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GUEST POST: A Professional Athlete’s Perspective On Why Malta Needs Real Outdoor Gyms

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I am writing this message in response to Minister Ian Borg’s replies to the local fitness community’s calls for proper functional outdoor gyms rather than the current type of outdoor equipment that are increasingly dotting a number of playgrounds around the island.

From what I observe and hear, I genuinely believe there still exists a national head-to-toe misconception on what constitutes a gym, the benefits of working out at a gym, the profile of citizens who choose to go to a gym and the reasons why they do so. This misconception somewhat also explains why Malta continues to take top spots in worldwide obesity rankings.

Rather than picking directly on Dr Borg’s replies, I think we first need to start by determining for whom the outdoor equipment/parks which continue to be rolled out are intended.

If they are to serve as fun rides (alongside the more traditional playground swings) for children up to a certain age, then I suppose they serve that purpose, which is fine. If on the other hand government is intending this equipment to promote exercise with adults, then there is a problem.

Exercise can generally take two forms; cardio-based activity which works out the heart (such as walking, jumping, running, cycling, swimming and most team sports) and resistance-based activity which works out the muscles and strengthens our bones (pulling and pushing against a resistance such as your own body, a weight plate, a dumbbell, a kettlebell or resistance bands tied to a fixed object).

While most cardio-based activities do not require any equipment and can be easily performed outdoors, the gym has traditionally served as a place where someone who wanted to perform resistance-based training could get access to a set of equipment for that purpose against a cost.

Nevertheless, both activities can be performed outdoors and naturally this is more enjoyable in good weather conditions. Furthermore, innumerable studies prove how both types of exercise are essential for one’s physical and mental wellbeing, improving quality of life and longevity and reducing the risk of many diseases.

Nobody denies the fact that a healthy population is inversely proportional to the country’s medical bill, which is footed by its citizens through its taxes. So it should be in the government’s best interest to promote and facilitate its citizens wellbeing with these two types of activities in mind. Since both cardio and resistance training are essential for human wellbeing, incorporating them in one’s lifestyle becomes a no-brainer.

This therefore explains why both indoor and outdoor exercise facilities are given priority in modern societies since they are not only beneficial to professional athletes who need them to improve their sporting performance, but more importantly vital to the public at large in remaining healthy for life.

Over the past decade we have seen numerous new private gyms setting up shop in Malta consequent to increased awareness on the benefits of resistance training in terms of health and longevity.

Sure enough, if one had to regularly work out at a local gym he or she will confirm how the profile of gym members is very varied, representing a broad cross-section from all walks of life and definitely not just professional bodybuilders.

Since gyms are private, they obviously come at a cost to members, which cost can at times be prohibitive, particularly when one can barely afford basic accommodation. Another drawback with gyms is the indoor environment, which at certain times can become claustrophobic. Also during a global pandemic, like the one we are living through now, gyms may even be deemed unsafe and shut down.

This is where my support for the aforementioned #projectrobinhood by Bulletproof Culture falls into place. The problem with the “outdoor gyms” the government has been rolling out is that they do not serve the purpose of resistance training. Some equipment may perhaps serve as a very light cardio exercise but then again, people who want to do cardio surely prefer doing it elsewhere. A simple study will prove this beyond any doubt.

Malta, its natural habitat and its climate are perfectly suited to host several proper and useful outdoor gyms to promote and facilitate resistance training for the many benefits mentioned above.

These gyms will not necessarily need to have actual dumbbells or weight plates in place (even though I have experienced similar set ups on beaches abroad), rather a set of free-standing structures which blend in with the surroundings on which the public can perform resistance training using their own body weight or portable resistance equipment.

This will be a win-win for both the government and the public, with these facilities costing way less than the outdoor pieces of equipment rolled out to date (both in terms of installation and upkeep) and the recommended facilities being used by a larger quantity of people from all ages and circle; I bet that kids happening to be walking past this type of park will surely be more inspired to work out and become healthy adults than they currently are. It will likely also serve as an added-value in terms of sport tourism.

I feel that the culture in Malta gives too little importance to sustainable health, though we all know what happens to someone’s quality of life and income-generating potential as soon as personal health becomes an issue. If you adopt a pattern that focuses on golden eggs and neglects the goose, you will soon find yourself without the asset that produces golden eggs.

This is why I invite those responsible with safeguarding and developing health and fitness (since both go hand in hand) in Malta to consult with competent, passionate and experienced individuals in starting to use our public spaces and taxes in a healthier way.

Andrew Farrugia is a personal trainer and an anti-doping ambassador for Malta. He spent 17 years as a national sprinter, setting a number of national records and representing Malta in international competitions. From the age of 24, he began competing in men’s physique competitions and twice placing in Europe’s top 10 at the IFBB European Championships.

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