Tue | Aug 4, 2020

Fight lifestyle diseases with exercise

Published:Wednesday | March 11, 2020 | 12:05 AMVanessa James/Gleaner Writer

Obesity, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes – what do all these have in common? They are all lifestyle diseases and they have become quite prevalent in Jamaica over the last few years.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness has taken on a mandate to get Jamaica moving so that we will have a healthier population and greater productivity. However, the onus is on each person to take their health in hand and change their lifestyle, as Kacian Nelson did when she started to become overweight.

“A few years ago I had put on about 30 pounds over a three-month period. I went overseas, came back … and realised that I put on a lot of weight,” Nelson stated. “My main thing – I did not like the extra belly and people started calling me Garfield, the cartoon cat, because they were saying how I was round, so I was like ‘OK, I need to do something about this,’” she shared.

Nelson explained that she started by attempting to walk around Emancipation Park, but halfway through, she was breathing as though she was having an asthma attack.

She shared that she kept at this activity, though it was difficult, until she could graduate to running.

“I didn’t understand that I was unfit because in Jamaica, when you have a little fat is ‘life ’gree with yuh’ and all of that. So I started there (walking), and it was hard because when I tried that and realised how out of breath I was, I kept going,” she explained, “When I could conquer the walking, I started trying to run and that was another challenge.”

She realised that she did not like running in a circle and, so joined a running club; soon she was back at her ideal weight, and was happy. However, Nelson pushed it a bit further when her friend introduced her to a training programme that she could use on her phone.

“It’s like boot camp training. Two minutes into the warm-up I was on the floor and was so nauseated; I felt dizzy, everything. So here I thought I was running well, doing 5ks and so on, and thinking that I am fit, but clearly there is another level,” she said.

Nelson explained that it took a while before she successfully completed that programme, with the help of friends and other like-minded people who wanted to be a part of the programme as well. She realised afterwards that she loves the fitness life and joined a boot camp that meets at Emancipation Park.

From all the boot camp trainings, she became interested in bodybuilding in 2018.

“I came across persons doing bodybuilding locally and I wanted to be a part of it, so I saw Fit Farm and realised that there is a competition each year; so I messaged a trainer from there and told him that I wanted to be on stage, and he said yes,” she told The Gleaner.

She further explained that ‘stage day’ was three months away and in the world off bodybuilding, it would require more time than that to be ready. It was a lot of work, but Nelson made it on to the stage and was placed sixth.

She re-entered last year and was placed in the Bikini Wellness category where she won for the novice level in June. For the nationals in September, she was placed second even though she had suffered an injury and had only 16 days to get ready.

All this started with Nelson wanting to lose weight and also to avoid having hypertension.

“My family doesn’t really have any of those lifestyle diseases, but one thing that I know, I didn’t want to have was high blood pressure ... I’m a young woman, I’m not supposed to be fighting to get into my clothes, I shouldn’t feel like I can’t catch my breath when I walk a few steps down the road, and it didn’t look good,” she said.

Nelson is now a certified fitness and nutrition trainer and encourages those who have lifestyle diseases to get active to improve their quality of life.

“I always tell people to find something they love and exercise and eating well is a big part of taking care of themselves,” she said, “You have to live in your body, so find something – if it’s walking, dancing, yoga, anything – but just do something. Participate in the free sessions that are around, and the different walks and runs; just be active.”