Uganda: Day of Physical Activity - a Step in Stop Non-Communicable Diseases

Government to launch national fitness day.

This past weekend, the Ministry of Health launched the National Day of Physical Activity, flagged off by President Museveni. The day's theme and slogan tell it all: 'Be Physically Active, be healthy - Your health is your responsibility'.

The launch of this day and the subsequent annual marking of the same comes in the wake of the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as obesity, heart diseases, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure, among the Ugandan population.

NCDs, also known as 'Lifestyle diseases', are as a result of our lifestyles. Most of us 'city borns' are used to the easy way of life, for example, driving to work or university or riding on a boda boda to your destination, being a 'couch potato' in front of the television.

Rarely do we ever think about walking as means of getting where we want to reach. For instance, if we had a meeting two blocks away from where we are, we would gladly hitch a ride or take a boda-boda yet this distance is actually walkable.

Most of our work involves sitting in shops and market stalls, in meetings or in front of computers for at least eight hours a day, save for bathroom breaks or visiting the next office for whatever reason. Both you and I are used to the easier life, little do we know the impact of such actions on our health.

We young people are becoming increasingly unhealthy with diabetes, heart diseases and cancer. Most of these diseases are attributed to eating unhealthy foods such as junk food like chips and fried chicken, pizza, excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption, over indulging in sugars like cakes, ice-cream, etc. I, for one, love anything sweet, however, it is cheaper to prevent these diseases than to actually treat them.

Results from the Uganda NCD risk factor survey (2014) showed that Ugandans are becoming increasingly physically inactive. High physical inactivity was noted especially in the urban population where 8 per cent of adults were considered physically inactive compared to 3.5 per cent among the rural population.

In my opinion, this comes as no surprise. Our friends in the villages engage in more 'calorie-burning' activities such as farming and gardening, which counts as physical activity compared to us urban dwellers.

The survey further indicated that adults aged between 50-69 years are more physically inactive (7.8 per cent) compared to the younger age groups ie 18-29 years (4.1 per cent) and 30-49 years (3.2 per cent). Females are also less active as compared to their male counterparts (women 4.9 per cent, men 3.7 per cent).

So, these statistics, which are likely to increase as time goes by, prompted the ministry of Health to create and accelerate awareness on the need for increased physical activity.

Let us make it a point to engage in at least one hour of physical activity daily. We do not necessarily need to sign up for gym membership to be fit or healthy- you can go for a brisk walk or a run around your neighbourhood, jump on a bicycle and ride it along your favourite route, play games such as football, cricket, netball and break a sweat, dance - turn up the music on your gadget and shake your body for at least one hour, get involved in gardening or farming. It will make a difference.

President Museveni in a message to the country called upon the public to embrace physical activity coupled with good lifestyle measures such as; eating healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.

Surely, in a country like Uganda that is a food basket, we should not be suffering from NCDs, the weather all year-round favours outdoor activities such as running, jogging, and cycling, among others.

The President also urged Ugandans to avoid consumption of alcohol and tobacco as this can causes damage to our internal organs. A number of us indulge in excessive drinking of alcohol and smoking- this leads to heart diseases, cancer and diabetes.

The presence of the President at this important occasion shows the immense political backing towards such an essential aspect of health - prevention of NCDs, which is not only a growing global burden, but also a tremendously increasing burden in Uganda.

Not too long ago, Cabinet ministers underwent mass screening for NCDs and were prescribed appropriate medication as part of the activities involved to raise awareness on lifestyle choices among this audience. This was done to encourage them to engage in physical activity as well as make appropriate adjustments to their lifestyle to avoid NCDs.

Come this Sunday 8 July, 2018, let's all get our work out kits and join the President of Uganda, H E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and Ministry of Health at Kololo Independence Grounds starting at 6am as we launch this important day to beat Non-Communicable Diseases.

Not forgetting, Our health is Our Responsibility.

Ms Kananathan is the communications officer, ministry of Health

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