A new obsession has gripped Pakistani society. According to a study conducted by the BBC, Pakistan’s fitness industry is one section of the economy that has not been affected by recessions or political instability; in fact it is booming.
Studies show that almost every strata of society — from top executives, middle class housewives to teenagers — have shown an increasing interest towards a healthy and fitness oriented lifestyle.
Mudassar, personal trainer of the Lifestyle Gym, says, “People are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of staying fit and healthy. People come to the gym to get rid of depression and stress. When you work out you feel better, more energised and healthier. People have finally come to understand that.”
Meanwhile, a female train-er at the Shapes Gym, Shaheela adds, “People who come to our gym are more health conscious as there is an increasing awareness about a healthy lifestyle. Due to the rapid spread of different diseases and illnesses, doctors advise patients to exercise regularly.”
Pakistani society is facing a massive change, as due to awareness and education, many people are now making their appearance and fitness their number one priority. Nutritionist Sidra Aftab agrees that, “Compared to before, there has definitely been an increase in a desire for a healthier lifestyle. Recently a study was conducted targeting people from the corporate world. The study focused on the food and eating habits of busy employees from the corporate sector and it was noted that a majority brought food from home — further testifying to the fact that people are becoming more cautious and health conscious.”
Several factors can be attributed for this shift. For Aftab, “This increase can be explained by the positive role played by the media as several health channels have been launched to promote the importance of a healthy lifestyle. The government and its health policies also play a crucial role.”
The interesting thing about this trend is that it is not only restricted to the upper stratum of society, but it seems to be popular culture amongst the middle class strata as well. Mudassar observes, “In areas like Defence and Clifton, gyms are extremely popular. Young boys come for body building while middle-aged customers come to reduce weight or stay fit. For people aged between 40 and 60, doctors recommend exercise as a cure for diabetes or blood pressure. In areas like Nazimabad and Liaquatabad, the regular gym members are young boys trying to acquire the same physique as their celebrity icon, whether it is Salman Khan or Tom Cruise.” Aftab also believes that the middle class is being influenced by this trend, particularly through the media, “Women watch TV cooking shows and exercise shows through which they learn about the importance of a healthy diet and a fitness-centred lifestyle.”
Meanwhile, Murtaza, the personal trainer at Murtaza Health Gym in North Naizmabad, Karachi thinks, “With media emphasis and globalisation, knowledge about the benefits of pursuing a healthy lifestyle is widespread. People themselves are more health conscious and work out regularly.”
So what lies in the future for this booming industry? Will it continue to progress or come to a sharp halt? Nutritionists Dr Ayesha Abbas believes the trend of obtaining a healthy lifestyle will increase due to a rise in awareness. Aftab also shares the same opinion: “Industries have also started employing personal trainers and building office gyms for their workers. Hence, this trend, which is aided by Facebook and TV channels, will definitely increase.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2011.