Regular exercise: the path to a healthier lifestyle in Lao PDR

By Xayxana Leukai
January 22, 2012

Nhay (centre) enjoys exercising at Chao Anouvong Park in Vientiane.

Encouraging children to exercise and play sports regularly from an early age is one of the best ways to steer them towards a healthy and drug free lifestyle.

Last weekend I went to Chao Anouvong Park on Fa-ngum Road near the Mekong, where most mornings and afternoons we can see people of all ages jogging and exercising.

Since state-of-the-art exercise equipment was made available to the public by the government last year, many people have benefitted from the facilities. This is a positive sign, indicating that Lao people, especially children, are taking a keen interest in exercise, which is without question a contributing factor to personal wellbeing.

Pumping iron and sweating it out on the fitness equipment to strengthen his upper body muscles, Nhay, 12, said that his parents took him and his younger brother to the park every morning at 5:30. “Following our parents’ advice, before we leave the house we dress up in workout clothing and footwear,” Nhay said. As it is cooler in the mornings, the two boys wear thick, warm clothing to maintain body heat before exercising.

As they live nearby in Vatchan village, Chanthabouly district, it barely takes Nhay and his family 10 minutes to walk to the park.

After exercising for about an hour every day they take a leisurely stroll on the esplanade along the Mekong, where they can get a glimpse of Thailand which lies on the opposite bank of the river, west of Vientiane.

Due to the lack of traffic at this time of the day and because there is much less dust, Uncle Bin, 56, from Thatkhao village in Sisattanak district, said this was the best time of day to go jogging in the park. He exercises here as much as possible and is also a member of a private gym.

There’s quite a range of fitness equipment available in the park, and Uncle Bin uses a different machine every time he wants to exercise. This allows him to give his whole body a workout, so that he gains in strength and health.

“Because of my age and to avoid any mishaps when I exercise, I try to be reasonable and not overdo it. It is very important to know your limits before deciding on what kind of exercise is best for you,” he said.

According to Associate Professor Dr Vang Chu, a member of the Lao STEP Survey on Non-Communicable Disease Risk Factors Research Project at Mahosot Hospital, regular exercise or physical activity is the best way to ensure a strong and healthy body. But if the environmental conditions aren’t favourable, people who do regular physical activity may not receive the full benefits.

Regular physical activity is a major factor in reducing the risk of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other non-communicable diseases.

Ideally, exercise should be undertaken responsibly and in a clean environment. The Lao government has spent a lot of money developing and equipping Vientiane’s public parks, where after a hard day’s work local residents can come to exercise, relax, and enjoy themselves.

But one problem should not be ignored – the fact that most of the parks in the capital are located next to busy roads. This is one reason why the best option for those wishing to exercise is probably early in the morning, when there is less traffic, noise, dust and pollution.

In future when designing new roads and parks, Dr Vang Chu strongly urges the authorities to include cycle paths in their plans. This would not only encourage more people to exercise but would also help to alleviate the city’s rapidly growing traffic congestion.


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