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‘We Were Not Designed to Sit’: Japheth Amimo on Investing in Your Health

A business will come and go, but when it comes to your health, it becomes a matter of life and death- Japheth Amimo. Click To Tweet

When it comes to our physical and mental wellbeing, there is no time like the present to dial it up a notch- preferably, with the help of an expert. 50-year old fitness guru, Japheth Amimo grew up in Eastlands and worked his way to the top of his field. He was employed by some of Kenya’s most prominent organizations including the Holiday Inn, Serena Hotels and the United Nations Organization. He was also the personal trainer to the late former President of Kenya, Daniel Arap Moi. More recently, Japheth has been running his own company, Japheth Powered Fitness.

In this interview, he opens our eyes to some of the complications that come with our current lifestyles and offers practical steps we can take to make improvements.

How has COVID-19 affected your business?

People stopped showing up at the gym. There was no money coming in. The rent was due. I had no choice but to close shop. It’s been tough.

One thing I’m learning, however, is that I can and probably should re-work my business model. I still have people reaching out to me for my services online and suddenly, my networks have expanded beyond the borders. Right now I’m thinking, do I really want to go back and restrict myself to a physical gym when I can work from anywhere in the world?

Do you?

I can’t answer that definitively yet, but COVID-19 has given me pause for thought. And with the current circumstances, I think the demand for postural rehabilitation services around the world will go through the roof.

Why?

Because people are confined to their houses. They are spending a lot of time sitting. Postural problems were bad enough before COVID-19, and now, they will be bigger than ever. About five years ago, CNN did some research where they coined the term ‘Sitting is the new smoking’. We call it the sitting disease. Because in the long term, sitting for extended periods of time can be devastating to your health.

You see, human beings were not designed to sit. At the beginning of our evolutionary journey, we were picking fruits, scavenging and digging. We were continually moving. Fast forward to today, and our hunting and gathering is on the computer where are sitting down, staring at a screen, in bad posture, for hours on end. It’s the nature of many jobs.

And it doesn’t just end with the jobs. We also sit in traffic during our daily commute, we sit in front of the television at home, we sit down when we are having a meal. There’s a lot of sitting in our lives. And so specific muscles forget to work because we are not using them anymore. When we evolved into becoming bi-pedal, our glutes and our spine strengthened so we could stand. Our abdominals became stronger and were firing up different muscles in order to reinforce our upright position. Now, because of sitting all the time, our abdominals have forgotten to do their job, and our glutes have gone to sleep. From my work, I have realized that the most common cause of back and neck problems is bad posture.

Would you say technology created this problem?

Yes. The industrial revolution led to what we call bloodless injuries. These injuries are caused by moving in a particular direction, repetitively. Aside from sitting at our computers, think of a supermarket teller who is seated in one position all day, moving items from left to right, left to right. They start getting elbow pain, wrist pain, neck pain, back pain, and it intensifies over time. When they go on leave, it goes away, and when they come back to work, it returns. Many people can relate to this. You go to get your passport picture taken, and the photographer asks you to look up, but you think you’re sitting up straight, right?

Right.

And yet you’re not. Those are the effects of repetitive bloodless injuries. The reason we refer to them as bloodless injuries is this: If something cuts you and blood comes out you will do something about it, immediately. But the moment you tell your employer that my arm or my neck or my back is aching, they are less likely to treat it as an emergency, even though the injury is as severe as the one which has blood oozing out.

Back problems have become so prevalent in organizations and society at large. Some research was done years back where they looked at a sample of women working at a Volvo plant in Sweden. They found that 60% of the women from the production line had back problems. They took another sample of women from South East Asia, same age, different demographics. These women were doing manual work in the fields. This study found that 0.2% of those women had back problems- basically a negligible number. That tells you that we were not created to live the way we do today.

So technology is the cause. Can it also be the solution?

It can help fix the problem- this is what the science of ergonomics is all about. It looks at how your physical space and the products you use interact with your body. If you think of the knife in your kitchen or just a regular saw, you will see that the handles are designed to fit your hand comfortably, that’s a simple way of looking at ergonomics. It’s also applied in offices to a very large extend, mostly with the way chairs are designed today.

And now, the fitness industry is pushing for standing desks in offices. More and more people are buying into this new technology. The Canadian High Commission is my client, and I have recommended quite a few standing desks for them. The result: People who were previously suffering from back pain tell me it’s no longer an issue.

And you know what else standing does? It burns calories. Because the muscles that are supporting you while you’re standing are active.

For many people right now, working from home most likely means working from sofas, stools and beds, few of which were designed with ergonomics in mind.

True, many of us don’t have the right facilities in our homes. For this reason, I would strongly, strongly recommend that we all regularly stand up and walk around. Set your alarm to remind you to do it every 45 minutes to 1 hour.

If you are working from an office, move your water dispenser further away so that you have to walk to it. Park your car at the furthest point from where your office is. Have meetings while standing up.

If you’re working from home, when you’re on your phone, talk while you’re standing up, have your coffee break standing up, look at every single opportunity to stand. We must work out as well. And in this respect, its good to talk to a fitness expert or physiotherapist to tell you which muscles to target.

You’re an expert. What recommendations would you offer a beginner?

There are home workouts that are amazingly easy to do. And that is what motivated me to start doing free online workout sessions via Facebook. Safety is critical. I would discourage people from copying workouts on YouTube, where they join a level that is a lot more advanced than their capabilities. Start easy and build up to a level where you can then start doing all that trending stuff.

If you have stairs in your house, use them to walk up and down. Or use the stairs in your apartment block, making sure to rest every so often. Sit down and stand up from your chair 20 times and ensure your knees are at a 90-degree angle when you sit. Lie down on your tummy and stand up, repeat this 10 times. Do these in combination for half an hour each day. And once your muscles get used to these exercises, you can start doing other things that are are more intense, things like jumping up and down. If you have a skipping rope, use it.

But start slow. Use common sense. Common sense says that if you feel like you’re running out of breath, slow down. A workout should be challenging enough to increase your heart rate to around 110 or 120 BPM. You should be breathing heavily, but not running short of breath. You will not become fit within a week, but by the time you get to 2 months, it becomes more manageable, and you can challenge yourself to do more.

When you’re starting, don’t do it daily. But if you do want to work out every day, then do it for 15 to 20 minutes. If you’re doing it for 45 minutes, then do it every other day. You must give your body time to rest.

Investing in yourself so that you feel and look your best means you can tackle any problem that comes your way.

Japheth Amimo
Working out can also help us to de-stress, correct?

Correct. Exercise has a huge domino effect on our wellbeing in general. It’s the best medicine ever. And it’s free. We have these feel-good hormones called endorphins, which are triggered by doing exercise. Moderate to high-intensity workouts will raise its levels. Many people will be stuck indoors; maybe their business is going under, you know, there are so many reasons to get depressed today. And most people don’t know that they are depressed. But if you can raise your endorphin levels and the dopamine which is also produced during a workout, your spirits will be lifted. You can get pills too, but exercise will address the problem in the most effective way. At the same time, it is helping you stay fit.

Previously, there was so much competition for our time, but right now we can afford to put half an hour to 45 minutes into exercise every day.

What’s the best time to work out?

Whenever it’s convenient for you. Personally, I would rather work out in the morning so that I can start the day with high energy and have the rest of the day to do other things. But some people aren’t morning people, and they can easily wait until later on. Now that we are stuck indoors, you can choose to exercise at any time.

What tips do you have for anyone who may be having a hard time committing to exercise?

Committing to something is very hard for most people and exercise is no exception. I would recommend having a schedule. Decide that I will wake up, brush my teeth, work out, have my shower, dress up and start my day. This requires self-discipline. And you need to be consistent. If you don’t feel like exercising the next day, think about how you felt the previous day, after you finished your work out. You will be motivated to want to do it again. The process itself might be challenging for most people, but the results are amazing, and that’s what should inspire you.

The second thing you can do to stay committed, and this applies to those who live with other people, is to get moral support. Put a notice up that says you don’t want to be disturbed at specific times because you will be working out. Your people can then hold you to account, they’ll be looking at your notice and asking you why are you not exercising. 

Thirdly, reward yourself. Every day after you’ve done a good workout, give yourself 200 bob or 100 bob, nothing too big. Put that in a tin. By the time the quarantine period is over, you can use that money to buy yourself a pair of shoes for working out. Or you could pay for your first personal training session with a professional after the lockdown.

Being active should be something that we should all pursue, for the sake of our health. We spend so much time and money on other things and too little on our health. And while there is nothing wrong with spending time or money on other things, the first investment should be in ourselves. Eat well, exercise, keep those lifestyle diseases at bay. We used to view them as rich people diseases, and now they are here with all of us.

Investing in yourself so that you feel and look your best means you can tackle any problem that comes your way. Look at this problem we are currently facing, the people that invested in taking care of their wellbeing, are less likely to fall sick or go into depression. Personally, if I had not invested in myself, I would be worrying so much right now. A business will come and go, but when it comes to your health, it becomes a matter of life and death.

Can anyone join your workout sessions on Facebook?

Yes, they are free for anyone to join. I conduct them every day at 2 pm GMT which is 4 pm Kenyan time.

To join Japheth’s online workout sessions, follow him on Facebook or get in touch with him directly via WhatsApp: +254-733-738-255

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