MAIN STORY:  It’s a new year and there is so much to look forward to. Some swore to quit smoking; others kicked their drinking habit. But the most common habit change that majority of the urban population adopt as their New Year resolution is fitness routine.

Tenzin Jamba, 24, lives in Thimphu. He has promised to bring a change in his life this year. And the change began when he started going to a gym. What started out as a trail soon turned into a regular routine.

It’s almost 6pm. The Thimphu Muscle Factory, a new gym in Changzamtog, is packed with office-goers and elders who are the regular visitors.

In one of the corners of the gym, Tenzin Jamba is weight training with a help of a fitness trainer. Huffing and puffing, he manages to complete 12 sets of chest workout.

A month ago, Tenzin Jamba weighed about 99kg. Today, his weight is 89kg.

“I look better and it feels better,” Tenzin Jamba said. “I feel more confident and ready to take on anything in the world.”

A newbie tries his hand at the gym in YDF, Thimphu

A newbie tries his hand at the gym in YDF, Thimphu

Mentoring his workout and diet plan is the owner of the gym, Sangay Tsheltrim, who recently bagged a gold and silver at the 49th Asian Bodybuilding Championship in Uzbekistan.

It has been just a little more than a month since Thimphu Muscle Factory opened. Today, the gym has more than 70 members, the majority of which constitute young people.

Boys and girls walk into the gym to chisel their features and to get six-pack abs. They aim for a ripped body, a trend these days, Sangay Tsheltrim said. “Gone are the days when being skinny was considered sexy. Many have realized this and are increasingly hitting the gym.”

It is a positive sign that many young people are now aware of the need to keep themselves healthy and to lead an active lifestyle when the country is plagued with a threat of increasing lifestyle-related diseases, Sangay Tsheltrim added.

“It is difficult to convince older people to join gym. They are leading a sedentary lifestyle,” said Sangay Tsheltrim. “Even if they don’t want to join a gym, they should at least do some form of physical exercise once a week.”

After the age of 30 years, body’s metabolism decreases and it becomes increasingly difficult to shed extra calories and fats.

Sangay Tsheltrim said that he was always fascinated by how Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger looked with his gigantic muscles. He wanted a body like Arnold’s. So he got into bodybuilding five years ago. He never looked back since then.

“Today, bodybuilding has become part of my life. Sometimes I bore people with gym and bodybuilding talks. I realize that,” he said. “But all I want is to encourage people to lead a healthy life.”

Even as increasing number of urbanites are becoming health conscious, many have the misconception that one will become bulkier with the weight training in gym, Sangay Tsheltrim said.

“This is not true. Exercises will only help one stay fit and looking younger,” he said. “One should also combine a healthy diet, which includes more protein, vegetables, fruits and nuts.”

Friends accompany to encourage each other at the gym

Friends accompany to encourage each other at the gym

Sangay says business is slow. But he is satisfied. He considers a great achievement if he is able convince one person to join gym for regular exercises and training.

Namgyel Rangdol is serious about fitness. He has built his own gym at home. Fitness craze got into him after he was able to lose 17kg by jogging.

“It is not necessary to join a gym when one can do everything at home,” Namgyel Rangdol said. “I started off with a strength-based training routine like squats, bench press and deadlifts.”

Slowly, Namgyel started adding more weights to the workout routine. Namgyel puts it thus: “I workout whenever I have time. I don’t have a fixed routine. I like to be flexible and make changes according to how my body reacts. Workouts make me feel confident. Every workout gives me an adrenaline boost. It helps me eliminate stress in my life.”

Getting and feeling the results makes Namgyel feel by much younger and stronger. This adds a positive effect to his self-esteem. “As contradicting as it may sound, my workout, which lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, is the most relaxing part of my day.”

Being able to workout consistently is also a test of determination. It not only makes one physically strong, but also mentally sturdier. If you can deadlift you can do anything, added Namgyel.

The fitness craze has caught Thimphu by storm, so to speak. More and more people are inspired to workout and stay fit. This comes at a time when more than 53 percent of deaths in the country is caused by non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which have become the country’s biggest health challenge.

Records with the health ministry show that cardiovascular diseases make a majority of cases at 28 percent, followed by cancer, respiratory diseases and diabetes.

To address the growing threats of NCDs, which has been evolving into a public health concern since 2009, Bhutan released a five-year multi sectorial action plan in Thimphu some three months ago.The action plan will focus on four types of NCDs – cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, while bringing attention to risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and indoor air pollution.

The action plan will target a five-percent reduction in prevalence of insufficient physical activity among the urban population by 2020 and 10 percent by 2025.

The national health survey 2012, found that about 26 percent of the population aged 10-75 years indulge in sports/fitness or recreational activities on an average of three days a week.

Tenzin Jamba has completed his set of workout routines at the gym for the day. He has a endless set of routines to complete in the coming weeks.

Said Tenzin Jamna, smiling: “I’ve made a promise to Acho Sangay that in three months time I will have a set of six-pack abs and lose 12kg. This will be my gift for him.”

 Thinley Zangmo


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