Fitness industry on the rise in Africa

2/1/2018 5:27:27 PM

With the rise of a health-conscious generation of urban Africans, entrepreneurs are tapping into the emerging market of fitness.

As the early morning chill begins to lift, sweat is already dripping from the faces of dozens of men and women participating in all kinds of exercises, from navigating obstacle courses to running with resistance parachutes strapped to their backs. The group has come to Nairobi’s Karura Forest for the monthly boot camp organised by Wellness Solutions. “We aim to give people a break from indoor gym workouts and this new concept has picked up very well,” says founder Japheth Amimo, a fitness guru with over twenty years experience.

The rise of boutique fitness

In another middle-class Nairobi neighbourhood, 20 Kenyans are burning calories by pushing the pedals of their indoor bikes to the soundtrack of thumping house beats, while following their performance real-time on a TV screen at the front of the studio. “I felt that Nairobi was ready for the introduction of East-Africa’s first boutique fitness studio integrating technology and fitness - something I had already witnessed in cities like Sydney, Dubai and Chicago,” says Nairobi-born Saloni Kantaria. A former lawyer and top-ranked tennis player, Kantaria founded Reform Cycling and Strength Studio offering a mix of spinning, pilates, barre and other workouts. Since its launch in January 2016 the studio has attracted more than 400 clients. 

Amimo and Kantaria are just two of the many professionals who have been cashing in on increasing demand for fitness solutions in recent years. Lifestyles in African cities are changing quickly. Fast food and limited physical activity are now common features of urban life. According to the Kenyan Ministry of Health, 20 percent of the population is obese, and 50 percent of Kenyan women in urban areas are overweight. Fortunately the level of health awareness is also changing, with more people trying to exercise frequently and maintain better diets.

“Music-based group fitness classes, like aerobics, Zumba, rhumba, spinning, Afrobics, Insanity and Tae Bo, are popular,” says Kenyan fitness trainer Stephanie Mwaura. “But functional training, bodyweight training, boot camps, hiking, cycling, jogging and other outdoor-based programs are also picking up fast.”

Flourishing Fit Tech

Multinational technology companies and software developers are tapping into the emerging fitness trend and coming up with innovations designed to make life easier for health-conscious individuals. The Google Fit app has been gaining popularity in East Africa, and Samsung introduced its Gear Smartwatch range to the Kenyan market, with its inbuilt Health app to help fitness enthusiasts set goals and monitor progress. According to Mwaura, African fitness and wellness apps are also in the pipeline.

Africa is also getting its own online fitness gurus, such as Jane Mukami, award-winning health blogger and author of Fit Kenyan Girl; and Esther Dindi, also known as “Doctor Fitness”, who turned her passion for fitness into a thriving business. Dindi offers individual and corporate consultations and programmes, online and DVD video training sessions, and has over 44,000 Facebook followers.

Healthy lifestyle leaders

For the new generation of entrepreneurs there are still plenty of challenges to overcome. “We still lack locally available apparel and affordable equipment,” says fitness trainer Mwaura. “But the health and fitness market has grown tremendously in the last five years and soon it will be an industry to reckon with,” she adds. “Lots of information and education is still needed, as few Kenyans realise that fitness is not just about weight loss but that it’s a whole lifestyle.”

Photo credits: Reform Cycling and Strength Studio 

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