Fear stops SA getting fit, say experts


Fear of being attacked while pounding the pavement has turned South Africa into one of the laziest nations in the world.

Dressed to exercise, but too afraid to go out – that’s us.
Image: Sydney Seshibedi

A local fitness expert and an academic say crime and a poor public transport system are to blame.

A study by Stanford University in California has put South Africans near the top of nations that exercise the least. The study is based on data collected from smartphones. An app that measures the number of steps taken in a day enabled researchers to collect data from more than 700,000 people in 46 countries and regions.

Researchers said the study discovered “activity inequality” where, in the case of South Africa, it related to obesity.

With an average of 3,500 steps a day, Indonesia was the laziest country, followed by Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and the Philippines. South Africa took fifth place with 4,105 daily steps.

At the other end of the scale, Hong Kong emerged as the fittest territory, with an average of 6,880 steps a day.

The fitness expert and the academicwere not surprised by the findings.

“We’ve been watching this obesity epidemic unfold before our eyes for years. As a nation, we are exceptionally lazy, and not one where activity is ingrained,” said Lisa Raleigh, wellness expert and fitness guru.

“South Africa is not a country designed to be conducive to walking. Many countries are what I’d call ‘walking nations’, with their high streets, city centres, homes and destinations all relatively within walking distance and catered for accordingly with walkways, pavements and the like.”

he said an effective public transport system – which South Africa lacked – “encourages activity as it generally gets you near your destination, but not quite there”.

“Moving between platforms and covering the first and last leg of your journey is usually done on foot,” she said.

Crime was also an issue for Raleigh.

“It is simply not safe to adopt a lifestyle of walking between cities, outside shops and homes. People would feel far safer hopping in their cars than daring to walk a stretch of space to reach their destination – other than on our beaches,” said Raleigh.

Consequences of inactivity included obesity, chronic diseases and a high cost to the country.

“The South African government spent more than R2-trillion preventing and treating lifestyle diseases associated with obesity between 2006 and 2015,” said Raleigh.

Professor Yoga Coopoo, head of sport and movement studies at the University of Johannesburg, said adults should walk an average of 10,000 steps a day.

“We still have a problem with security. People are afraid to step out because of the crime factor. Poorly lit streets are a haven for criminals. But nothing stops people who live in urban areas from walking in the malls. You can cover about 3km within a mall without even realising you’re exercising.”



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