Kigali: Pregnant women join open air gym craze

APA - Kigali (Rwanda)

Open air gyms in Kigali the capital of Rwanda are attracting a new kind of interest from an unlikely quarter – pregnant women.

By Clementine Uwimana

Since regular mass sports activities including fitness exercises were launched in 2016, city spaces are usually crammed with people walking, riding, skating and jogging. 

And expectant women are not being left behind in the daily race to keep fit.

Christa Mukansonera was four months away from delivering when she began feeling depressed over her weigh.

Recently, the 39-year-old mother of four met up with a friend who invited her to join mass sports activities for pregnant women in Kigali where they took to the streets for a jogging session, an activity they did not always have the chance to partake in.

"The fear of birth for the majority of pregnant women has been for long overwhelming so much so that it affected our physical health benefits through joining sports activities," Mukansonera told the African Press Agency (APA) in an exclusive interview.

In only five months of pregnancy, Mukansonera gained an extra 11.5 kilograms of weight before a local doctor decided to prescribe physical activity as treatment.

Along with some amazingly fast runners in the group, Mukansonera braved the heat and sun to walk around 5 km and covered the total distance with no breaks.

The unique event targeting this specific group was officially launched by women associations last month with about one hundred pregnant women who took to the streets marching in formation to prevent excess weight gain and improve their health.

It was one of the first groups to hold training sessions exclusively for pregnant women.

Despite recent efforts by Rwanda toward improving the health of women and children, the situation became alarming more recently after health officials noticed growing cases of obesity in women before pregnancy.

This has always been associated with risks for poor pregnancy outcomes.

Nelson Mukasa, an expert in mass sports and the main sports instructor for the bi-monthly Kigali Car Free Day, told APA he was delighted that the Rwandan government was currently supporting such activities with senior officials now joining the crowds for exercises.

"But specifically for pregnant women, I have to explore which workouts could fit with them to use during different training sessions," Mukasa said.

For now these aerobic exercises intended for pregnant women will be taking place on a regular basis, but still medical doctors recommend to this specific social category to make some changes as their pregnancy advances.

"Pregnancy itself is an extreme sport, but women who perform such kind exercises often find they have an easier birth," said Jean Nyirinkwaya, a Gynecologist Obstetrician based in Kigali.

While physical exercise is paramount for better health, however, Dr Nyilinkwaya noted that there are some tips to help pregnant women exercise safely. 

"It is always important to do an exercise after getting a qualified medical opinion" he said.

But women associations have taken a big step recently, by encouraging their peers who are pregnant to join mass sports activities which are taking place twice a month, in major parts of Kigali city.

The event has turned some parts of the city into car-free zones where residents engage in physical exercises in the streets, walking, jogging or riding bicycles around.

The car-free day package includes free medical check-ups, aimed at preventing and fighting non-communicable diseases.

But for doctors and health care professionals looking at this initiative, it also provides an added incentive to prevent or treat prenatal depression or anxiety.


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