Exercise Medicine Picks up Steam in Ghana

Thu, 19 Dec 2013 Source: Abugri, George Sydney

Story: George Sydney Abugri

Health experts are unanimous in their warning that whatever is not used atrophies or wastes away and dies slowly and that this is particularly the case with the human body. Everyone who wants to keep physically fit and healthy must therefore exercise regularly. Violating this basic law of health leads to sickness.

Most members of keep fit clubs and patrons of gymnasiums I have talked to over the years confirm that they are usually clear-minded and alert after exercising. “Since joining a keep fit club, I eat better, sleep better and no longer suffer frequently from colds, fever and bodily pains as I used to”, says one bank official in her 50s who belongs to a fitness club in Tema.

Unfortunately, informal surveys suggest that many Ghanaians in vocations and professions which do not require any physical activity, have not engaged in physical exercise for many years.

As a result, according to the Ministry of Health, about 60 per cent of adult deaths in Ghana are attributable to heart-related and other non-communicable diseases resulting from sedentary life styles.

The good news is that a fitness craze appears to now be in vogue in many parts of Ghana and large numbers of people are joining keep fit clubs and enrolling with gymnasiums for regular exercise.

Two key problems have however also emerged: The first, according to Dr. Edward Narh of the Narh-Bita Hospital in Tema is that “many people have jumped on the exercise bandwagon and are jogging, running and lifting weights all over the place.” He says this could result in fatal consequences like injury, loss of consciousness and sudden death for people with medical conditions they are unaware of.”

“People with highly elevated blood pressure and diabetics of certain categories for example, need medical treatment before they begin physical exercise” Dr. Narh explains.

Some physicians and fitness experts say it has come to their notice that many keep fit clubs and gymnasiums are managed by fitness trainers, instructors and assistants who have had no professional training whatsoever as fitness trainers and instructors.

Yet maximum health and physical fitness are best obtained through exercises designed by physical training and fitness professionals and conducted under the supervision of qualified trainers who know the types of exercise suitable for people of different ages, and state of health.

Certified physical training professionals ensure that they take people through physical exercises that are beneficial, without putting too much physical strain on this category of people. They also teach how wellness maybe enhanced by complementing exercise with a healthy lifestyle.

Ghanaian physical education expert Professor Reginald Ocansey’s says Exercise Medicine is a fast emerging health and fitness science which incorporates physical exercise into other lifestyles essential for optimum fitness and health.

In Professor Ocansey’s office at the Narh-Bita School College of Nursing in Tema, are wall posters proclaiming messages which take the concept of medicine beyond the popping of pills and drinking of modern pharmaceutical concoctions to simple lifestyle practices that enhance health and fitness at little cost:

The posters proclaim that “fruits are medicine”, “water is medicine”, “rest is medicine”, “vegetables are medicine”, and “exercise is medicine.” Incorporate all five in your diet and lifestyle and you will most likely never need to pop pills.

Like Dr. Narh, Professor Ocansey warns the public against undertaking physical exercise without the advice and guidance of physicians and fitness instructors.

He says while a large section of the population has become more conscious of the benefits of physical exercise in preventing and managing cardiovascular and other non-communicable diseases, many people are engaging in physical exercise without prior health screening and physical strength assessment, a development that has seen an increase in fatalities during sports and fitness activities.

The concept of Exercise Medicine emphasizes the prescription of exercise for patients by doctors. Last year, about 50 medical doctors, pharmacists and seniour nurses from public and private hospitals and clinics in Tema and Accra attended a seminar designed to equip them with the requisite knowledge for prescribing adequate doses of exercise medicine for their patients.

The seminar on the prescription of exercise medicine which was led by Professor Ocansey, was designed to equip doctors with the necessary tools, strategies and techniques needed to ensure that their patients understand the importance of physical activity and are given prescriptions of exercise based on their individual health needs, taking into account, such factors as age, gender and medical condition.

“While the benefits of physical exercise are well known to physicians, physicians do not always have the necessary training to counsel their patients on how to incorporate physical exercise into their daily routines”, Dr. Narh explained before the seminar.

“Many doctors in asking questions intended to help them diagnose their patients’ ailments rarely ask them questions about their lifestyles and especially, the regularity of their engagement in physical exercise”, he added.

Through a course of questions posed to patients, physicians can determine the appropriate dosage of exercise medicine to prescribe. Under-exercising has very little or no health and fitness benefits and over exercising can be injurious to health.

Professor Ocansey lists the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Singapore and Japan among countries whose governments have developed appropriate guidelines for the promotion of physical activities and dietary practices to ensure healthy national populations.

He says while considerable progress has been made in the fight against communicable diseases in Ghana, the country is faced with an increasing incidence of non-communicable diseases among the population.

In recognition of the importance of healthy lifestyle choices as tools for preventing and managing avoidable diseases, the Ministry of Health has made a paradigm shift in policy from curative care to preventative health care since 2005.

Professor Ocansey however wants greater national recognition of the importance of the role of exercise medicine in the creation of a healthier national population through fitness training and healthier lifestyles.

He says since a healthy working population will increase productivity at workplaces and contribute more meaningfully to national economic growth, industry, corporate bodies and the Ministry of Youth and Sports need to support the training of fitness instructors throughout the country.

All corporate organizations and industry need to organize regular fitness training sessions for their staff under the supervision and management of qualified fitness and wellness experts and professionals, the physical training experts adds.

{The author is Editor-in-Chief of the General Telegraph}

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Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney