning there were 3 school buses outside our compound picking up school kids. The blocked the whole road and don’t care about pedestrians. Just up the road a bus pulled up in front of me and parked up on the only footpath we have. There’s plenty of private schools in the area and kids are picked up from 6am onwards. It’s sad to see the little preschoolers being picked up super early and then they get dropped off at 5pm.

Between the traffic, dirt tracks and people it’s a real challenge to even want to get out there.

However, I’ve found a secret place.

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A 5 minute walk from our house is a gated community full of huge houses hidden behind large fences and security guards. Pete tells me there are a few politicians living there which explains the niceness of it all. Only residents can drive in there, there’s painted lines on the road and there are no potholes at all. In fact you don’t feel like you’re in Nairobi at all.

Running along there with the beautiful green trees, no noise (except the guard dogs) is just serene.

 

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The entrance into the gated community

Over the last couple of months of exercising there I’ve seen the regulars and spotted the new ones out there either walking or pounding the pavement. There’s even a small fitness group with a personal trainer that meets a few times a week.

 

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A little slice of heaven

We move out of our place at the end of the month and I often wonder if we will get an apartment in the same area when I return in September. If not, then I’m going to have to start finding a safe running area all over again. This one took me 2 years to find this one, I wonder how long it will take to find the next one.

 

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How red I get at the end of it all

Keeping Fit In Kenya

There’s a group of us that get together at our place each Wednesday night. We have a meal and then one person leads a discussion from the Bible. It’s a low key but important night where we can connect with each other and God.

A few of us have decided we want to get healthier and fitter than in the past. We’ve also made ourselves accountable to getting out and exercising.

But, like everything else in Kenya, it’s complicated.

Sure, you can join a gym but it’s anywhere from $80 a month for a small room with little equipment up to $150 a month for something decent. You can do a Zumba class for around $11.

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There seems to be lots of gyms in various sizes around town. I’ve visited a gym in the city where our lawyer goes and it was packed during mid morning. We have one about a 10 minute drive away but it’s fairly expensive. The biggest issue is actually physically getting to one. To say traffic is busy is a slight understatement. Unless you’ve driven in Italy, Indonesia or Mexico you don’t have a clue of how packed things get here.

Security is a huge issue here. I know of someone who was ambushed on her way to a boxing class at 6am, just outside the gym.

When it comes down to it though, it’s easy to make excuses wherever you are for not getting healthy. I’ve a friend who tells me there just isn’t time in 24 hours to look after herself. Another one says there’s too much work to be done. And I’ve told myself ‘it might rain’ and avoid what could’ve been a good 45 minutes of my day.

So here’s Sharon’s solution to keeping healthy in Kenya (or wherever you live):

1. Commit yourself to a healthier lifestyle

It’s easy to say you want to lose some weight or feel better about yourself, but it doesn’t happen by doing nothing. I believe a lot of the battle is in our minds. I know when I’m running as soon as I start thinking about walking, it’s not long before it happens. Commitment means paying some sort of cost. However, be realistic. Start small. I started by doing 20 situps and then added 10 each week until I got up to 100. I did the same with other exercises like squats and pushups (okay I do the girly ones).

Too many people start with a bang and then end up fizzing out.

Don't fizz out like a sparkler

Don’t fizz out like a sparkler

Liz plays soccer on Saturdays so she focuses on becoming healthier because she wants to enjoy it more.

2. Get to bed earlier

Whether you consider yourself a morning or night person, you CAN change your behavior. We used to be youth workers and it wasn’t unusual to be still working at 11pm most nights. When we moved to Australia Pete started in construction work and he would be up at 5am. He still operates better at night time but you can’t burn the candle at bother ends. If you’re a later night person just start by going to bed 30 minutes earlier for a week. The next week try going another 30 minutes earlier. That way your body can adjust.

Here in Kenya it gets dark at 7pm and light at about 6.45am, the beauty of being close to the Equator. While we don’t have to worry about daylight savings or long/short days, you can make the most of these, even if it’s an evening walk.

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3. Get out of bed earlier

We all like that extra 30 minutes in the mornings to snooze some more, but we are the first to claim that there aren’t enough hours in the day. Like I said, it doesn’t get really light until just before 7am, which is a bummer because I wake up between 5.30 and 6am. I have to wait until at least 7 before I can go for a run. It eats into my day and sometimes I can’t do any exercise for a few days. On Tuesdays I Skype our daughter Hannah who lives in New Zealand at 7am. It normally lasts for an hour so after that it’s a mad rush to get as much done, downloaded or sent before the power goes off for it’s normal shutdown on Tuesdays.

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4. Make it part of your lifestyle

I don’t go for a run because I’m a running freak. I do it because I enjoy pushing my body, it makes me drink water (which I don’t do enough) and it gets me off my butt. I run/walk three times a week first thing in the morning. I like putting on my headphones, have some good music going and hit the pavement (which we don’t have many of). I know of others who get out in the afternoons and I pass a neighbor who is going for a walk as I get into the compound. You have to make whatever works for you, but you have to start.

When we got back from Australia a few months ago we made the decision not to have any sodas unless we go out. When we have visitors and they bring it, we drink it. We’re not super religious about it, we just made a decision that we thought we could live with. Every now and then we might get a bottle of Coke with something like takeout chicken and chips but most of the time we get fruit juice. I’m not totally convinced that the juice in Kenya isn’t laden with sugar, but at least it tastes better.

5. Add variety

I haven’t done it for a while, but when we were living in our other apartment I set up a little workout area in my lounge. It was a simple yoga mat and a large gym ball. I had a routine of exercises I could do as I wasn’t running at that stage. Now that I’m hitting the pavement (or dirt) I plan to do a gym workout when I can’t get outside.

Instead of having a Coke when you go out for a meal, try water or a juice. I’m a routine driven person but even I have learned that you’ve got to challenge the way you do things.

The reason I started running again after 2 years was because I had set in my mind why I couldn’t do it:

  • The fumes from the trucks are disgusting
  • I could trip over where there’s no footpath
  • Maybe one day we could find the funds for a gym
  • I don’t have time

It didn’t matter how many excuses I put up, the fact is I just had to get on and do it.

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Even with my running I am forced to have some variety. Because of security issues I choose to run at 7 in the morning because there are hundreds of people walking to work. It’s highly unlikely I’ll be mugged. I don’t take my apartment keys but I do take my phone which is in an arm band under my tee shirt.

I don’t follow the same route, I go different ways on different days. I also tell Pete which way I’m going. He knows I should be back within the hour, so if I’m not and he can’t contact me – then he can panic.

6. Enjoy your life

Liz and I were held up at gunpoint at our house around 6 weeks ago. Although it was horrible and traumatic we’ve decided not to let it define who we are and what we will do. We chose to live here and will make the most of it. We work with some great people, have made some lifelong friends and generally enjoy life here. We are super blessed in Nairobi because local fruit and veges are really cheap to buy, so we could have fresh fruit juice and smoothies every day if we wanted to. We could have a maid for all of $180 a month if we had the budget. We can choose around 10 national game parks within a 4 hour drive. It’s a 5 hour drive to Tanzania, a 60 minute flight to about 5 other countries. There are lots of sport and cultural events within Nairobi – every weekend. If we were the clubbing type we could go to a different spot every night.

We all know that a healthier lifestyle and exercise a few times a week has psychological benefits. The problem is we want it all without the pain, commitment and cost involved.

But, if I can do it in Kenya, so can you – anywhere in the world.

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