Post-Pandemic: Changing the Way We View Fitness in Sri Lanka

(This article is contributed by Talavou Alalima – Founder and Chairman of Power World Gyms and creator of the Proxone app)

We see quite a lot of people talking about various topics related to fitness. Despite the many technological responses and awareness, there are no sufficient innovative solutions that have an absolute impact on the individual’s health and wellness. We need to build a healthy Sri Lanka, and to build a future generation which values healthy lifestyles; to have fathers living long enough to see their children grow up and be there for their grandchildren as well. If we don’t make this change today, we’ll continue to see a decline in the nation’s health and wellness standards. With Covid-19 lurking around the corner, we have to strengthen our immunity to our best beginning with changing the way we view exercise, fitness and activity.

Fitness, trends and views in Sri Lanka

Today, many degenerative and non-communicable diseases are destroying lives and families, primarily due to lack of knowledge and not having access to organized, vital and fundamental physical activity structures without paying a steep price. The conventional annual memberships are outdated and archaic, demanding a much needed change to accommodate present work-life schedules, interests and availability of time. In this day and age, people look for access to any physical activity facility or service, at their convenience, suiting their desired budget and location.

Having pioneered the gym industry over 25 years ago, we witnessed the market hitting maturity levels at different stages. We have a significant number of people coming in and experiencing fitness and exercises for the first time, and then there is a group that has been around from their young adult life, and this group holds higher adaptation and appreciation for activities and trends that has evolved throughout whether its crossfit, zumba, high-intensity training (HIT) and so on. There is a trend towards accepting and participating in new fitness activities and trends from a minor group however it’s a long way to go for the majority of the population.

The fitness arena is at its early stage of growth in Sri Lanka in comparison to other mature markets, the gymming arena specifically is only around two or three decades old. Only less than a mere 1% of the total population is into fitness and exercises. Bottom line is that we all have different physiques, requiring individualized approaches. Whilst new trends emerge, the transformational market, whether it’s losing weight, staying healthy, or muscle building, is a very strong and robust one. These are at the core of our being; it’s a basic necessity and instinct.

Uplifting lives and an ideal philosophy

My philosophy in life is about serving, uplifting and strengthening others especially those who are disadvantaged, ignored, forgotten, helpless and are underdogs.I consider myself as a social entrepreneur as opposed to the usual. I enjoy seeing and making others happy and stronger. I recall never asking from my single parent mother for anything; I was happy to wear the single party kit that was mine for years and keep using multi-bond on my only pair of shoes that was falling apart. I love to see the impact and contribution I make rather than just profits. And this passion started with my interest towards fitness, pioneering the gym industry in 1994 with Power World. I chose to build affordable gyms as opposed to an upmarket model, to give access to quality facilities to those who cannot, and the neglected sportsmen to help build world-class teams. The 1996 Cricket World Cup winning team benefited from working out at Power World, with Sanath Jayasuriya discovering his true gift here. From thereon, almost every Sri Lankan national team, clubs including school-level have trained at our gyms, free of charge.

In 2000, we pioneered the sports nutrition manufacturing industry with an affordable range of sports nutrition supplements branded as ‘Edge’. Later in 2007, I hosted the Edge Grand Prix, a series of Track and Field championships, awarding cash prices for winners and their coaches, with the purpose of motivating all stakeholders of sports monetarily as well. This is well seen today across many sports. An year later, I also launched, funded and backed the ‘Loin Warrior Sports High Performance Program’ for five years, training and sponsoring nutrition needs for over 40 Sri Lankan champion sportsmen. Today we see this wisdom embedded in the fabric of all sports, that performance nutrition and strength training must go hand in glove.

Building gyms in prison: Seeing the desperate mental state our prisoners were in, we donated fully equipped gyms to the Welisara, Mahara and Bogambara prisions. I noticed that about 80% of prisoners seemed to have begun their life of crime after they first stole food to feed their children. No child must be denied of food to such an extent that a father must steal to feed them. Finding solution to see our prisons all empty one day, and eradicating poverty in Sri Lanka, are two lofty goals that weigh heavy in my heart. We are determined to build gyms for all 26 prisons in the country in near future.

Death to dengue campaign: Seeing the devastating impact the Dengue epidemic was on families at its peak, I took on the leadership to fight it by launching the ‘Death to Dengue’ campaign in association with the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and that war continues till date.

Predicting sport talent: I hypothesized that, if the sporting talent of a child could be predicted early enough, with a high-level of accuracy, the chances of competing to become world champions across all sports, when talented children reached their physically maturity, is possible. This gave birth to SportUnleash, a first of its kind predictive algorithm-based system that recommends the sports which a child should pursue to achieve excellence. Today, seven years later testimonies of children who were given the SportUnleash report, in S. Thomas College’s 9-11 year olds and other kids, are rolling in confirming that, what was predicted is accurate.

Pandemic and its effect in fitness for Sri Lanka

The first wave of the novel coronavirus that hit us really took us by surprise. The physically active group suddenly realized how invaluable the exercises they were doing and how terrible they felt when it was taken away from them. There was a massive decline in the health stature, people gaining weight and diets going out of control. The industry took a hit as there were various speculations that gyms were high-risk venues for infection. As this might be true due to those with air-conditioned closed environments but on the contrary, gyms with open spaces are less likely for such transmission.

With the second wave now creeping in, we need to organize, prepare and participate in various outdoor activities. We can still remain fit, strong and disciplined while being safe. We need to boost our immunity, go out and be active. Research shows that outdoor activities pose a lower risk of virus spread but unfortunately even this was curtailed with the lockdown. Currently many only have access to walking pathways; this is where the Proxone app assists you to book any sport or activity close-at-hand at your preferred timeslot, all with just a click of a button. The app allows one to seamlessly carry on with their favorite activity during these challenging times.

The state’s role in fitness development

One of the wonderful things I’d say the state has done to the public is building pathways. This has motivated even a regular person to walk, cycle or jog. Although this is a great initiative, if we really want to change their mentality and get them into fitness, both the nutritional and exercise sciences have to get involved. This is where organized activity comes into play. Though walking is sufficient for a basic healthy lifespan, these outdoor activities can immensely benefit. For instance, when ageing one will still suffer with the diseases that come about, but if one has physically strengthened his or her muscle fibers and brought youthfulness to their life, they will enjoy a much higher quality of life and a longer lifespan. One could have a total physical transformation, and to do this you may need certain equipment with facilities, and instructions from those who really understand the science. That’s where gyms like Power World Gyms have played a key role. I believe the state sector need to heavily invest in such infrastructure and carry out awareness and engaging programs at a ground-level.

Technology versus the human touch

Though technology has brought about convenience, one cannot take away the human touch. In my experience, I have seen that people are able to achieve higher levels of fitness because of another human being. The connection between two people encourages and motivates like no technology could. Tracking devices provide only feedback, what is critical is what we do with all that data; how to use it for yourself to achieve the desired outcome. Exercising is a discipline that is embedded into one’s lifestyle over time; it takes a lot of hard work and commitment. Simply put, all the technology available out there can tell where you are but to get to where you want to be and how to get there, one certainly needs the human touch. No matter the advancements, the human element cannot be substituted by technology.

The ideal combination and need of the hour

I’ve seen many gym members joining with tremendous excitement and because of their demanding lifestyles they are unable to sustain a continuous training regime to achieve their desired fitness goals. They realize that they invested money but hardly went to the gym, forcing them to rethink their decisions. The present structure is a pressing issue too; it locks a person to one particular location with very limited activity to choose from. Times have changed and people are in need of variety and convenience that best suits their interests and motivations. People look forward to experience and enjoy a full cross section of various exercises, recreations, adventure, sports, coaching among various others, and this is why I founded and launched the Proxone app.

The Proxone app was created to provide services to meet the needs of the new normal. Proxone is on all the app stores and gives you access to gyms, your favorite outdoor activities like tap rugby, indoor fitness classes, adventures like hiking and camping, access to best sports coaches you would like your child to be trained by, with the guidance from SportUnleash, and many other such activities that one could enjoy their fitness experience seamlessly. What’s more interesting is that, you can share and book any activity with your friends or family or even like-minded strangers, and have a great time together.

Innovations are only branches of a large tree

To be physically and mentally healthy and to be able to enjoy a longer quality of life, every single person has to willfully and purposely participate in some fitness. If we give up on our physique especially as we grow older, everything else goes away too. One can have a vibrant youthful life despite the numerical age. With the current prevailing eating habits, consumption patterns and contaminations, a longer life is a luxury. The challenges today seem to be very unprecedented. Our bodies are willing to live a longer lifespan, but unfortunately we take it for granted especially in our youthful years. When we get older and begin to realize this, it’s just too late. Encouraging our children to adapt a lifestyle to exercise from an early age is a gift that we give them.

Each one of these innovationsare branches of a large tree, and so is the Proxone app one of its branches, purpose built to impact lives. Innovation and invention, being a second nature, in the future we will see many more initiatives, services and products which would be anchored firmly to my philosophy and world view to uplift and strengthen everyone.